The value of antique silver depends on the alloy of metals, condition and age. Sterling silver is 92.5 percent pure silver, with a 7.5 percent mix of other metals, such as copper and iron.
Look for a hallmark
Write down the markings on the antique silver piece you wish to appraise, and go to the reference section of your local library. Look under antique sterling silver to find the type of piece that you have, preferably a guide with a value chart, or look online at http://www.925-1000.com. The more valuable pieces of antique silver jewelry tend to have hallmarks, or a manufacturer’s name, such as "Tiffany" engraved on the piece.
Test silver for purity
To determine if you antique silver is genuine, look for a damaged or scratched section, rough the area with the inside of a small scissor, and apply testing acid. Genuine sterling silver will turn gray. 99 percent purer silver is more valuable than sterling. Many pieces from European and American silver companies were made from pure alloys. Once you have identified the purity of silver within a piece, you can get a more accurate idea of worth.
Get a professional appraisal
When in doubt, make an appointment with a good, professional antique dealer or appraiser knowledgeable about antique silver. Look in your newspaper under classified ad sections for specialists, or in the phone book under the antiques section. There are specialists in silver who appraise online. Check out http://www.instappraisal.com.
What kind of antique silver to collect
Look for anything you like, but as an investment, look for antique silver spoons. Silver spoons from the 16th and 17th century are highly collectible and quite valuable with prices ranging from $500, and in excess of $20,000, on rarities. Look for distinct patterns and styles.
Easiest places to find antique silver
Check out thrift stores in your area. At thrift stores, you can find antique silver for a bargain price. Look through the kitchen utensil boxes. Sometimes you will find old treasures, and it's fun to search.
Linda Stamberger began writing professionally in 1994, as an entertainment reporter for "Good Times Magazine." She has written online copy for The Volusia Community website and is the author of "Antiquing in Florida." Stamberger studied creative writing at Southampton College, where she won a partial writing scholarship.