Minimum Shipment Amounts and Approximate Payout When Refining Silver Jewelry

If you buy (or find) a lot of silver jewelry and other silver items, eventually you’ll want to earn more than the local gold and silver buyers are willing to pay. And if you buy/find enough silver, you’ll be in a position to make more money than the local buyers can pay. What a good situation to be in!

While the minimum requirements can vary greatly depending on which refiner you choose, most refiners will agree on one thing… they want you to send them as much silver as you can get your hands on… usually a reasonably large PILE. The reason is simple, it’s not cost effective to recover and refine silver unless it can be done on a large scale, and the larger, the better. While other factors play a role (like cadmium content and silver purity of the “unprocessed” scrap), the amount of silver you send to a refiner in a single shipment is not only their primary requirement, it’s also the largest factor in determining how much you will be paid in relation to the current silver value.

Generally speaking, most refiners require a minimum of around 5 (troy) pounds of silver scrap in order to be considered for refining. This would be scrap silver in the 80-95% purity range, including a lot of silver coins along with sterling flatware, hollow-ware, and silver jewelry. Silver that is less than 80% pure (or thereabouts) may fall into a different category, lower pay-rate, and possibly higher minimum shipment weights, again, depending on the refiner.

Once you get to 50% silver purity and below, the number of silver refiners willing to work with you is drastically reduced. Why? It’s even more difficult to economically recover this silver and as a result, quite a few refiners either don’t want to deal with it, or aren’t equipped to do so. So if you’re busy buying and stockpiling silver and hope to cash in by sending it off to a refiner, keep this in mind and be sure to give a healthy preference to items with higher silver content.

So… most refiners are looking for around 5 pounds of silver scrap and they want that scrap to be at least 80% pure. The good news is that precious metals are weighed in Troy Pounds… which weigh around 20% less than the common (avoirdupois) pound that most of us are familiar with. Still, at 373.24 grams per troy pound, we’re looking at almost 1,900 grams of scrap silver in order to meet the minimum requirements of most silver refiners.

If you don’t know… THAT’S A LOT OF SILVER!

But it’s far from an impossible amount. Hundreds of precious metals buyers deal with many times more than this amount on a daily basis. If you’re an individual, it may seem like a lot, but it’s still very possible.

Now that you know the minimum amount required by most refiners, the next question is how much you’ll get paid.

Unfortunately, refining silver isn’t as easy as refining gold, and silver sometimes has some extra challenges in the form of other metals used to create the different silver alloys.

All said, refiners don’t pay as much, percentage-wise, for silver as they do for gold. The standard amount for a standard silver shipment is around 90% of the silver value. If you’re getting paid less, either the type of silver-alloy you’re sending is difficult to work with (ex, those that have high cadmium levels), or the refiner you’re sending too isn’t paying enough. If you’re getting paid more than this, it’s likely due to the AMOUNT of silver you’re having refined. Some refiners will pay upwards of 95% for large silver shipments but even that amount isn’t the norm.

What is “Nickel Silver” and Does it Contain Any Real Silver?

These questions come up all the time… What is Nickel Silver?  Or, How much silver is in Nickel Silver?  You can substitute the term “Montana Silver” or “German Silver” or a whole slew of names for “Nickel Silver”.  They’re all the same when it comes to a misleading name for a metal with NO SILVER CONTENT AT ALL.

Nickel Silver, Montana Silver, German Silver, New Silver, Electrum…
These are all confusing terms so let’s end that confusion… names like this refer to the COLOR of the metal alloy, and NOT the metal CONTENT.  At least, that’s the technical reason that manufacturers can legally produce something and call it “Silver” when it contains NO SILVER whatsoever.

The REAL reason names like this exist (in my humble opinion) is because they are deceptively misleading, and persuade many to believe that a combination of shiny base metals contains far more value than it does.  There’s no silver in nickel silver.  There is no silver in German Silver.  There’s no silver in Montana silver…

What is Nickel Silver?
That begs the question… if it isn’t silver, what is it made of?

Nickel (Montana, German…) silver is a COPPER alloy that commonly contains nickel and zinc.  It was created in the 1800’s by metalworkers in Germany who were trying to mimic a nickel-alloy from China.

Typical nickel silver contains 60% copper, 20% nickel, and 20% zinc and all modern nickel silver contains so much zinc that it’s classified as a subset of Brass.

