Identify flatware by determining its pattern and whether it is antique, sterling or silver-plate. A maker's mark is engraved on the back of the handle of most pieces and clues to whether the flatware is real sterling or less valuable silver-plate can be discovered in the mark. Match a design or the shape of a piece to an online gallery of silverware patterns, or send a clear photograph to a flatware reseller or credentialed appraiser for identification.
Sterling silverware is crafted from nearly solid silver and worth far more than any other type of flatware. Silver-plate is a thin veneer of silver over a base metal. Real sterling is usually stamped with the word "sterling" on the back next to the mark. The number "925" indicates the high proportion of sterling in a piece and is another proof of value. Signs that flatware is silver-plate include the symbols "A1" and the letters "IS."
Manufacturers engrave company marks, typically names, on most pieces. As firms changed hands over time, those names and maker icons were modified. The name on the handle is a clue to how old a piece is, as is a pattern made only for a limited time period.