how to: thrift real silver

Yesterday, you saw my wicked awesome thrifty thursday score, a real silver plate bowl.


So you don’t feel left out, and can find silver pieces too, I promised to write about how to spot real silver while you’re thrifting.

My first piece of advice is, when you hit the thrift store, go to where the tarnished metal is. That’s where you’ll find the silver. I know it’s not pretty to look at a shelf full of tarnished metal objects, but that’s where you’ll find the good stuff. Real silver in a thrift shop is never shiny. Not in my experience anyway.

Have a look underneath the object and look for a stamp. If the stamp says E.P. Copper or E.P. Brass (or zinc or nickel), then that means it’s electroplated copper, brass, zinc or nickel. It’s NOT SILVER.

You’re looking for the stamp that says “silver plate” or a stamp that indicates it’s sterling silver (also known as .925 silver).

Silver plate means it’s coated in sterling silver, while .925 silver means the whole piece is made from 92.5% silver. I have yet to find a sterling silver piece, unless it’s jewelry, so these silver pieces are hard to find!

If you want to know more about how to find sterling silver, you can check this ehow article, How to Tell if Silver Flatware Is Real Silver. Like I said, my experience with sterling silver is limited to jewelry, but I’m keeping the knowledge from that article in my back pocket, cause you never know what you’ll find at the thrift store!

Since I’m more familiar with silver plate—and it’s more common in thrift stores—that is my primary focus.

Sometimes the silver plate stamp is obvious, like on my silver plate bowl:


Sometimes it’s tricky to tell, like this:


I knew that Birks was a reputable jewelry store, but I didn’t know what “EP-NS” was, so I looked it up online and found out EPNS stands for “electroplated nickel silver.” I found this definition of EPNS:

EPNS Silver Plate

The process of electroplating developed in the late 1800′s and is the binding of a very fine layer of silver to the base metal. As the silver content of the piece is really low, it makes pieces easy and inexpensive to manufacture, so historically there have been high quantities of antique and vintage EPNS pieces, such as cutlery, candlesticks and other trinkets on the market, which have kept demand and values low. However, in recent years the demand for, and value of, good quality older EPNS items has increased.

So EPNS is a layer of silver bound to nickel. That’s silver plate. Hurray!

Here’s another silver plate stamp:


You can tell this one is not electroplated because there’s no “E.P.” I wish I could tell you what the rest of it stands for (like the 5 1/2) but I really have no idea. Any of you guys know?

As you can see the stamps are rarely the same. Sometimes, like here on the bottom of a candlestick, you’ll see a sticker stuck to the blue velvet on the base:


Here’s a close-up of the sticker.


Obviously, that one’s a no-brainer, like my silver bowl.

If you want to dig a little deeper into the world of real silver, check out:

If you haven’t already, dig out your silver pieces (or your mom’s, grandma’s or great aunt Beulah’s) and check out the stamp.

If you have anything to add to my little “how to” please share! I’d love to learn more! I am by no means an expert on this—I just wanted to help you with what I’ve learned from my own thrifting experiences.

Also see my tips on becoming a thrift shopping wizard!

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9 thoughts on “how to: thrift real silver

  1. Thank you! Thank You! Thank you for this info. It has been most helpful! I would love to know anything hat you have to share about being thrifty, so please feel free to email me any time and I will get back to you as soon as I can! I am so glad I surfed up on your page. (LOL)! Be blessed.

  2. Pingback: 26 Common Thrift Store Finds You Can Flip To Make Money | Sharing Interesting Stuff, Updates News & Free Tips

  3. I always thought silver plated was worthless. That it has no value. Please let me now if this is wrong. I have passed up many plated items

    • Hi, I believe you are right…the value of silver plated is merely the enjoyment value…they are not worth much in terms of scrap silver value.

  4. Unfortunately, silver plated in worthless. It has a very thin silver coating on a metal base which is too costly to break down for the silver. Only TRUE sterling is worth some money as well as a few EP copper pieces as they can be sold for the copper or if they are rare pieces. Hope this helps.

  5. I have several gobblets and on the bottom its stamped E.P.N and over next to it there is a large 2. My questions is how to clean them correctly. I assume they are silver plated and nickle I guess. Just dont want to use brasso or something that will damage it. Any help would be helpful.


  6. Folks, electroplated IS the way silver plate becomes silver plated. The silver coating can be heavy or thin, can be over brass, copper, nickel silver (a copper and nickel alloy), Britannia metal, “metal blanc” which is a French term for the same white metal, or even zinc. It can be marked EPNS, EPC, silver plate, quadruple plate, art silver, alaska or nevada or inlaid silver, or European plate marks such as “90.” Sometimes, English pieces have fake hallmarks that look somewhat like sterling marks. In any case, there is no melt value in these pieces.
    Sterling silver, marked “sterling” or with British or European hallmarks, or with variations on “925,” is 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper (for strength and ductility). It has melt value as well as artistic value.
    A magnet will help you tell if something is ferrous (iron or steel) and nothing about any of these other metals.
    Sheffield, England, is still a centre of silvermaking, of a decent quality. Much cheap silver, especially thin plate over brass, comes from India. These are often marked with nothing more than a sticker, which may be long gone by the time you find your thrift store treasure.

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