Sterling flatware has been in some families for a century, and this heirloom silverware is a treasure to own and a pleasure to use. Identifying a sterling flatware pattern name is fun for the family and also pinpoints the earliest date of the silverware production, so you can tell about how old it is. The name is important for replacing lost or damaged pieces and for checking current value for insurance or appraisal purposes.
Look on the backside of a piece of the sterling silver flatware. Find a company name like Towle, Gorham, Reed & Barton or Tiffany. If there is no company name, there should be hallmarks that will provide identification of the manufacturing company. Three or four little logos or symbols identify older English or imported flatware makers as well as the port city they shipped from. Single logos are often American silver marks.
Match hallmarks online at a silver collecting site or with the use of a silver flatware book. Matching the logo or hallmarks will identify the maker or manufacturer, the first step in identifying the sterling flatware pattern.
Use the manufacturer or maker information to search for patterns produced by that company. Primary websites for companies still in existence are usually the best source for accurate information. The Replacements website also has pictures by manufacturer, but they include all flatware--silver plate and stainless. To locate just the sterling, use the search box at the upper right.
Match the pattern with a piece of the sterling flatware in hand, since there are many patterns that are similar. An article in Collectors Weekly reports that "companies such as American silver giant Reed & Barton made the same patterns in both silver plate and sterling silver..." Be sure you are looking at the sterling flatware pattern and not the plated flatware.
Take a piece of silver flatware to a local antiques shop for help if you have questions or if you cannot identify the silver flatware pattern. Most shop owners have books and an interest in learning about collectible merchandise, and are willing to share. If a local shop owner cannot assist in identification, attend an antiques and collectibles show. Find a dealer who has silver flatware and ask questions about the maker and pattern.
Before making a purchase of sterling flatware to match a set, have your piece weighed on a gram scale and locate a piece of approximate weight. This is important because patterns produced for many decades were not always the same weight. They were heavier in years when sterling was inexpensive.