Sterling silver is generally divided into two categories: holloware (shaped pieces such as teapots, bowls and plates) and flatware (flat items such as knives, spoons and forks). Much of the collectible sterling flatware found today dates to the 19th or early 20th century. During the 19th century, elaborate meals included a vast array of sterling utensils to match every food item. Grape scissors, bon bon spoons and finger sandwich tongs are a few of the specialized items. While 20th century lines of sterling silverware tend to have fewer unusual utensils, they are still extremely collectible and valuable. In general, the value of sterling silverware, or flatware, depends on the age, country of origin, design, condition and rarity.
Look for marks. Sterling silver is marked, and the required marks differ from country to country. In England, for example, you will find marks depicting sterling, city of origin, manufacturer and date. In America, sterling flatware is marked with the manufacturer's mark and often the word "silver," indicating sterling silver. Compare the hallmarks you discover silver marks listed online or in reference books.
Identify the pattern. If you identified a manufacturer for your silver flatware piece, your search for a pattern name is limited to that manufacturer's line of flatware. If, however, you were unable to identify a manufacturer, your search will include looking through more images.
Determine the value by comparing silverware in books or online with your pieces. You may not find an identical piece, but match your piece as closely as possible. Keep in mind that during the 19th century, each line of flatware may have had more than 100 different utensils. The more obscure or unusual the item, the higher the value.
Fine-tune the value of your sterling flatware piece by considering its condition. If it is free of damage and major scratches, the value increases over pieces showing extreme handling and wear.