If you want to buy sterling silver it is a good idea to understand what sterling silver actually is first of all compared to pure silver.
Sterling silver is primarily used for tableware, ornaments (such as candelabras etc) and pure fine 99.9 and above silver is too soft for the use such silverware gets. Sterling silverware only contains 92.5 percent of silver with 7.5 percent of other metals to give a greater degree of hardness and durability.
Sterling silver then is actually an amalgamation of silver and other metals, usually copper but occasionally other metals such as germanium, zinc or platinum, is used.
The sterling silver we know today has its origins in Europe and has been known to have been used as early as the 12th century. The word ‘Sterling’ itself however emerged in England and is thought to have come from the old English word, "stiere" basically meaning strong, firm and immovable. There have been other ideas for the origin of the word sterling but the above seems most likely.
When you buy sterling silver you should look for the hallmarks that are stamped on the pieces. Hallmarks are stamped by the manufacturer to indicate the purity of the silver allow used, to identify who manufactured the piece and to indicate the date and location of the manufacture. When it comes to buying sterling silver, this can be very important as many early sterling silver pieces are considered antiques and this information can affect the price of the piece when it is being sold. Some silversmiths have produced some very fine work and command a higher silver price than others.
Sterling silver is also used in the manufacture of some musical instruments, mainly due to the sound qualities they impart. Some of the leading brass wind manufacturers manufacture instruments including saxophone and flute for the resonant and colorful timbre the metal produces.
It is also useful to know that silver does not react to oxygen in the air and, by itself, does not tarnish. Sterling silver, being an alloy and having copper in it usually, does tarnish.
This is one way of detecting if the silver you have is not pure.
This can apply to silver coins as well. If a silver coin tarnishes you know that it is not pure silver but has some other alloy with it.
Sterling silver is very nice and there has been some very impressive tableware, cutlery and so forth produced over the years. But it is not a particularly good investment. Perhaps with some antique sterling silverware one could find a profit, but certainly, one would have to have some extensive knowledge and experience to make money this way if you wanted to buy sterling silver.