The use of patterned flatware has been traditional in American homes for the last century, and many patterns have become heirlooms, but regular or special occasion use is common. Pieces get lost or damaged with use, and families forget pattern names, so finding matching flatware without resources and information is a challenge. You can overcome the challenge and complete a vintage, collectible or recent set of silverware with resources readily available.
Identify the manufacturer of the flatware pattern by checking the back of a teaspoon. Most flatware still in use has the name of the maker on the handle, but there are some manufacturers that place the information on the heel of a spoon--that part that touches the surface when the placing the spoon at the table. MSI, makers of Versailles pattern stainless, is one company that marks the back of the bowl of a spoon.
Determine if the flatware is sterling silver, silver plate or stainless steel. Look for this information in the same location as the manufacturer name--down the handle of a teaspoon or on the back of the bowl. Sterling flatware may be marked with English hallmarks or the word "sterling." Silver plate is usually marked with the word "plate" and may be Electroplate on Nickel Silver (EPNS) or Standard Plate, Double Plate, Triple Plate or Quadruple Plate.
Use an identification book like Tere Hagan's "Silverplated Flatware" or Harry Rinker's "Silverware of the 20th Century: The Top 250 Patterns" to identify the flatware pattern. Identify stainless patterns on the Replacements or Silver Collect website or on the website of the manufacturer. Oneida and Lenox provide excellent identification photographs for their patterns. For patterns you cannot identify, especially foreign silverware, take a piece of the flatware to a collectibles mall or show and locate a silverware seller. Ask for help with identification. Most dealers at shows bring books and are pleased to help.
Find matching flatware from the manufacturer's website or a similar outlet if the pattern is still available. Purchase older patterns on the secondary market at websites like Replacements or Silver Collect, or from collectible malls and shows, if they are not available at retail. Once you know the maker, the pattern name, and whether the flatware is stainless, silver plate or sterling, make a list of the pieces you need to complete the set and carry it with you for the search, along with a teaspoon for confirmation of the match.