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Testing Silver at Home for the average consumer



An ongoing discussion from 2005 through 2014 . . .
Simplest tests include magnet, Archimedes test, heat conductance, bell-like ringing, mustard stain test, and vinegar test -- but several different tests must be done. Acid test is best!


(2005)

Q. I am trying to figure out if this particular item is real silver or plated silver or plated gold and silver on the inside. It's a very unique item. I was wondering if there was any particular quick or simple test that I can do here at home before I take it to someone and pay them to test it. If there is such a way I would really appreciate it.

Julie Barnum
consumer - Florence, Colorado


(2005)

A. Hi Julie. First test it with a neodymium magnet, since iron and steel are magnetic whereas most other materials are not. (If you buy neodymium magnets, please read all the cautions; small children and animals need immediate major surgery if they swallow one).

Then determine the density of the object using Archimedes' principle (compare it's weight to how much water it displaces). If it's at least 10x as heavy as water and non-magnetic, there is at least a chance it's silver; otherwise it's not, so don't waste money on further testing.

If it says "Sterling" or .925, and it's not counterfeit, it's solid 92.5% silver. It's hard to tell what's inside an unopened package, so if you don't let the jeweler scrape through to expose the innards for an acid test, you're probably limited to x-ray testing, which is expensive. Good luck!

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

Small neodymium magnets




wikipedia
Sterling Silver

December 14, 2011

If it's stainless steel plated with silver, a magnet test won't work. Stainless steel is non-magnetic.

Morley Robertson
- Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


December 14, 2011

Hi, Morley. Your statement is very helpful -- thanks! And it's a good reminder that no single test is conclusive, but if you test several different parameters, your assurance level rises.

(But for the record: while type 3xx stainless steel [18/8 & 18/10] is almost non-magnetic, type 4xx stainless steel [18/0] is strongly magnetic.)

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

April 27, 2012

A. In reading this post I wanted to add something. Please do not consider the magnet test to be a reliable test for silver. This especially applies to jewelry. You will find that silver is often plated with Rhodium. Rhodium itself is not magnetic but in order to plate a piece with rhodium it must be plated with another metal first. These metals can be magnetic. You will find the piece to be slightly magnetic whereas if you have a piece of plated steel it will be very strongly magnetic. This applies to white gold as well. I have seen many people pass up on sterling and white gold for this reason.

Tina Simpson
- Chicago, Illinois USA


November 2013

Hi again. Strangely, silver is apparently very very weakly magnetic. So weakly magnetic that even a powerful neodymium magnet can't approach picking it up. But there is a great youtube video where the presenter slides a powerful little neodymium magnet down the face of a coin and the slower it slides, the more silver =>

These magnets are very strong, so if there is any iron in the coin, it will lock on very strongly instead of sliding.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

May 29, 2014

A. A clarifying statement in response to the posted video about sliding a magnet next to a coin.

Silver is what is known as "diamagnetic". That is to say, if a magnet is moved near it silver will produce an opposite field to the magnet. If you were to drop a magnet through a silver tube it would slow down due to the magnetic fields resisting each other. Copper is the same way, and there are some great videos on youtube demonstrating the effect.

Unfortunately this compounds the whole issue. If you have silver plated copper then the diamagnetic effect will be the same.

WARNING!!! With coins (or sculptures) never ever rub a magnet on them or you will (potentially) drastically lower it's value without even trying. For example: A Newfoundland 1900 50 cent coin is valued at $4000 in MS60, $1100 in AU50, and $200 in EF40. You can change an MS60 into an AU50 simply by sliding the coin on paper or soft cloth. And you can drop it from MS60 to EF40 or worse by a moderate scratch, especially if the scratch is on the face of the person on the coin. Tea sets and such might not be so price sensitive, but if you do a magnet test make sure to pick a spot where an accidental scratch won't show.

John Williams
- Portland, Oregon, USA



Silver is good conductor of heat

(2005)

A. My favorite test method is crude but quick. Using the fact that solid silver is an excellent conductor of heat, I place an ice cube in or on the object and see how quickly the article becomes cold to the touch. For something like a teaspoon with ice in the bowl, the handle becomes cold in about 5-10 seconds. A plated spoon takes about 30 seconds. I have not tried silver plated copper pieces, however.

