Treasure Detectives

How to spot a fake: Silver

Silver is one of the most popular categories of antique collectibles. Many items have been made from the precious metal, it holds up well over time, and it's generally well-cared for. So there's a lot of stock to be found. But not all of it will be authentic. In this web exclusive, forgery expert Curtis Dowling of CNBC's "Treasure Detectives" explains how to avoid the fakes.

Curtis points out in the video that silver is attractive and functional: Bacteria can't grow on it so you could never get sick eating from it like you could with pewter. Thus, it was a possession of the wealthy, and it was faked a lot.

If it's real, solid silver it could go for a fortune. But maybe the piece is silver plated or electroplated. Know how each feels and know what it should weigh. It's also good to bone up on the types of items made from silver and what amendments might have been made later—maybe something like a hinged lid was added to a tankard.

If an item is hallmarked, do you know all of the places to look for the hallmark? How do you know that's the original hallmark?

Merely spotting a mark doesn't mean you've got the real thing. A guide notes that while silversmiths used steel dies to mark their crafts, forgers often used brass to punch their marks, resulting in "soft punches." An guide to collecting silver adds more caveats to avoiding forgeries. An antique age of an item doesn't mean it's authentic, since forged maker's marks have appeared for centuries. Some commonly forged newer silver items, posing as sought-after antiques such as salt spoons and asparagus servers will have no maker's marks on them.

As always, education in your field of specialty is the key to avoiding buying a fake.

Tune in to "Treasure Detectives" on CNBC Prime, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET

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