The history of American silver plate has its roots in a method that was developed in 18th century England and then gained prominence in America during the Industrial Revolution. The technique of silver plating, where a veneer of silver is placed on top of another metal, allowed people to purchase the look of a solid silver piece at a much lower price. American silver plate is still popular today and is a highly sought after collectible. Much of the value of a piece lies in identifying its maker. Learning to do this requires a serious collector to do some research.
Find an identification guidebook. Look at a bookstore, your local library, or online to find books that list and identify maker's marks for silver manufacturers. Some suggested titles include "The Standard Encyclopedia of American Silverplate--Flatware and Hollow Ware: Identification & Value Guide" by Frances M. Bones and Lee Roy Fisher, "Silverplated Flatware" by Tere Hagan, and the "Official Identification and Price Guide to Silver and Silver-Plate" by Jeri Schwartz.
Look for Internet resources. Go to web-based guides that offer information and photos of specific silver plate marks. Compare the mark on your piece to what you see on the web. The site A Small Collection of Antique Silver and Objects of Vertu offers an alphabetical listing of silver plate maker's marks. The Online Encyclopedia of American Silver Marks also gives information on manufacturers of silver plate and their logos. The Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Makers' Marks, a website that has won several awards of excellence, has a section on worldwide silver plate marks that is also useful.
Study other pieces. Once you have used books and online sources to familiarize yourself with various makers, their marks, and different patterns, expand your knowledge further by looking at silver plate pieces that have already been identified. Because of their huge and quickly changing inventory, Internet auction sites can be good place to study pieces of American silver plate. Look for pieces where sellers have posted clear pictures of the marker's mark and a detailed description of the manufacturer and pattern.
Ask for help. China replacement companies sometimes off free silver pattern identification service. Send the company images of your pieces via e-mail, fax, or regular mail, and they will help identify the maker and pattern.
Seek the services of an expert. If you have a large collection of pieces you need identified or suspect that your pieces may be valuable and need an estimate for insurance purposes, it may be worthwhile to hire an expert appraiser. Consult the American Society of Appraisers to find a professional in your area who specializes in silver appraisal.