Silver-plated items are usually worth less than those made of sterling silver. Sterling silver is 92.5 percent pure silver, whereas silver-plated items have a thin layer of silver on top of another material, such as copper or nickel. Silver plating is a technique that dates back hundreds of year. That means that early versions of some plated silverwear can reach relatively high prices.
Silver plating involves the application of a very fine layer of silver over another substance. Though glass and other metals can be used, the most common substance to be silver plated is copper. The silver layer is applied by methods such as heat plating and electroplating. Heat plating uses high temperatures and localized pressure to secure the layer to the copper. Electroplating uses electrolysis to create a reaction between silver and nickel or copper to cause the two to fuse together.
Sterling silver will always keep some intrinsic value, because it can be melted down and sold as scrap silver. Silver plate, however, does not hold its value as successfully. Melt silver plate down, and it yields very little in terms of valuable silver or other metals. General values of silver-plated items follow the same principle as values for antique silver items. Older, rarer and better-condition items will usually produce higher prices. New, mass-produced or badly made pieces have little value.
Old Sheffield Plate
Old Sheffield Plate refers to a type of plate silver created in Sheffield, England, from the 1740s up to the 1840s. This is one of the highest-value silver-plate silverwear in auctions and among dealers, due to its scarcity and age. There is no single hallmark to identify Old Sheffield Plate. Consult the 925-1000 website (see Resources) for a list of Old Sheffield Plate marks, or use a silver-hallmark guide.
Silver electroplating began in the 1840s in the English city of Birmingham. The process led to a growth in nickel items plated with silver. Much of this early electroplated silver is in demand from antiques collectors, according to silver dealer Bryan Douglas, which means that it can reach high values. These items are usually marked "EPNS," which stands for electroplated nickel silver.
Condition affects the value of silver plate. Poor condition or worn-down plate silver may display signs of green or yellow metal appearing from beneath the silver layer. In rare cases, such as with some Old Sheffield Plate, this can be seen as a desirable factor as it shows authenticity. In most cases, however, the poorer the condition, the lower the value.