Whether You Should Buy Solid Silver or Silver Plate Cutlery

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How to Determine Whether You Should Buy Solid Silver or Silver Plate Cutlery

Silver cutlery is a great way to dress up a table for holidays and family gatherings. It offers a beautiful finish to a table setting and elevates a meal from the mundane to the splendid. An investment into a silver cutlery set can be viewed as an investment into the family. These sets often become part of the family heirloom collection and are passed lovingly from one generation to the next. When starting a search for the best silver cutlery to purchase, one of the decisions to make is whether to purchase solid silver or silver plate.

Some antique solid silver cutlery pieces can be very valuable, making them great collectors’ items. With a range of patterns and manufacturers available, the desirability, quality and price can vary substantially.

Silver-plated cutlery can be a less costly solution to adding an antique look and style to a table. Although considered to be less intrinsically valuable due to the lower amount of silver used, silver-plated cutlery offers a variety of designs and options that add elegance and classic style at a price that is more affordable to the average consumer.

When considering whether to buy solid silver or silver-plated cutlery, understanding the options and differences will help narrow down the search to find the most suitable pieces. This guide will give you more insight into the differences between solid silver and silver plate, and which one meets your needs and your budget.

History of Solid Silver or Silver Plate Cutlery

Although silversmiths and silver markings can be traced back as far as the 1300s in England, it wasn’t until around the early eighteenth century that the upper class began using silver cutlery as the norm. Solid silver cutlery was assayed at a local assay office for authenticity, and hallmarks were included on pieces to indicate the town, maker, date and the silver standard of quality.

Silver plating was discovered in the mid-1700s by the Sheffield Company. The process was refined, and by the 1770s, the Sheffield Plating process included the layering of silver over a copper core.  In the eighteenth century, Sheffield Plate pieces featured elaborate borders, and although some pieces may feature a maker’s mark, many pieces were unmarked.

Electroplating began in the 1840s, within involved the use of electro-disposition to cover a core metal (originally copper) with a thin layer of silver. The copper base was eventually replaced by nickel, and the styles tended to follow those created with solid-silver pieces. By 1851, electroplating replaced the Sheffield process as a more cost-effective process.

Types of Solid Silver and Silver Plate Cutlery

There is a wide array of different types of solid silver and silver-plated cutlery items available, all created in different designs that reflected the styles of the era in which they were made. Pieces range form common table items, used in most meals, to specialty items for particular occasions, or foods, for example a Christmas pudding spoon. Common solid silver and silver-plated cutlery pieces include:

· Dinner Forks

· Dinner Knives

· Dinner Spoons

· Dessert Forks

· Salad Forks

· Dessert Knifes

· Butter Knifes

· Serving Utensils

Comparison of Solid Silver and Silver-Plated Cutlery

The table below outlines some of the key differences between solid silver and silver-plated cutlery.


Sterling Silver

Silver Plate


92.5 percent silver and 7.5 percent other metal (typically copper)

· Sheffield Plating – copper core between two layers of silver (early form)

· Electroplated – surface is 99.9 percent silver with core made of copper, zinc or nickel


· Intrinsic value based on silver use

· Value is determined by condition, age, markings and rarity of piece.

· Intrinsically less valuable than sterling

· Old Sheffield-plating pieces tend to be more sought after

· Silver-plated nickel tends to be more valuable than silver-plated copper



· England - Lion passant

· Britannia for Britannia silver (95.84 percent pure silver) from 1697 to 1720

· Will also include the maker’s mark, date mark, and town mark

· Old Sheffield -1765 to 1825 - a crown

· Old Sheffield - 1820s - stamped with 'Best Sheffield Heavy Silver Plating'

· Stamped with 'Sheffield Plated' indicated electroplating

· Electroplated pieces are normally stamped with EPNS and often include maker’s marks


· Will tarnish

· Requires proper storage and care

· Will tarnish

· Requires proper storage and care

Factors to Consider When Buying Solid-Silver or Silver-Plated Cutlery

The following factors are important to consider when determining whether to purchase solid silver or silver-plated cutlery.

