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How to Determine the Condition of Silver Like an Expert

This article will explain what experts look for when determining the condition of silver. It will also give you the tools to determine if any condition issues are present in a piece of silver that you own.

Carefully assessing condition is an important step in accurately evaluating a piece. In the event that you discover an issue that negatively impacts the value of your silver, our experts can determine if restoration will increase the potential resale value of the piece and recommend a qualified restorer.

Always handle silver with clean, dry hands or with cotton gloves. Do not use Latex gloves when handling silver, as it can cause the silver to tarnish.

Place the silver on a clean, nonabrasive surface in a brightly lit area. Never drag silver across a surface when moving it, as it can damage both the object and the surface. When examining the bottom of a piece of silver, place a thick towel or folded cloth on the table to protect the silver from damage.

Once you’ve set up the silver for examination, you should look for the following issues:

  • Dents
    Scrutinize the surface. Are there any depressions or indentations? Pay particular attention to the sides, feet or base of an object, and any handles, spouts, or finials.
  • Nicks and Gouges
    Run your fingers over the outside of the piece, paying special attention to frequently touched areas, such as handles, edges of bowls, and tines of forks. Do any areas feel sharp, rough, or coarse?  
  • Bends
    Do any parts of the piece appear bent or warped? Pay particular attention to thin or vulnerable areas such as handles and feet.
  • Pitting and Corrosion
    Pitting and corrosion is caused by exposure to an acid during cleaning, to salt, or certain types of food residue. This appears as tiny black spots on the surface that cannot be polished away. The dark spots in this photograph are corrosion. 
  • Wear
    Look closely at the decoration. If some areas appear highly detailed and crisp and others look like the detail has been polished and smoothed, it is likely worn.
  • Scratches and Abrasions
    Is the surface scratched? Are there areas that appear duller than the rest of the piece?
  • Repairs
    Are there any areas that look like they might have been repaired or cut out and inserted? (Monograms or armorials were sometimes “cut and pasted” into, or out of, a piece of silver when it changed hands). Look for inconsistencies in the surface and decoration, as well as any soldering that looks suspicious. Silver solder is usually applied cleanly so that it is barely visible. If you see heavy drops of solder or discolored areas around the soldering, it may be evidence of a repair or addition.
  • Tarnish
    Is the surface of your piece blackened and dull? Silver tarnish is a surface layer of oxidation caused by environmental factors. Tarnished silver appears a dull yellow, grey or black. Tarnish is removable and generally does not harm silver. If your piece is tarnished, you should polish it before taking photographs of the work for sale.