James Chunn
- Theodore, Alabama



Silver rings like a bell?

(2006)appended

Q. I have the same concerns about distinguishing silver (WHETHER STERLING OR PLATE) from other metals.I WILL SOON BE TRAVELING TO A PART OF THE WORLD where the locals mine silver, make silver jewelry, perhaps even sell silver ingots. It could offer some real opportunities, but obviously there are opportunities for getting scammed.

Any ideas about how to test the "product" for genuineness?

Mygnon Evans
- Lakeland, Florida


February 27, 2009

A. Balance the item on your finger and strike it with a pencil or similar. Pure silver rings like a bell with a high frequency that does not fade quickly. If it gives a dull thud, it is some base alloy -- even if it has a plating of silver over it.

Andy Maybury
home energy adviser - Hawick, U.K.


February 6, 2012

thumbsdownThe method of tapping a silver coin while balancing on your finger is not legitimate. Many other metals have the ringing property when hit by a pencil.

Robert Flarence
- New York, New York, USA


February 7, 2012

Thanks, Robert, but lots of tests are multi-part, and I think we can only say a test is "not legitimate" if it produces false negatives as well as false positives. Do you feel that that is the case? Thanks.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


Only the acid test is reliable? -- how about mustard or vinegar?

May 8, 2009

A. There is only one true way to test silver and, that is with acid =>

Not a magnet as this will give a false positive due to the fact silver can be plated over copper / brass / bronze etc. almost any metal known to man can be plated or be used as plating over one another ....

D Man
- Ormond, Florida

Silver Test Kit


November 19, 2009

A. Use French's mustard. Place a small drop on the silver item and use a small amount of heat either sunlight or even a lighter, The silver sulfide will show as a black stain on the surface of the item, This won't determine if its solid silver, but will tell you if it's silver, I would ping test it and use Archimedes' principle with weight along with the stain test. Don't worry, the stain will wipe away with vinegar.

David Champy II
- Milton,New Hampshire


January 4, 2012

A. To test, simply make a small scratch somewhere inconspicuous on the item, and put a drop of ordinary household white vinegar on the scratch. If it turns green, or any other colour, you have a plated metal and not the genuine article.

Billy Higgins
- Galway, Ireland


February 17, 2012

A. You will need to be cautious with the vinegar test. I didn't have any silverplate quickly at hand, but I did have some some nickel silver out of China and some sterling. The vinegar showed no colour on either scratch test, so will not identify nickel silver as not being sterling.

As an aside: There are a lot of fakes coming out of China these days - bullion bars and necklaces as a couple of examples. The necklaces are marked as 925 but both acid testing and density testing confirm they are fakes. I expect it won't be long until it is filtering through eBay as scrap. Buyer Beware!

Valerie Kistner
- Okanagan Falls, BC, Canada



Testing silver powder from film

October 7, 2010

Q. My husband was in the printing business and has collected pure silver which was extracted from photographic film through the development process. How can the silver powder be tested it's quality?

Karen Freedman
- Reisterstown, Maryland, USA

December 23, 2010

A. If you have silver powder this could be smelted into solid silver. You would need some specialist items as this video shows (not me by the way just found on you tube :),
youtube.com/watch?v=yFekwsmIzTQ
so may not something that you could do at home but I am sure there will be someone local to you that could help out.

Christian Hirlemann
- Canterbury, Kent, England


March 12, 2011

Q. What is the best way to check if an item is silver and what is the silver content of an item within reasonable limits? Also, buying silver coins from a dealer in the UK -- how safe is it as the dealers do not Mint their own coins but buy from out of house sources? Am asking this because I have not seen a dealer yet stating who mints the coins they sell except for Britannias which of course I trust been Minted by the royal Mint, I also bought a few american eagles from Ebay and they do look different from the Britannias; they look very dull. Is this because they are not polished? The finish not as good -- and WHO Mints the U.S. Eagles?

