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How to Find Almost Free Silver

Part 3 of the How to Find 'Almost' Free Precious Metals SeriesStephen Joltin, Yahoo Contributor Network

Monet JewelryIn my previous two articles entitled How To Find Almost' Free gold - Beginners Guide' and How To Find Almost' Free gold - Advanced Guide' I taught you how to identify gold by the common gold marks used in The U.S. and Europe as well as by the very properties of this precious metal. I also taught you how to evaluate your find. This article will do the same thing for silver as the previous two articles did for gold. First I will let you know the markings for various finenesses of silver both modern and antique. Then I will address the markings and indications that an item is not made of silver. I will discuss the properties of silver other than markings which indicate that an item is actually silver or at least might very likely be silver and may be worth buying for the right price. I will finish off with a section how to actually test for silver fineness using nitric acid testing solution. This information will increase your profitability beyond just finding gold but also by adding silver find to your inventory so you can become a first rate precious metal finder.

Silver Markings

Many people think that silver and sterling silver are synonymous. Certainly sterling silver, more commonly called sterling has silver in it. However, sterling means a certain fineness of silver which is 92.5% pure silver mixed with 7.5% copper. This was the standard of British silver used to make coins for hundreds of years, jewelry, flatware and hollow-ware. Most other countries silver coinage was a lower fineness from 72% fine to 90% fine. It was much easier to melt silver coins to make silver objects than to have the silver alloy fabricated, so coin silver was often the standard for countries prior to the early 1900's. In addition, after precious metals became an investment pure silver was fashioned into ingots, bullion coins and commemorative coins. These coins were generally 99.9% pure or even 99.99% pure silver. The following is a table of silver percentage for different alloys, the mark use to indicate the fineness of silver, and any descriptive words for that alloy.

Fineness (Parts Per Thousand) Mark Name Of Alloy

999 or 999.9 999 Fine Silver
925 925 or Sterling Sterling Silver
900 900 or Coin American Coin Silver
835 835 European Coin Silver
800 800 Scandinavian Coin Silver

Additional marks for sterling silver include the British mark of a lion standing facing left with one paw raised. The British lion mark is world famous and there are no additional indications of silver fineness since this is a set standard under British law. Prior to the early 1900's offenders were jailed or sometimes put to death if their silver did not measure up to standards. It was considered similar to counterfeiting of today's currency but the penalties were much stricter.

In the United States if you look on the underside of a spoon, dish or on the reverse of a piece of jewelry you will find the three digit mark or the word 'sterling'. On some silverware produced in the 1800's you may rarely see 'coin' or 'pure coin' indicating 90% fine silver. British silver can be identified by the 'Lion Passant' mark.

What Is Not Silver

Take your magnifying glass and look closely at all markings present. If it says EPNS, SP, Silver Plate, EP, Silver On Copper, A1, AA, Triple, Quadruple, 3X, or Sheffield you are looking at a silver plated object. These are the easy ones to eliminate. Save your money unless it is an antique or a period piece which an antique store might buy. I just ignore them since trying to sell silver plate is usually very hard to do. The plating is usually over copper, brass or nickel.

The following metals contain no silver at all, even if they have silver as part of their name

Nickel Silver
German Silver

.These alloys were made to look like silver without having silver in them. Alpaca is mainly from Mexico and may also be plated with silver. Please also note that there is a lot of recent chains, bracelets and other jewelry coming in from Mexico that is marked 925 but is just silver plated brass. Try not to buy too much Mexican silver since I would estimate that about 1/3 to 1/2 of it is incorrectly marked to fool the tourists, who think they are getting a good deal, but are getting taken instead.

Finally, avoid all new silver colored items which are marked but the mark is not easily readable. Like Gold avoid silver looking items from Avon, Monet, Triffary (not Tiffany) and other specialists in silver looking costume jewelry. They rarely make genuine silver items and when they do make them, they are clearly marked Sterling. Avoid, at least for now, anything marked Hong Kong, Taiwan, China or Korea. They just do not make solid silver items.

Properties Of Silver

Unlike gold it is rare to find silver items without a mark. You may have to often look long and hard to find the silver mark it but it is there or it is most probably silver plate. That is why a good magnifying glass or loop is so important. The exception to this is coin silver objects made in the 1600's to 1800's. In this case the properties of silver can help you to decide whether to buy or not. If you have a silver testing kit you are a step ahead of everyone else.

Silver is a heavy metal. It is not nearly as heavy as gold and therefore the weight of silver objects is not as good a tell tale sign as it is with gold. Silver is a 'white' metal and is the shiniest metal there is. It actually has a whitish color which not true of stainless steel, pewter, or nickel. It takes experience but you can at least spot if the object is silver or silver plate by the color. Look at an old silver coin if you have one. You may have a silver half dollar, quarter or dime (these small denominations were made of 90% silver until 1964). Silver dollars were also made of 90% silver but only until 1935. You can easily spot the difference between the silver coins and the coins made after 1964 by the color alone. Silver is also heavier than the nickel and copper alloy used in coins after 1964.