So yeah, nickel silver has used, just as lots of base metals and alloys have uses… and the next time you run across nickel silver, you can be very confident in assessing the (lack of) precious metal value.

Keys to Acquiring a Mountain of Sterling Silver Jewelry – One Piece at a Time

It’s funny but true that with an ample supply of knowledge, determination, and patience, you can start with almost no money whatsoever and go from one underpriced sterling silver necklace like this…

Underpriced Sterling Silver Necklace – Less than $1!

To a small mountain of sterling silver like this…

Mountain of Sterling Silver Jewelry – Found One Piece at a Time

I know it’s true because the images above are of actual sterling silver jewelry I’ve found over the years.  In fact, that first image is of a necklace I found only a couple days ago.  Sure, the pendant isn’t silver but a nice long sterling necklace more than makes up for that… especially for LESS THAN A DOLLAR!

That first image gives away one key point on how you can amass a huge pile of sterling silver and make an amazing profit doing so.  The key is FINDING UNDERPRICED SILVER.

That brings up my second key point… finding real silver priced way cheaper than the silver melt value is actually a lot easier than you might initially expect.

First, get educated, like you’re doing now by reading the info on this site.  This is a CRITICAL FIRST STEP as you won’t find any silver if you don’t know WHAT you’re looking for, WHERE to look, and WHAT to look at (plus you run a huge risk of wasting money on non-silver items and ending up in the hole).

Learning all you can about silver will help in more ways than I can cover here, the goal with this excercise is in becoming proficient at two things…

Learning to spot real silver

Learning to tell when real silver has been substantially underpriced

In that first photo, I knew as I saw the necklace that it was real silver, didn’t even have to look at the markings (though they’re there, plain as day).  I also knew (from past experience plus hefting the necklace in my hand), that the silver contained in the necklace was easily worth more than a dollar.  I didn’t need to know an exact dollar amount, just an educated guess to arrive at the conclusion that this piece of silver jewelry was way underpriced and I should buy it.  If you’re curious, the necklace weighs 6.8 grams, which is roughly $3.44 at today’s silver price.  Not a huge win, unless you consider that I more than tripled my money.

That brings us to my next point, and another key… patience.  Cheap silver jewelry is everywhere, but it still takes time, determination, and persistence to find it.  In other words, you can’t decide today that you’re going to find all the super-cheap, underpriced silver around and have a mountain of inexpensive silver to drool over tomorrow.  You can find cheap silver, you can find lots of cheap silver, but it still takes time and constant searching.

Now to my final point in this article…  Learn what to look for, start looking for it, buy it when it’s cheap.  That’s it… nothing pretty, just build your silver mountain one piece at a time and it won’t take long before you’re surprised at how quickly it adds up.

Happy Hunting!

How to Test if Silver Jewelry is REAL – Using 18K Gold Testing Acid!

Let’s face it, if you’ve ever tried using that dark red, toxically nasty “Silver Test Acid”, then you’ll probably agree there is much left to be desired.  The silver test acid that you find Online and in most gold testing kits is really gnarly stuff!  Dark red in color, it’ll leave stains on your skin that last for weeks, it’ll discolor and chew through clothing, and when stored for any length of time, the fumes disintegrate the plastic cap on it’s container and can damage other nearby testing tools… especially metal.  But the biggest problem of all… it’s really tough to tell anything from silver test acid.  Sure, it works, but not very well… and even the most experienced scrap gold and silver buyers have trouble reading what this acid is trying to say.

Luckily, I’ve found an awesomely simple and highly effective solution, one I’ll share with you now!

Use your 18K gold testing acid to test silver jewelry…

No, seriously!  It works!  Not only can you learn to test real silver with 18k gold test acid, it’s surprisingly simple and the results are much easier to read and more readily defined.

Using 18k gold test acid is something I heard a fellow gold buyer mention years ago, although no elaboration was offered.  It was then that I started doing my own testing to see if there was any validity to the claim.

I started off easy, with items of KNOWN silver content.  Among the first items tested included a 1952 Washington Silver Quarter (90% silver), a sterling silver ring that was known to be real (92.5% silver), an old fork from the Netherlands stamped “830” (assumed to be 83% silver), and a 1944 US War Nickel (35% silver).

For control pieces (non-silver), I grabbed random stuff laying around including some pocket change (a copper penny and a clad quarter), a piece of non-silver jewelry and silver-plated jewelry, and a silver-plated fork.

