|There is as much diversity in the styles and designs of antique silver pieces as there is in the periods and styles of architecture. In fact, the designs of silver pieces tend to be strongly influenced by the periods and styles of architecture and furniture of the time. Most of the fine silver was produced in England where silversmithing was more prominent than in any other part of the world. It was in England that the quality and production standards were originated and influenced all other antique silver producers. The "sterling" standard was brought to England by German silversmiths or the Easterlings (changed to sterling by dropping the first two letters.) This standard remains the standard of quality today.
The early silver pieces of England were mostly produced for religious institutions in the form of shrines, chalices, and altar frontals, as well as for Royal coinage. Antique silver pieces made at this time were generally graceful in line and proportion. However, during the Gothic period the high demand by medieval monarchs to have silver objects adorning their castles, encouraged domestic production of silver pieces. Eventually, domestic silver plate from Germany, France and Italy increased, and as the Gothic styles diminished, the Renaissance styles began to flourish. Most pieces produced prior the sixteenth century are no longer in existence as a result of War of Roses when many silver pieces were melted down. The very few that are still in existence today are generally in the hands of private collectors.
A century later, in order to preserve silver coinage during that time and to regulate silver trade, the standard for antique silver plate was made higher than that for silver coinage. If anyone was found to be fraudulent in marking inferior silver with the sterling hallmark, the punishment was death and his silver pieces were destroyed. As a result, to this day practically all silver pieces with the sterling hallmark are of merit and quality.
If you are a beginner antique silver collector, it is best for you to buy pieces from a qualified dealer; in this way the antique dealer will be able to more easily distinguish fraudulent pieces and you will learn from them how these distinctions are made. If the sterling hallmark is not genuine to the antique piece, then it will not have the same value as an antique. Any pieces that have an excessively worn or erased hallmark is greatly reduced in value. Only preserved, in good condition silverwares are considered to be of any real value.