I was recently scolded by an old lady at an antiques fair for not spending long enough looking at her mustard pot.
“Why did you even pick that up just to put it straight down again?”
“I thought it was silver” said I.
“Any fool can see its silver” she barked, I didn’t argue further.
The mustard pot was silverplate, I could tell instantly when I picked it up, it was both too hard and the wrong colour. I am certain I would not have been thanked for explaining my rational to the proud owner but, even in the absence of any marks, it is usually fairly easy to discern silver from plate.
The weight of a piece is completely irrelevant. Silver isn’t heavy like gold so there is no way to judge it using gravity.
One of the most reliable tests is flexibility. Is there any give when you gently squeeze the sides of a cup or jug, or the bowl of a spoon? Nickel, which is the base metal for electro-plate, is very hard and will not flex under gentle pressure.
As mad as it might sound, the colour of silver is a great indicator of solidity. Electro-plate has a coating of fine silver, 99.99% pure and will reflect light like a mirror. Solid silver is only 92.5% silver, the balance usually being copper. The addition of the copper changes the reflective quality of the metal, it looks like silver, not a mirror. This can be hard to spot in isolation, but side by side and polished, EPNS and silver really are noticeably different shades.
If there is still doubt, try taking a very close look at the places that would naturally take the most wear. The underside of a foot, the back of a spoon bowl or the ends of a fork prong or the high points of the decoration. Solid silver will be the same colour all over, even on the rubbed and very worn places.
EPNS can look lighter in colour than dark tarnished silver though it is slightly yellow rather than white/silver when polished. Silver-plate is easily damaged when a well meaning person tries to shine up a spot of nickel and applies so much pressure that the thin coat of silver wears away making the small spot of nickel showing through into a large patch of yellow.
If this all still sounds too confusing, bring your mystery item to the shop where we can use the tried and trusted old school acid test to remove all doubt – no charge..