Then it was just a matter of scratching each item on a test stone back and forth a few times (any unglazed ceramic tile will work) until a sufficient metal line is on the stone then testing each metal with 18k gold test acid and observing the results.

Things to Note:

As expected, 18k test acid reacts well (sometimes energetically) with the non-precious metals like copper, nickel, tin, etc.  The metal lines either disappear or bubble, change colors, and disappear.  For the most part it is pretty easy to tell what is NOT silver by using 18k gold test acid.  hah!
The only metal that stumped me was aluminum, it didn’t seem to react with the test acid at all.

What happens when you test REAL silver with 18k gold test acid is where things get interesting.  The acid reacts beautifully with real silver, producing a creamy, milky white or off-white/blue color and most of the time the silver will expand, giving the effect of watching a cloud form.

This is a very distinctive reaction and once you see it first-hand, your ability to distinguish real silver from fake/non-silver items will instantly rocket to a new level.  There will be no more questions in your mind when testing whether items are real silver or not.

The best part of this test (besides being easy and having killer accuracy) is that the reaction is more pronounced with higher silver contents (more pure) and less pronounced when there is less silver.  The way to see the difference is by using this method to test two items side by side that have greatly varying silver contents.  Ex/ Test a 35% silver war nickel and a 90% silver coin at the same time.  You’ll be able to see a slight reaction with the war nickel and a much more impressive reaction with the 90% silver coin.

So, break out your gold test acids and a few silver and non-silver items and start testing them and observing the results.  I guarantee that by using this method it won’t take long for you to be a silver sniffing pro!

Happy Hunting!

How to Find More Sterling Silver with this Secret Source

Sterling Silver Handle – Butter Knife Set

There are lots of ways to find more sterling silver.  You can visit more stores and sales, go more often, and be persistent.  But most of the obvious ways to find more scrap silver also require investing more time and effort… this is ok to an extent, but that only works to a point and doesn’t always produce the desired results.

Instead, I like the idea of working smarter, not harder, and a little bit of knowledge and the curiosity to look where others don’t (or won’t) has paid off handsomely over the years.  I also like to maximize each “prospecting trip”, and this tip will definitely help you find more scrap silver even in locations that are already “picked over”.

That being said, here’s one of my all-time favorite ways to find more scrap sterling silver when I’m out looking at thrift stores, estate sales, etc.  While it’s really not a “secret”, it might as well be since what I’m about to share has added hundreds of dollars to my bottom line on more than one occasion and is a proven strategy for finding more scrap sterling silver in less time.

Sterling Silver Knife Handle Marking

So what’s the secret?

Easy… look at knife handles.  And not just carving knives or fancy knives (although you should check these too) but even stop and look at the old BUTTER KNIVES and plain flatware.  You might be surprised to find that some of the older flatware pieces have sterling silver handles.  In fact, a lot of them are even marked “Sterling Handle”, though the marking can be small, worn, and hard to see.

Don’t discount any pieces of older flatware because ya never know…

This “secret” works especially well if you’re like me and haunt the thrift stores, estate sales, and yard sales looking for cheap precious metals.  Let’s be honest, there are tons of people who frequent these places on a daily basis, all pretty much looking for the same stuff (aka, items of value).  So quite often these places are “picked over”, and good deals seem few and far between.  I’m telling you the good deals are still there… but sometimes we gotta change WHERE we look and WHAT we’re looking at.  If a store feels like it’s been hit hard by resellers, I automatically switch modes to look for the hidden treasures like sterling silver knife handles… and often times, I find them.  I’ve even have good success looking at the local antique shops, where the antique dealers “should know better” (than to put real silver out for super cheap).

But they don’t… either they don’t know to check knife handles for silver content, don’t take a close enough look, or are too busy to care for “such a small amount of silver”.  The same is true for the majority of resellers who vulturize the local shops and sales on a continued basis… most of them don’t know or don’t care to check TONS of items, including sterling silver knife handles.

All this means more underpriced scrap silver for you and me!

In a future article, we’ll discuss how to identify these hidden gems, the different markings used, marking locations, and most importantly… approximately how much silver content the knife handles have along with value.

Until then, happy hunting…!

Silver Markings Explained – What is Weighted Sterling?

Weighted Sterling Silver Marking Closeup

If you search for real gold and silver at yard sales and thrift stores, it doesn’t take very long before you run across an item marked “Sterling Weighted” or sometimes “Sterling Reinforced”.  You might have seen this marking already.

