This standard -- 92.5 parts pure silver to 7.5 parts copper alloy, which strengthens the softer silver -- was established by the English during the 12th century and later adopted by most of the silver-making world, including the United States in 1868Many people think of coin as much less valuable than sterling, but it has only about 2 percent less silver and, in some cases, may even contain more.Because of its age and beauty, a piece made from coin can sometimes be worth more than American sterling.Hallmarks are authenticating marks struck on most silver items produced or offered for sale in Ireland. Though technically they were breaking the law, this interesting quirk of history gives pieces from these locations their own unique history and charm.Since 1637 the Assay Office in Dublin Castle has been the only body with the authority to perform this task. The photo below shows typical Cork marks; JN, for John Nicholson, stamped twice, either side of the word “Sterling”.You can't pore over auction records and price guides to find values for your silver and silver plated antiques if you don't know exactly what you have including where it was produced and who made it.Easier said than done when some symbols on antique and collectible silver can be thoroughly confusing without resources to point you in the right direction.Most of the time, you can find the answer simply by turning over the teaspoon, fish fork, ice cream saw, or cheese scoop (antique flatware is that specialized).On the reverse side, you usually find an indented mark or series of marks that holds a wealth of information about the item -- not only what it's made of, but sometimes also where, when, and by whom it was made.
Soon after, John Wright of Birmingham, England, discovered that potassium cyanide was a suitable electrolyte for gold and silver electroplating.This helped to protect the consumer, for if it was determined that the silver object was not actually pure enough to be marked as silver, the culprit could be found and punishment could be meted out.As silver objects made before 1700 are quite rare, I shall restrict my comments to those made after that date.The photo below shows a typical set of antique Irish silver hallmarks. However, sometimes it can be a challenge to identify which year a piece of Irish silver was made – the differences between some of the cycles can require a trained eye. Provincial silver marks Although Dublin was the only official assay office in Ireland, in the 18th century several exceptions occured; at the time the risk of highwaymen stealing the silver was ever present, so silversmiths in certain cities, notably Cork, Galway, Kinsale, Youghal and Waterford, didn’t send their wares to Dublin but instead stamped them themselves.