The rise in popularity of antique appraisal TV shows, such as Bargain hunt and the Antiques Roadshow, often makes it seem that there is a serious increase in the number of antique silver items being faked. As a result the amateur collector is worried in particular, about unknowingly shelling out good money for a fake. It is therefore important to be able to tell the difference between a real silver antique and a fake one.
There are many different types of fakes silver items about. Of primary concern is of course the new item made to look like an old silver dish or other antique. For a forger the cheapest method to this is to make an item from a cheaper metal. Testing for silver though is by no means an easy thing to do, nor is it full-proof. Silver content can be determined with a spectrograph but this is something outside the reach of most silver collectors. Many other tests are subjective, and destructive in the case of an acid test. Silver plating also puts some doubt into the validity of a silver antique.
An item though can be made of pure silver and yet still be a fake antique. In both case a collector has to place a certain amount of reliance on hallmarks stamped upon the silver item. Most nations that produce silver items will stamp the items with a mark, or series of marks that tell of the purity of the item, the city where it was assayed, the mark of a silversmith, and date of production. Additionally some nations like Great Britain also display marks relating to duty paid or commemorative markings.
Hallmarks though can be faked.
Where new silver items are faked with the use of hallmarks then it is vital that reference books are looked at. Forgers make mistakes. The first thing to check is that the hallmarks match up. Does the year and maker correspond? Does the duty mark correspond to the year? And does the city mark correspond to the year? Hallmarks as well are unlikely to be pristine. Marks wear even if care is taken. An old item looks old, if it looks brand new questions should be asked.
The faking of items though is by no means a new phenomenon and silver items have been faked since antiquity. This often means the faking of hallmarks but it doesn't mean that the fake if worthless. If made from silver there is at least the value of the silver, but many faked items are worth a great deal of money in their own right.
With experience it is possible to know with a fair degree of certainty whether an antique silver item is genuine, and whether the shape, look and feel of an item, and hallmarks attached, all correspond to each other. This expertise though is rare and is why the TV appraisal shows employ their experts. As with any form of collecting though there is a fair amount of trust involved in purchasing items and some things just have to be taken at face value.