Unfortunately they are more expensive, but coins like the Canadian Maples or the Austrian Philarmonicas, the dealers do not state which Mint minted them. Are they as safe to buy as the ones minted by the Royal Mint? I have a few Britannias but like to buy some of the others too.
Thanks guys

takis sozou
hobby - greater London UK

Jeweler's test:
Rare Earth Magnet


April 11, 2011

Q. I pulled some silver coils out of a big electric box. When testing for silver it turned a turquoise color. My chart says 50% is green, 80% is brown 92.5% is dark red. Do you know what type of metal it could be?

Jimmie Penney
scrapped my whole life but now scrapping from electronics - Hawley Texas


Testing silver grains in granite

September 22, 2011

Q. I am a filipino but working in south korea as granite stone cutter for tile making. I noticed that there are so many silver grains in the granite rock. In the other department in our co. they crushed the rocks to extract iron and some metals appear to be white shiny metal. But I used magnet to test those white metals and they were magnetized...are these metals are silver that were already mixed with the iron. how can I test them to know if it is silver mixed with iron. Thank you for giving attention to my question....

brentano Ison
hobbyist - iksan chollabukdo south korea


The appearance of silver

May 21, 2012

Q. I am trying to figure out if my candlesticks are silver or might be stainless steel, they are not magnetic ... I needed to know if stainless steel tarnishes.

Trisha Smith
- Cleveland, Tennessee, USA


May 21, 2012

A. Hi Trisha.

All metals except gold and the other precious metals tarnish ... but it is a matter of degree. You probably have stainless steel flatware or serving utensils from which you can judge what stainless steel looks like. And if you also have Sterling or silverplate flatware, the difference should be pretty apparent.

Of course, your candlesticks could be made of other things than silver or stainless, like pewter or nickel plate; and appearance is just one, rather weak, test for silver :-)

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

August 19, 2012appended

Q. Hi, I recently bought a silver cigarette case and the outside is definitely silver and the inside (where the hallmarks are--strange hallmarks that don't look current at all, but hallmarks) is shiny yellow-ish. I am wondering what it could be made out of. It's like the inside of a silver chalice.

ida rand
hobbyist - portland Oregon USA

August 19, 2012

A. Hi Ida.

There is no particular no reason I can think of to believe it isn't silver with gold plating. Or brass with silver plating. But you'll need to take it to a gold buying service or test it yourself. Guessing solely from the appearance isn't going to cut it, unfortunately. Good luck.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


June 6, 2012

Q. I came across a silver serving tray in my deceased parents' attic. It may have come over from England in the early 30's. It is 22" x 16" not including the handles. It has feet, weighs 8 1/2 lb. and has ornate scrollwork. It is not magnetic and is only slightly tarnished. There are no identifying marks whatsoever on it. Should I try the vinegar test? What else would you recommend? Thank you for any consideration you may give me.

Noel Triplett
- Charlotte, North Carolina


October 2013

A. Hi Noel. If it's not stamped "Sterling" it's unlikely to be silver. Sorry.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

April 14, 2013

Q. How do you tell the difference between solid silver and silver solder?

Kayla Ferguson
- Spooner, Wisconsin, USA


April 15, 2013

A. Hi Kayla. Solder is for joining things, not making things. It might be used to connect a cup to a base, for example, or a handle to a teapot -- but a cup or base or handle or teapot would not be made out of solder. At least that's my understanding.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


May 6, 2013

Q. Hi there, I have an antique concho belt bought at an estate sale. Each medallion is stamped on the back "madeinspain" with a capital "E" in a circle also stamped on the back of the medallion. It has tarnished, black does come off when wiped, could it be silver? Thank you for your response.

Stephanie Benbenek
- Greer, South Carolina


May 9, 2013

A. Hi Stephanie. It could be, but I doubt it. I'd guess tin or pewter, assuming it's non-magnetic. Black tarnish is certainly not exclusive to silver, and silver tarnish doesn't usually wipe off easily. I think the overall thrust of the thread is that testing will beat guessing :-)

Good luck and Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


October 11, 2013

Q. I have like 4 canisters that stack and sit in a holder with Chinese or Japanese wording, hallmark is a seal with ball on nose. Magnet does not stick to them

Penn Tinklenberg
- Milaca, Minnesota, US


October 2013

A. Hi Penn. There are hallmarking books in the library if you wish to try to figure out who made this set. But the fact that they are not magnetic only says they're not steel. They could be stainless, tin, zinc, copper, brass, pewter, silver-free "nickel silver" ... almost anything. You need to run additional tests if you wish to know what metal these are made of. good luck!

