10 things you didn’t know about sterling silver flatware


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Shown here is a full set of Tiffany sterling silver flatware in the Audubon pattern. The set brought $19,470 with buyer's premium at a June 12 sale at Ivey-Selkirk Auctioneers & Appraisers in St. Louis, Mo.

1 — Sterling flatware produced in the U.S. contains no less than 92.5 percent pure silver, the rest  is copper and other metals, according to U.S. law.

2 — Bonbon or nut spoons, are used to serve nuts, candies and certain hors d’oeuvres. 

3 — Chasing is decorating flatware in high or low relief, achieved by the use of tools that push the surface of the metal into patterns; no metal is removed.

4 — Troy weight is a unit of measure employed by silversmiths: one pound avoirdupois (“goods sold by weight”) equals 14.58 ounces; 1 ounce avoirdupois equals .91 troy ounces.

5 — Most American makers mark silver on the backside of a flat piece, like a spoon, by the base of the handle with the company name or hallmark.

6 — Engraving is the process of cutting shallow lines into metal, reproducing artwork. Unlike machine engraving, hand engraving removes metal when cutting. Bright cutting is another form of engraving with a flat, angled cut.

7 — So many different serving pieces were produced that in the late Victorian era, some states passed laws prohibiting companies from coming out with new pieces because hostesses couldn’t keep up with all the new ones.

8 — In sterling there are more than 2,200 different American patterns. That’s why the most common sterling pieces will have lower prices. The unusual pieces will continue to flourish.

9  — All American sterling made after 1880 will be marked with the word “Sterling,” otherwise it is likely silver-plated.

10 — In 15th-century Italy, it was proper for a guest to arrive with his own fork and spoon enclosed in a box called a cadena.

Facts taken from the book Warman’s Sterling Silver Flatware, 2nd edition, by Phil Dreis. Krause Publications, 2009.

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More Images:

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Tiffany sterling silver mark.
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Closeup of the Tiffany sterling silver Audubon pattern.

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