A hallmark is a symbol stamped onto precious metals to let jewelers and customers know that the piece is genuine. You can find these stamps on silver flatware, candlesticks, tea sets and jewelry. With a little help, you can learn to identify hallmarks to find out exactly what they mean and their significance for your sterling silver. Hallmarks started being used in England and France in the early 1300s. Hallmarks provide information about the silver content and can show who the made the piece.
Examine the sterling silver pieces and notice any marks on the silver. You might need a magnifying glass to see tiny hallmarks.
Look for the number 925 or higher. This number denotes silver that is 925 parts silver to 75 parts copper. Any silver that is at least 925 parts silver is standard sterling silver. Many U.S. manufacturers stamp their names or initials, plus "Sterling" and "925," on their silver pieces.
Notice the "lion passant," or "walking lion," on the silver piece. This is a British hallmark to identify sterling silver. It is stamped on all British sterling silver except pieces from Scotland.
Look for a thistle mark on the silver. This is the hallmark for sterling silver pieces manufactured in Scotland.
Look for the word "STERLING" stamped onto the silver. This might have the manufacturer's name stamped above and below it.
Take the silver to a local jeweler or silversmith if you can't identify the hallmarks. They are trained to identify hallmarks and can tell you whether your piece is sterling silver.
Look up the hallmark on the Internet. Several websites can help you identify almost all hallmarks--even ones that might be 700 years old.
Andrea Griffith has been writing professionally since 2005. Her work has been published by the "Western Herald," Detroit WDIV, USAToday and other print, broadcast and online publications. Although she writes about a wide range of topics, her areas of expertise include fashion, beauty, technology and education. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and English from Western Michigan University.