Antique Silver | Understanding the Definition of Silver

antique silver - standards of fineness

A visual representation of standards of fineness. 1000 parts is a lot!

Antique silver comes in many different standards of fineness. Sterling is not the only “real” silver.  Different countries use different ‘standards of fineness’ to legally define what is considered ‘real’ silver in that country.

  • Defining Sterling Silver – Silver by itself is NOT sterling. It needs to be combined with copper in order to be useful. 925 parts of silver:75 parts copper is not the only “real” silver.
  • Misunderstanding Sterling – Standards of Fineness are important to understand. Don’t confuse not sterling with not “silver at all”.

Antique Silver comes in many different standards of fineness

Some countries use more than just 1 definition or standard.

  • .950 – Japan, France
  • .925 – US, UK, Australia, Mexico
  • .900 – all early American silver is .900 or “coin silver”. Even Paul Revere’s work is not “sterling”
  • .875 – Soviet Union and the Baltic States
  • .830 – Scandinavian countries
  • .800 – Germany and France

England and the US use .925, but other countries use other standards.  For example, Germany’s definition  is the .800 standard.

antique silver ladle

A gorgeous antique silver Art Nouveau ladle with an unusual square bowl. Look at that goldwash!

This antique silver ladle is a beautiful, really heavy piece. The silver is a very thick gauge. It would stand up to anything much less a sauce!

The square bowl has pouring spouts on either side.  Very handy when you are left handed. A small detail but this piece is full of small details. Look at the photo below.  Do you see how the piece transitions from handle to bowl with that sweet little fillip. This is one of my favorite places to check, obviously the marks are often here, but also on a nice piece there will be a wonderful decorative detail.

800 standard silver ladle

It would be an awful shame to miss because it’s “only 800”.

Different combinations of sterling to copper have different qualities – strength, flexibility, softness. It’s not better or worse – just different.  One of the great beauties of antique silver is it’s lack of uniformity, this include the natural variations found in handmade pieces as well as the differing qualities due to different standards of fineness.