Another property of silver is its malleability and softness. Bracelets and earrings are great for displaying this property. They bend and then can be easily unbent. Be careful here if you want to use the item or if it doesn't belong to you since it may not bend back into exactly the same shape. Think of lead solder wire, which bends just as easily as silver. American coin silver silverware can easily be bent will little effort. Similar plated silverware is much harder to bend. This is a great way to tell if you have a coin alloy spoon or just a silver plated spoon. This is true with sterling as well.

Unlike gold, silver tarnishes and oxidizes easily. Many old objects of silver are actually black. If you see a rainbow of different colors, you are more likely looking at silver plate, although under some conditions silver will develop these rainbow colors as well. Many times people find jewelry which is gold plated silver marked 925. This is called vermeil and should be purchased only for the silver weight since the amount of gold plating is usually very light and add nothing to the value of the piece.

Silver is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity and in not magnetic. As a conductor silver is better than copper but not as good as gold. A wise precious metal finder will always bring magnet with him since any magnetic attraction rules out silver. While iron, steel and pure nickel are attracted to a magnet both gold and silver are not. One should know that in some chains with snap lock clasps, there are small steel springs to force the clasp to close. This spring is magnetic but the rest of the chain should not be. Copper, brass, bronze and even some steel alloys are also not magnetic so this is not a definitive test. It is a good indicator though when used with other indicators.

Finally some people say they can smell silver. I can't. However, a lot of precious metal finders are sniffing for gold and silver and swear by it. If you can smell it you can make a lot of money just sniffing around.

Silver Testing

The most accurate way to test for silver and its fineness is with a silver testing solution. This is usually red or orange and made from nitric acid and other chemicals. To test for silver, take your item and put one small drop of the testing solution on a surface which least harms the beauty of your object. Wash it off after 15 seconds or so using running water. If a white mark remains then that is a positive test for sterling or fine silver. A grayish white mark is left on 900 fine silver. Gray marks are left by lower quality silver alloys, the grayer the lower in silver contest. If the remaining mark is green, black, brown or no color change at all, you have a definite piece of base metal. White gold will not change in color from silver testing solution. If in doubt test potential white gold objects as you would for gold rather than silver.

Again let me state that if you get any acid on your skin, do not panic but quickly wash it off with water. Better yet use soapy water and keep some baking soda handy as this neutralizes acid which might fall on your desk or floor.

Evaluating Your Find

Find the purity of the silver with your magnifying glass or loop. Say it is Sterling, the most common purity of U. S. silver. Determine the silver price by looking in the newspaper or by using an online facility such as Kitco Live Gold Charts Online at:


Click on 'Live Silver Prices'. Then use the following formula:

Number of grams of your item divided by 31.1 - this will give you the percentage of your item weight of 1 troy ounce. Next multiply this by the fineness of the silver by the number you have just calculated. Don't worry I will give you an example if you are getting mixed up. The number you came up with is the price of the silver content of your item. There is just one more step and then one decision. Since the silver buyer has to make a profit you have to subtract that profit from your current price of silver. That often means subtracting 30% from your price. Then you can see if you will actually make a profit on that item. Here is an example from soup to nuts.

I find a bowl marked 'Sterling' at a thrift shop that they are sell to me for $5. I estimate the weight to be 300 grams. You may have to invest in an electric scale, which sells for as little as $45. You will make this back very quickly. Will I make money and if so how much? I divide 300 grams by 31.1 grams to find out the troy ounce weight of the bowl. 300/31.1 = 9.65 troy ounces of sterling silver. Then I multiply this by .925 the fineness of sterling silver to the pure silver content so 9.65 X .925 = 8.92 troy ounces of pure silver. The spot price of 1 ounce of fine silver today is $13.04, so I multiply that price by the number of troy ounces in the object I have purchased 8.92 X $13.04 = $116.35. Then finally we subtract the dealers profit of 30% (it is just simpler to use 70% which is what you keep) $116.35 X 70% = $81.44. That's what you can get at most coin dealers or precious metal buyers. Was my decision to buy a good one? Yes, I spent $5.00 plus sales tax to buy the bowl which I can sell easily for $81.44. I made over $76 in profit.

Let me give you one warning about silver which can lead to miscalculation of silver content weight. Often you may find silver candlesticks, salt and pepper sellers, bowls, and bud vases which feel heavy but say 'Weighted Sterling' or 'Reinforced Sterling'. These are made of a very thin layer of silver over dried glue or cement type substance. On the average their silver weight is a small fraction of their total weight. Do not but these unless they are a dollar or two. You have to peel the thin silver layer off to sell it and the total weight is often a fraction of an ounce on a multi-ounce item. This is hard to do and dangerous so I would suggest keeping away from weighted silver objects in most instances.

In Conclusion

You now have all the knowledge you need to be a successful precious metals finder. You know everything I do. Now go on out there and make some money. I'll probably run into you if you are in my area.

Published by Stephen Joltin

I am a problem solver with 18+ years of Higher Education Credentials, last employed as the Information Systems Manager at Montgomery College in Maryland and a member of the Maryland Community College Data Pr...  View profile

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