It is difficult to find sterling silver these days, but for fine silver settings for formal or family dinners, silver plate works just as well. It has little resale value, however, and is not worth refining if you wish to obtain the silver.
If the flatware you are examining does not have a mark, it can be tested with nitric acid or a 75% nitric acid and 25% hydrochloric acid mixture to find what it contains.
Before testing, find out what to look for when the acid is applied. Nitric acid and hydrochloric acid are extremely corrosive liquids that can burn through just about anything they touch, and can produce severe burns to the skin. Be sure to take silver flatware to a professional to have testing done, as testing of silver is a tricky procedure that could burn you or damage the flatware.
Chippendale is a pattern of silverware named after Thomas Chippendale, a cabinet-maker who not only designed furniture, but interiors of rooms and everything within them. The design is distinctive for having a center that emerges from a narrow point at the bottom of the handle, to smoothly and uninterruptedly broaden toward the top, spreading in a simulated fleur de lis with other spreading bands broadening slightly on either side at the top, so that the top is wide, like a trumpet-shaped flower with petals. Sometimes there are modest designs at the intersections where the side bands meet the center, but in some cases, a simple rim surrounds the modified design. See the illustrations to see examples of French Chippendale, English Chippendale and the simple Chippendale design.
Silver plate is distinguished from sterling silver in several ways, but sterling silver is defined as solid silver made of 92.5% pure silver with a small amount of copper additive, whereas silver plate is usually made of a nickel, copper and zinc combination base with an electrostatically-adhered coating of thin silver. Sterling silver is worth 4 to 5 times as much as silver-plated flatware.
Your everyday stainless steel flatware is also made of a combination of metals, including chromium, nickel and iron, but there is no silver in the mixture.
To identify a Chippendale Silver Plate, follow the four steps below:
Observe the overall look of the flatware piece to see if there is any discoloration or flaws. If it looks tarnished, or has scars or is bent, the value of the flatware may be compromised.
Rub the tarnished area of the flatware piece with a stiff cloth or silver polish. . If the tarnish rubs off and the surface regains its shine, it is either sterling silver or a good piece of silver plate. If it does not rub off, it is because the thin silver plating has rubbed off and the base metal beneath the silver is showing through. If the base metal is evident, the piece is considered "worn" and its value is low. Silver plate is expected to last only 20 years.
Look at the back of the piece of flatware. If there is a raised or indented mark or writing on the back of the piece (usually on the stem), read it. A knife will have writing on the blade near the handle, describing its content. Look at the inscription through the magnifying glass, in order to determine what it says. A sterling silver piece will have the word "sterling" and possibly a number (.925) and the name of the maker. Silver plated flatware may have the maker's name and usually will say "plate." If there is no mark, or if the piece says "stainless steel," it is not silver.
Compare the piece of flatware with the drawings in this article. If the top of the design is similar to one of the illustrations, then the piece is a Chippendale design. The mark on the back will tell you if it is silver plate, sterling, or stainless steel.
Jill Baker began writing at 13, with a diary, and has written every day since. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Baylor, a Master of Fine Arts degree from Pratt Institute. She has edited and written for national magazines and newspapers. She has written and published three books.