It is necessary to tell the difference between silver and silver plate if you are collecting silver antiques or coins. Identifying silver vs. silver plate is not always easy, but if you learn the major hallmarks that identify silver, you will never be scammed. Sterling silver always retains its value, while silver-plated items may lose value over time.
Look for the "Sterling" sign imprinted on the silver's surface. All sterling made in the United States since the 1850s has a sterling mark. European silver has different hallmarks, including a leopard head, anchor, standing lion, crowns and numbers.You may need to use a magnifying glass to read the word "Sterling" or to see the European hallmarks. If an item does not have a sterling mark or other European hallmark, it is plated silver.
Look for the number ".925" or the fraction "925/1000" imprinted on the silver item's surface. Manufacturers use .925 units of silver and .075 units of additives, such as copper, to create sterling silver. If an item does not have either of these numbers, it is plated silver.
Scratch the item. If the metal under the scratch is different from a silver-grey color, the item is silver plate. According to Ebay, if "EP", "EPNS" or "Silver on Copper" are marked on an item, it is electroplated silver, which is not sterling silver.
Drop a drop of silver acid on a silver item to determine whether it is plated or sterling. You can purchase a silver testing kit from a jeweler. The testing kit contains citric acid which will damage a silver item's surface, so only use it as a last resort.
Make a scratch at a hidden spot on jewelry or other silver items. Place a drop of acid on the scratch. Compare the color of the result mark to the color chart in the silver test kit. Each color will indicate the silver content of the item.