Sterling silver can be bought in numerous places, such as second-hand stores, antique shops, pawn shops, sterling silver specialty shops, as we as online markets such as eBay and Overstock.
While brick-and-mortar stores may have interesting pieces, the volume of items and the stiff competition, as well as the lower overhead, can bring prices lower online. In fact, on eBay some rare artistic or collectible sterling silver pieces can at times be found just barely above the melt price of the metal.
When buying online, just as when buying in a brick-and-mortar store, it’s advisable to check the seller’s history to ensure the authenticity of the item as well as prompt service. If a seller has a high rating and a history of selling hundreds or thousands of items, and particularly if the seller has an offline business and uses the internet to reach new customers, it’s usually a sign that the seller is legitimate.
The Importance of a Silver Testing Kit
It is also advisable to have an acid testing kit to test questionable products, though care must be taken as it can be harmful if misused. There are plenty of variations of acids for testing available, though all contain nitric acid of different potencies. One common method of testing sterling is by rubbing it on a black touchstone to leave a streak of dust on it, and to do this multiple times to create multiple streaks parallel to each other, and to see how a drop of acid reacts when it comes into contact with the streak, and to repeat this with each streak.
The 14- or 18-carat gold acid will give the streak a bright blue or whitish-blue color when the sterling silver is authentic. If the metal streak dissolves completely after repeated attempts at testing, then it is unlikely to be sterling. By arming oneself a testing kit, a person can navigate through a market rife with counterfeit or unmarked items.
The Importance of Knowledge of Sterling Silver
Besides having a testing kit, knowledge is also key no matter where the sterling silver is purchased. By recognizing hallmarks, one is better able to gauge the likelihood that an item has been mistaken for a base metal as well as if an item is likely plated. Some people make a living off of buying sterling silver from second-hand shops that is unidentified as being composed of sterling.
Among the hallmarks most commonly found with sterling silver are the lion passant — a lion emblem with the right fore paw raised — the word “sterling” spelled out, and “925,” representing the silver purity. Generally, these are indicators of authenticity. Other variations can be found, and many pieces centuries old have numerous assay marks, allowing collectors to precisely date the pieces. Modern American sterling silver often has the word “sterling” as well as the manufacturer name or symbol marked to assure buyers of its authenticity. Sometimes, however, authentic sterling silver pieces may lack a hallmark, and they can be authenticated with an acid test.
These are just some of the ways that buyers can avoid counterfeit items and enjoy the beauty of a sterling silver collection at reasonable prices.