How to Tell The Difference Between Real and Fake Silver
By StoneX Bullion
After gold, silver is the second-most popular precious metal for investing. It’s a reliable and attractive metal with several industrial applications, making it extremely valuable and highly sought after. But like with other items of value, silver can be counterfeited.
When people don’t know what to look out for, they can mistakenly fall for these fake silver bars and coins. As a result, their investments are rendered worthless. Luckily, silver is a unique element with characteristics that are difficult to completely replicate. This means that, with some careful attention, you can learn to tell the difference between real and fake silver.
In this guide, we’ll show you how to spot fake silver bullion bars and counterfeit coins. You can use this same information to check the authenticity of other silver items, such as jewelry, silverware, and other decorative items.
Is there any 100% pure silver?
First, a note on silver purity: you’ll never find investment-grade silver coins and bars made from 100% pure silver. This is because pure silver is too soft and brittle to mold into the shape of a coin or a bar. Like gold, silver needs to be mixed (alloyed) with other metals, such as copper or zinc, in order to maintain durability and prevent it from scratching too easily.
Investment-grade silver coins and bars are known as fine silver and usually have a 999.9 or 999.0 purity. Sterling silver, often used for jewelry, has 925.0 purity.
How to spot fake silver
Before we dive into at-home tests you can perform, let’s talk about how you can spot fake silver bullion coins and bars from the beginning.
Keep the following in mind when buying investment-grade silver to avoid fakes:
- Official stamps: In most cases, pure silver will come with an official stamp that includes details of its purity. This can be very obvious on silver bars, where the text tends to be large and dominate the face of the bar. Not all countries will require an official stamp, so this may not be an immediate identifier of fake silver.
- International Silver Stamp Rating: This is a three digit number that represents the purity of a silver item. You may need a magnifying glass to check for it, but a highly pure investment-grade silver item will have a rating of 999.0 or 999.9.
- Imperfections: A counterfeit silver coin may initially look like a genuine silver coin, however upon closer inspections you should be able to spot some minor imperfections. The design may not be as raised or as detailed, luster may be weak, or the strike may be off-center. Old fake coins might even show signs of rust or other damage that is uncommon with pure silver.
- Mint marks: Pure silver coins and bars contain mint marks that indicate where the item was produced. If you have fake silver bars or coins, they may contain no mint marks, fake mint marks, or poor copies of legitimate mint marks.
How to test if silver is real or fake
If you’ve taken the above factors into account and still can’t determine whether your items are real or fake silver, there are still some tests you can perform at home. These tests are based on silver’s unique characteristics and help you identify whether other metals have been added.
Keep in mind that, while these tests can provide accurate results, they shouldn’t be used as a 100% guarantee of silver’s authenticity. Ideally, you would perform a number of these tests and compare your results.
Test 1: The ice cube test
One of the easiest ways to tell between real and fake silver is with the ice cube test. To perform this test, place a cube of ice over your silver bars and coins. If they’re made from actual silver, the ice should start melting quickly. This is because silver has the highest electrical conductivity, meaning it can conduct heat quickly - thereby melting ice at a faster pace than other metals.
A good idea when performing the ice cube test is to melt a second cube on a different kind of metal at the same time. This can help you determine whether your silver items are melting the ice faster or at the same pace as other metals.
Test 2: The ping test
This is a simple method for spotting fake silver coins. To do this test, you’ll need two silver coins or one coin and another metal item (preferably one that’s smooth and non-abrasive).
Gently strike your silver bullion coin against the other coin or metal object. If it’s made from genuine silver, you’ll hear a high-pitched ringing sound reverberate from the strike. If it makes a dull thumping sound, then it may not be made from real silver.
Hot tip: You can use this same method to test for genuine gold as well!
Test 3: The magnet test
Just like gold, silver is not a magnetic metal. If your silver bars or coins are pure, they shouldn’t attract magnets. To perform this test at home you’ll need a super strong magnet - fridge magnets won’t cut it here. You can usually find powerful magnets (like neodymium magnets) at hardware stores.
Place your silver items on a non-magnetic surface and slowly bring the magnet towards them. If your pieces repel or don’t react to the magnet, they’re likely to be real silver coins or bars. If they’re pulled to the magnet then they could be silver plated items with other metals underneath.
It should be noted that there are other non-magnetic metal alloys that can look like silver, so this test won’t always be a 100% surefire proof of authentic silver. It’s best to perform the magnet test alongside other tests to be sure.
