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AKICIF: Materials science
I have a large hideous object. How can I tell if it is (a) solid silver, (b) silver plate, or (c) base metal? When I acquired it I was told it was silver plate.

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Look for stamps. If it's plate, I'd expect to find one saying EPNS. Silver would have a hallmark. Base metal - could have anything or nothing.

EPNA also goes a REALLY funny colour when it gets old, not black like silver at all.

If it's truly hideous, it's solid silver. If it's really pretty nasty, it's plate. If it's only moderately offensive, it's base metal.

All of the other suggestions are more sensible, but this is the one I agree with the most.

Take it to nearest jeweler?
EPNS vs hallmark is good idea too.


Well, you could try determining it's density - weigh it, then weigh it suspended in water, divide A by B to get density, compare to density of silver. That should rule in or out solid silver (oh - cross check vs. silver and sterling silver - I think they have slightly different densities). You should be able to tell if it's silver plate or something else by how it tarnishes. Silver plate tarnishes to a nice black, just like solid silver, base metals usually go to some other color.

Sterling will usually have a hallmark and a makers mark somewhere on it, and possibly a number like 925 or 84 (the latter if it's Russian, I think) Silverplate may or may not have either.

It's USian and I can't find any marks of any kind. It is truly hideous.

The USian democratic sensibility is such that truly hideous objects were produced even for the masses, so hideousness may not be much of a guide. With plate, I find that it's quite common for high-spots or large flat ones to begin to wear through to the underlying metal -- overzealous polishing will do that and a different metal color will begin to show through -- so if it's been much polished in the past and has not begun to wear through to a bronze/brassy color, it might be solid. Or, it might be fairly thick plate.

Have any nitric acid handy? From silvexonline:

To test for Sterling silver with Nitric acid, drop a small amount of acid on the sample. If it turns a creamy color, it is Sterling silver. If it turns green, it is not Sterling silver and could be silver-plated brass, nickel silver or other low quality silver alloys.

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