Sterling pieces can be some of the most beautiful pieces of artwork for the antique collector, but there are several things that you should know about collecting silver, and particularly sterling silver before diving-in.
Here are some pointers that should help you get started.
1) Avoid pieces that have been cleaned with harsh chemicals or have a "white" appearance.
2) The best pieces will have no marks or dents, and will have the original decoration with the correct set of marks.
3) There are a tremendous variety in silver marks, some looking almost identical to each other. In order to insure validity of what you are considering purchasing be sure to consult a good silver guide book which has a good index of marks.
4) Be sure to carefully check the joints at the handles, spouts and feet, also the rims. Also check for pinprick holes where the silver may have thinned from excess handling or weathering.
Remember that marriages can be done skillfully and take a variety of forms. Often marriages are performed in the form of a legitimate marked part of a piece married to a later piece. Because silver can be quite costly always seek from a reputable silver dealer and seek trustworthy advice if you have the slightest doubt about an item.
Also, just because something is stamped 925 on the bottom does not in fact mean that it really is sterling silver 925 - it may be a significantly less amount of silver or may even contain little silver at all. It's not difficult to make a 925 stamp where a nefarious seller can imprint whatever they desire.
All in all, be careful when collecting sterling silver pieces, particularly from a non-reputable source, or a source that cannot provide the provenance of the item(s). If unsure take it to a reputable source to be appraised in person and or do a silver test on it (in an innocuous part of course).
Silver is wonderful to collect and small enough to transport, store, and sell easily. There are so many wonderful forms of high-quality silver for any collector to enjoy. Whether it be in the form of dinnerware, rings, ornate items, etc. it's a great collectible so long as you ensure what you have is truly silver and of the calibre marked.