Test 4: Check for hallmarks
Another way to tell the difference between real and fake silver is to check for hallmarks. This isn’t a ‘test’ per-se, but it’s still a quick and easy way to check authenticity. In most cases, investment-grade silver bullion will include markings outlining the weight, purity, serial numbers, and sometimes even mintage year.
Take this beautiful 10z Royal Bengal Tiger Silver Bar as an example. The markings on the bar clearly state 10oz (weight), fine silver 999.9 (purity), and PAMP/MMTC (mintage).
It’s true that these markings can sometimes be faked, but these will usually be easy to spot as they might be faded, missing details, or contain incorrect information.
Test 5: The odor test
Here’s an easy way to test for genuine silver: smell it. Pure, authentic silver should be odorless or contain a very light odor. Other metal alloys, however, usually have a recognizable ‘metallic’ smell similar to when you touch an iron bar or loose change. If you smell something metallic, your silver bullion could be fake or silver-plated.
Test 7: The weight test
Every investment-grade silver coin and bar comes with details about its purity, weight, diameter, and thickness. You can use this information to determine whether the silver bullion in your possession is real or fake.
For example, if you own a 1 oz American Eagle Silver Coin and want to check its authenticity, you will see that a genuine coin should weigh 31.1035g and be 40.6mm diameter and 2.98mm thick. If your coin’s weight, diameter, or thickness differs, then it’s a chance that it’s either been plated or contains other metals.
Test 8: Take it to a professional
The ultimate test of real vs fake silver is getting a professional opinion. This can give you a definitive answer on whether your investment items are counterfeits or authentic. You can take your silver coins and bars to any trusted jeweler or appraiser who can use specialized tools and equipment to test your silver.
In the end, if there are any hints of uncertainty as to whether your items are genuine, this is the ultimate way to put your concerns to rest.
How to avoid fake silver
Because silver is so valuable and in demand, it’s likely that scammers will continue to produce fakes and counterfeits. The best way to avoid buying into their scams is to know what to look out for.
If you want to invest in silver bars or coins, here’s how to avoid buying fakes:
- Buy from reputable dealers: Look for legitimate dealers with a trusted reputation. StoneX Bullion is an affiliate member of the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA), a marker of our strong reputation and good trading practices. We're also a Fortune 500 company that's listed on NASDAQ. We only sell pure, investment-grade silver bars and coins, and each of our items comes from the best-known mints in the world. These facts signify to our customers that we’re a genuine, reputable dealer that sells only genuine precious metals.
- Avoid auction sites: You might find silver coins or bars for sale at a great price on websites like eBay or Marketplace, but avoid these at all costs. This is where scammers go to sell their counterfeits, whether they’re wholesale fake coins from China or high-quality counterfeit bars.
- Beware of a cheap price: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We all love to shop around for a discount, but the reality is that silver coins and bars should be selling at a relatively similar amount as the silver spot price.
FAQs: How to tell the difference between real and fake silver
Below are some answers to common questions about spotting genuine vs fake silver.
Q: How can you tell if an item is made from genuine silver?
Check for hallmarks and stamps of authenticity, such as purity level, weight, and mintage. You can also perform a number of home tests, such as the ice cube test, magnet test, or bleach test.
Q: How can you tell if an item is silver-plated?
Genuine silver coins and bars will be heavier than silver-plated items. Check the weight of your silver bullion against the standard (e.g. a 1oz coin should weigh 31.1035 grams).
Q: Does real silver change color?
Yes, real silver can tarnish when it’s exposed to oxygen. It should be noted though, that pure silver (999.0 - 999.9) will take longer to tarnish than sterling silver (925.0) that contains more alloys.
Q: How much is 1 gram of silver worth?
Silver’s price fluctuates depending on the market situation. Its current market value is around $0.73 per gram.
A trusted source of investment-grade silver
The unfortunate truth is that counterfeiters will continue to produce fake silver bars and coins to trick investors into handing over their money. The good news is that you can avoid them by purchasing your investment silver from reputable, trusted sources like StoneX Bullion.
As an affiliate member of the London Bullion Market Association (LBMA), we’re proud of our solid reputation and commitment to good trading practices. We only sell pure, investment-grade silver bullion produced by the best-known mints in the world.
Whether you’re a seasoned investor or just starting out in the world of precious metals, we’re here to help you secure the highest-quality bullion for your portfolio. Check out our catalog of gold, silver, platinum, and palladium bars and coins and start your investment today!