The marks on a silver tea set give information about its history and composition. Silver tea set markings usually include a maker's mark, and may include an assayer's mark and/or hallmark, as well as information about the town and year of the set's creation.
Sterling silver is often stamped with STERLING or a lion passant to show that it has been verified for purity. It may also have a number showing the percentage of silver in the set. Due to the high cost of silver, some silversmiths adopted plating methods to offer the aesthetics of silver at a more affordable price.
Silverplating follows one of two methods. The Sheffield technique was developed in the 1740s and fuses a sheet of silver to another metal, such as copper, so it can be formed and pressed in the same manner as sterling silver. Electroplating was introduced in the 1800s and deposits a thin layer of silver electrolytically over a base metal. Electroplated silver may be stamped with a four-letter acronym beginning with EP to denote the base metal. The most common base metals are Nickel Silver, which is denoted with "NS," and Britannia Metal, noted by "BM."
Collectors utilize databases of symbols to trace the origins of silver tea sets. For example, 925-1000.com is an online encyclopedia of maker's marks from numerous countries with thousands of antique, heirloom, modern and silver plate marks. SilverCollection.it also publishes thousands of sterling and silver plate maker's marks.