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

October 23, 2013

Q. I have been given two silver coffee/tea sets with sugar and creamers. Both are very old. Great grandparents on both side. I am in my 60s. One says made by Rogers and has a name called Princess and has a long number carved in it. Not the 92....whatever.

The other has a name like Belkin or something like it and nothing else.



silver tea sets

I need to figure out if it is Silver. Where can I take them?

Paula Houghm
- Mpls, Minnesota, USA


October 23, 2013

A. Hi Paula. The simplest test is to see if they say "Sterling". If they do, they're silver. If they don't, the chance of them being silver is fairly slim. Unfortunately silver plated holloware, with few exceptions, is pretty much valueless =>

I see "We buy gold" signs on every other street corner these days; I think any of those places can identify silver as well. Also, an experienced antiques dealer might have some knowledge of these. Even sterling isn't worth a lot; browse e-bay and try to find some similar items (although you'll usually see 0 bids, meaning they are not saleable at the advertised price). Better to try to enjoy them than to try to sell them :-) Good luck.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

January 17, 2014

Q. I found a tarnished bread tray at a thrift store. The hallmark is for Webster and Sons. It is a star within a web. The model number is 109. The tray is tarnished and appears to be silver or plated. There is no sterling or plated markings on it. The tray is very soft. I can put a bulge in it by pushing with my thumb. It was warped when purchased, but I easily twisted it back into shape. Scratches do not reveal a different color underneath. This tray really has my curiosity peaked. If this is a alloy under the plating, any ideas what it would be?

Andy Janes
- Moncton, NB, Canada


January 20, 2014

A. Hi Andy. If you search ebay for Webster and Sons, you'll see generally similar items with the same star within a web. It is probably silver plated nickel silver (nickel silver contains no silver). Hopefully you like it because it's really not valuable or saleable. Good luck with it.

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey

March 26, 2014

Q. I am trying to figure out if a rock is real silver.

Trinity Amanda shaw
- Moosup Connecticut United States


Hi cousin Amanda. You probably feel that all of the previous 3 dozen postings are inapplicable to your rock, and you may well be right. Still, it's best to explain why in your question -- because doing otherwise can be misread as blowing off everyone's previous effort, and that usually proves to be a way to guarantee that nobody takes the time to try to help you :-(

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey



July 16, 2014

Q. Hi I have a pair of plain corinthian column candlesticks about 7 inches tall. They appear to be silver. There is no wear to a base metal. The markings are obscure and I can't trace them anywhere. There is what appears to be the initials AB in old scrolled victorian script and the second mark is An A over an O in a shield.These are stamped into the side of the base area. I have done the bell ringing and the vinegar test with good results. Can you enlighten me further?

John Dodd
- ipswich suffolk great britain


July 2014

A. Hi John. If you can send a pic of your Hallmarks there is a slim chance someone will identify it. From a verbal description, unfortunately no chance (from my experience posting hundreds of these messages for 20 years now). Candlesticks are usually weighted, so even if they do turn out to be sterling, you probably can't get a scrap evaluation until they're broken open and ruined, so try to just enjoy them :-(

Regards,

pic of Ted Mooney Teds signature
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
finishing.com
Pine Beach, New Jersey


July 16, 2014

Q. Thank you for your reply. These are not weighted. They are cast and hollow but quite heavy. Just done the ice cube test and this melted extremely fast leaving the sticks ice cold within seconds. Someone has scraped deep into the base of one revealing that they are one solid white metal.

36471-1 36471-2 36471-3 36471-4

Actual dimensions are 15 cms by 8 cms so not English. Could be some obscure Continental mark. They look early Georgian to me, possibly around 1760.They have removable drip inserts at the top. Lady told me they came back from Germany during WW2.

John ;)

John Dodd
- ipswich suffolk great britain

----
Some related finishing.com threads which might interest our readers:

Testing for silver with household chemicals
Confused about "acid test" for silver and other precious metals
Testing purity of silver


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