1.  Budget - Determining budget limitations is one of the most important factors in choosing between solid silver and silver-plated cutlery. Solid silver cutlery can be much more expensive due to the higher quality and content of silver used. Many older silver-plated cutlery items are still considered collectable, but can be less costly to buy.

2.  Condition - It is important to ensure that both solid silver and silver-plated items are in good condition before making a decision to purchase. Confirm that any hallmarks on solid-silver pieces are legible and that the surface hasn’t suffered too many scratches or damage. As silver-plated cutlery uses less silver, it is important to ensure that there are no worn down spots that allow the base metal to come through.

3.  Age - The age of both solid silver and silver-plated cutlery will impact costs. Older items tend to be more valuable. Solid silver cutlery is most valuable, followed by Sheffield platting which is typically considered more valuable than its electroplated counterparts.

4.  Style and Design - Both solid silver and silver-plated cutlery designs tended to follow the styles of the time. From ornate to classic, both options are available in a wide selection of different patterns. Patterns and pieces that are rarer tend to be more valuable. When it comes to selecting a pattern of cutlery, personal tastes and décor should be considered.

How to Care for Solid-Silver or Silver-Plate Cutlery

Both solid silver and silver-plated cutlery is subject to tarnishing and require basic care and attention to keep them looking their best. Most cutlery sets will come with a case designed to house and protect them between uses. If the case has been lost or damaged, they are available for purchase online through eBay and are a worthwhile investment. It is important to properly care for and store solid silver and silver-plated cutlery to ensure it is ready for the next special gathering. The following list outlines some tips and steps for caring for solid silver and silver-plated cutlery.

1.  Hand-wash cutlery in warm soapy water after use, as salt and chemicals in food can cause corrosion and damage.

2.  Never wash cutlery with hard detergents or soap, or rub with abrasive cloths.

3.  Dishwashers can leave marks, scratches, and wear down silver-plated cutlery over time, and are not recommended

4.  Do not use bleach, harsh agents, or clean with scouring cloths.

5.  Always dry cutlery before storage.

6.  Use a polishing cloth before storage to diminish tarnishing between uses.

How to Remove Tarnish on Solid-Silver or Silver-Plate Cutlery

Tarnishing is a natural process that occurs as the silver reacts with oxygen and sulphur in food, causing discolouration. Both solid-silver and silver-plated cutlery will tarnish over time, and it is best to clean cutlery in the first stages of tarnishing.

There are several methods available that help in the removal of tarnish from solid-silver and silver-plated cutlery: 

· Polishing powder or paste made specifically for silver

· Silver dips are an alternative cleaning method, providing a fast and easy process. Silver dips should be used with care as they are chemical based and prolonged exposure can cause damage.

· Electrolytic kits can be purchased that immerse cutlery in a hot solution of washing soda. Do not use dip solutions to remove very heavy tarnish as it may produce a matt finish.

Do not use toothpaste to remove tarnish, as it can cause scratching and damage. Choose any cleaning products carefully, and adhere to the instructions. If in doubt, consult a professional as any damage caused by cleaning incorrectly, may be irreparable.

Finding Solid Silver and Silver-Plated Cutlery on eBay

Once you determine the type of silver cutlery you want to purchase, visit the Antiques portal on eBay, and click on the sub-category ‘Silver, then ‘Cutlery Sets’ and start searching item listings. The Categories list on the left-hand side of the eBay page helps to narrow the search.

Searching for Solid Silver and Silver-Plated Cutlery on eBay

Search eBay listing titles for specific words when shopping for solid silver or silver plate cutlery. For example, to find a solid silver spoon, type ‘Solid Silver Spoon’ into the search box, and then click the Advanced button to customise the results. Also visit eBay’s Search Tips page for more advice on searching for solid silver and silver plate cutlery with keywords. If you can’t find the exact antique solid silver or silver plate cutlery item you want, try shopping eBay Stores.


Solid silver and silver-plated antique cutlery each offer advantages and disadvantages when it comes to making a purchase. Both styles offer beautifully designed styles and a wide variety of pieces that can complement any décor.  When trying to determine whether to purchase solid silver or silver-plated cutlery, it is important to consider cost, condition, age, and style. Once you have collected this information, you can buy solid silver and silver plate cutlery safely and securely on eBay..

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