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[Book Review] Guide to Evaluating Gold & Silver Objects

A book review by Jeffrey Herman, Executive Director, Society of American

Silversmiths or see actual posting of the review at

Book title: Guide to Evaluating Gold & Silver Objects
Scott V. Martin, SM Publications, 1996, ISBN

Published by: SM Publications
353 West 56th Street
New York, New York 10019

August 6, 1997
My review for JCK Book Club:

As a silversmith, any reference that will make me more knowledgeable
about my field, is essential reading. Such is the case with the Guide to

Evaluating Gold & Silver Objects by Scott V. Martin. This book offers
what others don’t: detailed, clear and simple technical on
the precious metals and the best method(s) for determining actual
precious metal content. Even a metallurgist will find this book useful.

Mr. Martin appraises, researches, lectures and writes about antique
silver. His perspective provides the reader with a refreshing and
practical approach on the subject of how to best evaluate objects made
of gold and silver. In this guide, Mr. Martin shows us that there are
many ways for readers to make a precious metal determination. He begins
with non-invasive methods and then presents variations on the most
commonly used invasive acid tests and proceeds to the new advanced
scientific methods. His approach is very practical, such that the reader

will be able to accomplish most of the testing methods themselves. He
has also simply and clearly laid out his personal philosophy: if you are

going to test an object for precious metal content, then know why a test

is necessary and how to select the most appropriate testing method.

I keep this 100 page laminated cover spiral-bound reference close at
hand. It is full of useful techniques and guidance. The
Guide to Evaluating Gold and Silver Objects is a “must” for anyone
involved in collecting, making, and identifying gold and silver. The
following summarizes this book:

Chapter one give us an understanding of gold and silver in historical as

well as scientific and mythological terms. You will find some
interesting facts and about gold and silver which can be use

to dazzle your friends and clients.

Chapter two deals with how to visually inspect the most often appraised
objects: flatware, holloware, coins, and jewelry. This is obviously the
most non-invasive method of determining an object’s composition, and
when used in conjunction with the extensive list of reference books in
the appendix and the in chapter three, the reader may be
able to eliminate the need for any sort of invasive testing (i.e.,
nitric acid test).

Chapter three discusses marks of standard, referring to the marks
generally found on an object signifying its metal composition, such as
"sterling" (92.5% fine silver and 7.5% copper), or the lower fine silver

content of “coin” silver (90% fine silver and 10% copper), also known as

“pure coin,” “dollar,” “.900,” or “standard.” This chapter also delves
into the lesser understood electroplate marks, defining their terms and

corresponding thicknesses. The foreign quality marks section is also
very useful, for not all countries use the same terminology or alloys as

the United States.

Chapter four, the longest in the book, deals with gold and silver
testing. The chapter starts by introducing us to the most simple and
common empirical tests such as “feel”, “flex”, “heft”, “ring-ping” and
even “smell.” The reader will find out how to properly administer these
common field tests; it is also revealed which of these should not be
relied upon. The balance of this chapter deals with 14+ tests, from the
most commonly used but invasive acid tests, to the advanced electronic
and scientific tests. Also included is the often overlooked but very
informative specific gravity test. Most of these tests can be performed
by or arranged by the reader.

Chapter five discuses the various reasons for evaluating a precious
metal object, such as for curiosity’s sake, selling or acquiring a
piece, insurance replacement, collectability, etc.

Chapter six gives one a thorough understanding of both the art and
science of cleaning/polishing precious metal objects. The step by step
instructions will insure that the seemingly elemental act of cleaning
doesn’t leave the object ruined and/or effect any of the test results.

The appendix discusses the U.S. stamping laws, has very helpful tables
and equivalents for units of measure, conversion formulas, melting
points, specific gravity tables, and comparative weights of equal
volumes. There are also appendixes which present recommended references,

books, associations, and an extensive glossary.