There is a big difference between pure silver and sterling silver.
Sterling silver is a term that originates in England around the 13th century. The word Sterling, according to the World Book Dictionary originated from the old English word 'steorra' meaning star which was on certain early Norman coins, and 'ing'.
Over the years, sterling silver has now come to represent a particular standard and quality of silver from which other metals are judged.
Sterling silver has 92.5 percent pure silver and 7.5 percent of other metals, usually copper. The ‘fineness’ is represented by .925. this fineness is different to the fineness we usually see in silver coins which is normally .995 or even .999.
All sterling silver should have a hallmark stamp. This should include the word ‘Sterling’ and or .925 percent or even the Lion Passant Mark included as part of the hallmark.
The Lion Passant Mark (see picture) is the British assay mark for sterling silver. The word passant indicates ‘walking position with right foreleg raised’. A hallmark is a indication of, the quality or standard of the precious metal it is stamped on and, on sterling silver, usually gives some indication of the date the piece was created, where it was created as well as the initials of the maker.
Most silver coins and bars usually have a silver content of .999 fineness and 99.5 percent silver. But you can get sterling silver coins. The hallmark does not always appear such silver coins although they should still be noted as sterling silver of course.
Regardless of the type of silver, silver remains an excellent way to store assets and value. At any rate the important thing to remember when it comes to silver coins, is that one is not looking for sterling silver coins but pure fine silver coins.
Sterling silver better refers to silver objects which have a hallmark that indicates the quality of the silver, the year of manufacture and the city in which the object was made.
The same basic system of establishing these facts by hallmark has been in existence in England for several hundred years and is still used today. The system of hallmarking items has been recorded as being around since the fourth century AD and records of hall marks on items from the Byzantine period have been recorded.
Establishing the authenticity of silver coins however is established by doing an appraisal of the coin by a reputable and experienced appraiser and having an certificate that establishes the quality, condition and value of the coin.
No coin, these days should be described as sterling silver if it is not. Nowadays the British Royal Mint strikes many silver coins in sterling silver form with the silver content is therefore .925. These coins do not have a hallmark however.
Regardless of the type of silver you buy, at least, if it is sterling silver you will know exactly what you are getting and silver, being silver, will still retain its intrinsic value on the market.