When beginning, this can be a confusing term, but don’t let it scare you.  It’s simply another way of saying, “This item has a thin REAL SILVER shell over a hard, NON-SILVER core… usually plaster or resin.


The outer metal shell is just what the marking says it is, Sterling Silver, 92.5% PURE.  Now that you know these items contain real silver, don’t go crazy just yet, we need to cover the second part of the marking…


Resin core inside a Sterling Silver “weighted” candlestick.

As you can see from the candlestick photo above, items marked “Sterling Weighted” have a silver shell over a non-silver core (in this case, resin).  The same is true for items marked “Sterling Re-enforced”, “Sterling Reinforced”, etc, etc…  Some similar markings you might run across include “Cement Loaded” or “Base Loaded”.  They all mean the same thing.

The shell is always thin,  and sometimes it is unbelievably thin, depending on the company that made it.  In a nutshell this means you can run across “Sterling Weighted” items that are large and impressive and appear to contain mountains of sterling silver only to find the silver shell weighs only a fraction of your original estimate.
I’ve seen shells on candlesticks that are so thin, they make excellent razors… and I’ve sliced my fingers on these thin shells more times than I can count.
At some point I’ll put up a general guide to how much silver you can expect to recover from Sterling Weighted items but until then I can tell you the answer is “not much”.

The company “Duchin” is one of the worst offenders when it comes to skimping on sterling silver in their items.  I’ve seen “weighted” candlesticks made by this company where the entire sterling content is under 12 grams.  Not much silver when you consider the “before” weight is usually over 3 ounces.

On the other hand, several years ago I scrapped a pair of “weighted” candlesticks that contained over 110 grams of sterling silver… EACH.  They were a similar size to the Duchin candlesticks of skimp-ville, but the sterling silver shells on these heavy suckers was several millimeters thick and took some heavy duty dremel action to coax apart.

So while most of the weighted sterling silver items you find will have thin shells that can almost be peeled off by hand, there is definite value in these items, sometimes SURPRISING value.

Marking Commonly Found On…

The “Sterling Weighted” and similar markings are most commonly found on the following items (though certainly not limited to only these).

  • Candlesticks
  • Candy Dishes / Compotes
  • Knife Handles / Serving Utensil Handles
  • Sugar & Creamer Sets, Teapots, Various Other Pieces of Silver “Hollow-ware”


Key Points to Remember

The next time you run across an item marked “Sterling Weighted”, buying it (to make a profit) is a no-brainer when you keep the following in mind:

The item contains REAL sterling silver, so it HAS VALUE, BUT… the silver is in the form of a thin shell coating so when estimating value, view the item in the same way you would treat a FULL can of soda versus and EMPTY can.

In other words, don’t get stuck paying silver value for the SODA and you’ll do just fine!  🙂

Happy hunting!

Common Silver Markings You’ll Find on Real Silver Jewelry and Flatware

Common Real Silver Purity Markings
Common Real Silver Purity Markings

When looking for real silver jewelry, it’s important to not only pay attention to the markings but to also become familiar with common silver markings you’ll come across.
This article gives a quick list of the most common markings you’ll see on silver jewelry that indicate – YES! This is REAL SILVER!

925 or .925 – Very common marking for sterling silver jewelry.  The numbers stand for the silver purity in parts-per-thousand, so in this case, a piece of jewelry with this marking is 925 out of 1000 parts pure silver… or 92.5% PURE.  The “925” designation for sterling silver is an especially popular marking on jewelry pieces where space is limited — like inside silver rings, on earrings, small pendants, etc.

STERLING –  Sometimes abreviated “STER”, this wonderful marking screams “YES, this piece is REAL SILVER!” and it’s very exciting when you run across anything marked STERLING — especially when it’s an underpriced Thrift Store, Estate Sale, etc, etc…
As mentioned above, Sterling silver is 92.5% PURE silver.  You can use the silver value calculator at to find the current “melt” value.
While a common marking on silver jewelry (although not as common as “925”), the STERLING marking is much more prolific on real silver flatware, silver candlesticks, plates/trays, and real silver hollow-ware.

900 or COIN SILVER – Also marked “COIN”, items with this marking contain 90% PURE silver and were often made from melted down Silver US Coins (hence the name and easily known purity).  This marking isn’t commonly found on silver jewelry, but is found more on hollow-ware and older flatware.