“Silver and gold, silver and gold, everyone wishes for silver and gold.” This familiar Christmastime tune definitely rings true for us. But as much as we wish for our beloved silver and gold, there’s nothing worse to find out that our wish has been denied by scammers, con artists, and fraudsters.
Sadly, it is a plain fact that the precious metals industry has its share of bad apples. Every day, there are those who buy and sell counterfeit metals. While these transactions are not always done intentionally, there are many who purposefully peddle fakes on the market. These vendors not only hurt those they sell to, but also the metals industry as a whole.
To protect yourself against their predatory behavior, it is crucially important that one knows how to test their metals. Since Antiquity, the practice of testing metals has been undertaken to shield consumers from the ugly practices of fraud. In those days, testing was an onerous process that often involved loads of manpower and the use of hazardous materials.
But luckily for us, in modern times we are blessed with a range of quick-and-easy methods for testing silver that can stop scammers dead in their tracks. To find out how to test silver, read on and equip yourself with the knowledge you need to protect yourself.
The Pre-Purchase Tests
The easiest tests are those that should be conducted on the spot at the point of sale. These tests are quick and require little to no purchases on the part of the tester. Below we have listed our most popular techniques for testing silver coin and bullion.
The Size Test
In the present day, silver coinage is made uniformly. This means that their sizes, shapes, density, and weight should all appear the same, no matter which authority is issuing the coin. This makes testing super simple for those looking to do an “eyeball” test.
When confronted with a silver coin that you are unsure of, simply size it up next to an authentic silver coin that you have already verified. Or, choose one from the jeweler’s showcase. Both coins should be equal in thickness and general size. Bringing a portable weigh-scale can help with precision.
The Sound Test
We all know the beautiful sound of silver after being struck. It reverberates, rings, and is sharp in volume. By contrast, fake silver, well, doesn’t sound like that at all. Usually constructed of base metals, imitation silver does not ring loudly when struck. In fact, the sound is dull and blunted.
This makes the “ping” test a good method of determining authenticity when in a pinch. Simply grab a verified piece of silver and strike it. If the two coins sound identical, then you know you’ve found a keeper. If you happen to not have a real silver coin handy, there are several popular mobile apps that can simulate the sound for you.
The Thermal Test
This underrated technique is the perfect cross between on-the-spot solution and a full-scale home testing kit. Dubbed the “Ice Cube Test”, this method involves placing a fresh ice cube on top of a silver coin. If the ice begins to melt immediately, you can be sure that the silver is authentic.
This test is predicated on the fact that silver is one of the best conductors of thermal energy in the world. This means that heat and kinetic energy transfers through it very easily. So once the cube is removed from the silver, place the coin in your hand. Does it warm quickly to your touch? If so, it is probably the real deal.
The Magnet Test
“Is silver magnetic?” This is an all-too-common question we’re asked by both veterans and newcomers to the silver industry. The short answer is: no, silver is not a magnetic substance. Although you won’t be hanging any pictures or post-it notes on the fridge with your silver coin, fortunately for us this makes testing silver super easy.
We recommend bringing a high-powered magnet to the jeweler or vendor with you before making any final purchasing decisions. Once there, test the silver in question by running the coin or bullion against the magnet. Feel any resistance? It may be a fake, made of magnetic base metals. Pure silver, by contrast, should slide off without any interference.
The Post-Purchase Tests
Now for the heavy-duty techniques. If you really want to know how to tell if something is silver, then these tests are for you. However, be advised that some of these require handling of hazardous materials or equipment. If you feel unsafe or unsure about running any of these tests, ask a jeweler to conduct them for you.
Aqua Regia Tests
Otherwise known as the “Touchstone test”, these kinds of tests are a classic that date back to the Middle Ages. This technique involves the buying a pre-made kit that includes an acidic mixture known as “Aqua Regia” and a touchstone for rubbing your silver against.
For this test to work, you need to mix the loose rubbings of your silver with the Aqua Regina. Depending on how the color of the solution turns, you will know, with precise accuracy, the type and purity of the metal in question.
Sound easy? Think again. Aqua Regia is a highly corrosive and dangerous substance that can inflict permanent damage if exposed to skin or breathed into the lungs. For this reason, we generally advise against using this method outside of a laboratory setting. However, if you are determined, we recommend consulting your jeweler to see if they can do it for you.
Fire Assay Tests
The vintage Fire Assay tests involves a process of heating your substance in an oven-like environment, and then dissolving the metal with an acidic solution. Using Fire Assay kits, you can isolate the pure silver content of your metal.
While this method is comparatively safe, affordable, and accurate, it is destructive. This means that it will ruin the composition of any metal or alloy you subject it to. For this reason, most buyers only use a sample piece of silver weighing no more than half a gram (500mg).
X-Ray Fluorescence Tests
While it is true that x-ray fluorescence (XRF) testing machines are accurate and the fasting testing method available, we only recommend these for lab or jeweler use. This is because they simply cost far too much for even determined buyers or investors. If cost is no issue at all, then go ahead, but generally we recommend XRF units for those testing silver multiple times per day.
Lastly, every silver owner needs to check their hallmarks. Hallmarks, in simple terms, are merely engravings etched onto the side of silver bullions. These etchings are required by law and issued by official Assay Offices around the world. The practice of hallmarking is centuries old, and to this day it remains the front-line method of combating precious metals fraud.
Every piece of silver above 7.8 grams in weight will be hallmarked. If for whatever reason the silver in question exceeds this weight and does not have engraved hallmarks, you should refuse it.
There are three hallmarks that are required by law. These are:
- The Sponsor’s Mark
- The Standard Mark
- The Assay Mark
Each of these markings signify something unique about the piece of silver. The first, the Sponsor’s Mark, indicates the firm or entity responsible for providing the raw silver to the Assay Office for hallmarking and approval. The Assay Mark informs the buyer of which Assay Office location hallmarked the bullion.
The Standard Mark, however, is the most important. This hallmark is located second from the left, right to the Sponsor’s Mark. The Standard Mark signifies the type of metal the substance consists of, as well as its purity.
For silver and sterling silver, the Standard Mark is the shape of an oval. Within that oval, a figure in parts per thousand (ppt) notation will denote its purity. This is a crucial piece of information for any silver investor or buyer to be aware of. By contrast, gold will appear in a hexagonal shape, and platinum in the shape of a trapezoid.
On occasion, you may also notice additional hallmarks aside from those three mandated by law. These are voluntary hallmarks, which may include private company logos and symbols, as well as commemorative pictures used to celebrate a major event. Typically, commemorative hallmarks will be issued around Royal events or those having to do with government affairs.
Don’t Get Duped
Good luck and stay safe out there. While the precious metals industry is generally a safe place to shop, buyers should always be vigilant about the authenticity of a vendor’s product. With this guide, you now know all there is to testing silver both at the jeweler’s and at home.