How to Identify Sterling Silver Jewelry

Sterling silver is a common metal for jewelry because it ages well, is easy to manipulate, and is more affordable than gold or platinum. By definition, sterling silver is silver that is 925/1000 parts silver, or 92.5% silver. Pure silver (99% +) is too soft for jewelry-making so the highest silver content in jewelry is usually .925. The remaining percentage of alloy is usually copper, but other metal alloys can be used too such as zinc and platinum.

Identify Sterling Silver using Hallmarks

The best way to identify sterling silver jewelry is to inspect the piece, because almost all silver jewelry has a stamp indicating the silver content. A HUGE catalog of silver stamps used over time and by different manufacturers is located at the Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks, and Makers Marks. Researching these makers marks will tell you just about everything you need to know about where and when your jewelry was made.

925 Sterling Silver

925 sterling silver mark
A sterling hallmark from a piece of Mexican TAXCO silver. This includes a “sterling” hallmark with the “925” as well as a TAXCO indicator and the jewelry maker’s mark.

Since the early 1900s, American sterling jewelry is required to have a sterling mark if it is 92.5% sterling silver. Pieces older than the early 1900s will be stamped “STERLING” or “STER” or “SS” somewhere on the piece of jewelry. It may have been stamped this way or it might have worn away over years of wear.

However, newer sterling silver jewelry is often stamped “925”. 

To the right is a sterling silver hallmark from a TAXCO piece, including the maker’s mark (“Perlita”). If you have a TAXCO piece that includes detailed hallmarks, you can research them in a Mexican sterling marks catalogue. In this case, Perlita is the name of a local shop in Taxco, Mexico, the Mexican town that is so famous for silversmithing.

I love Mexican silver and can get lost on eBay poring over the tons of examples and huge range of quality found in Mexican silver jewelry, particularly Taxco silver.

950 Sterling Mark

You often find the 950 Sterling mark on Mexican sterling from before the World War II era. 950 silver is 95% silver and 5% alloy, and does have a higher silver content than sterling. However this is not seen very often in jewelry because it’s difficult to make jewelry with this softness of metal.

900 and 800 Silver

Older and antique jewelry may include a 900 stamp. This shows that the jewelry is 900/1000 parts silver, 90% silver and 10% alloy. This is obviously not quite as high a silver content as sterling. Coin silver might be an alloy, but it can literally mean you’re holding silver made from melted down coins. Vintage Native American jewelry may often not have a silver content mark on it, but often this jewelry has a silver content in the range of coin silver.

Sometimes, you’ll see an 800 stamp on a piece of vintage silver jewelry. This means that the content of the jewelry is 4/5 or 80% silver and 20% alloy. Many times, based on the style of the piece and the 800 stamp, you can begin researching European jewelry and other foreign makers. Some vintage silver filigree jewelry will have an 800 mark as well.

Silver Testing

Commercial silver test kits are available for silver jewelry online, or you can go to your local jeweler or metal scrapper for testing if you’ve exhausted your own research.

Why Sterling Silver?

Sterling silver is one of my favorite metals for jewelry because it ages well, often developing a beautiful gray or black patina, and it is more affordable than gold or platinum. Jewelers love sterling silver because it is easy to work with and beautifully sets off precious and semi-precious stones. In the gallery above, I included some of my favorite styles of sterling silver pieces, including Mexican jewelry, Tuareg jewelry, and mid-century silver statement pieces.

Learning to identify sterling silver is easy with a little experience and research and will bring big returns to any collector. As with any metal commodity, you can track the value of sterling silver at any given time by getting familiar with the commodities market.  

What is Siam Sterling?

Siam Sterling jewelry was manufactured from the 1930s through the 1980s, and was a very popular motif in the 1950-60s. Although Siam officially changed its name to Thailand in the 1940s, the “Siam” nickname for this style of jewelry stuck. 

Siam silver is officially called “Nielloware.” Niello is a black mixture of copper, silver, and lead, used as an inlay on engraved or etched metal. American soldiers who visited Thailand in the mid-20th century bought this jewelry for their ladies back home, making it a popular mid-century trend. Much of the filigree was etched by hand by Thai artisans.

Identifying Siam Sterling

Nielloware pieces are usually stamped “Siam” or “Niello” on the back. You will find common examples with figurals such as dancers or peacocks carved out of a black field. All Siam sterling is sterling silver and will usually have some type of black, white or occasionally colored enamel as part of the design. Only the black and silver pieces are considered Nielloware by collectors, and colored enamels fit into another category of Siam silver.


Most pieces aren’t worth a ton of money, but if you think you have something large or unusual, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Collectors of Siam sterling get very serious about unusual colors and large, rare pieces and will pay top dollar.

The Chickens at Point of Lay

Our chickens started laying a couple of weeks ago. In the video below, the ladies are pictured right before “point of lay,” and are darting around their run after we gave them kitchen scraps and chicken scratch. There is a loaf of old french bread hanging in the coop for some chicken enrichment activity (I don’t know, what is my life?) but they mostly ignored it. Apologies for bad video quality.

What does “point of lay” mean?

Point of lay” describes a young chicken — AKA a pullet, AKA a female chicken under one year old — at the time she is about ready to begin laying eggs. You’ll know your chickens are ready to lay when their combs and wattles get big and red and they do a submissive squat-and-dance when you approach them. When they do this, they basically think you’re the rooster and are giving you the okay to mate. However, please don’t mate with your chickens. My chickens also got cranky, hungry, and loud for a couple of weeks, like they were going through an accelerated chicken puberty.

Their combs and wattles got bigger and changed color from pink to red. Then the chickens started making moaning and croaking noises and spent a couple of days going to and from the nest box. Eventually they settled down and laid their first eggs.

Brown eggs er’ry day, er’ry day.

With seven chickens who *just* started laying, we’re averaging about four eggs a day. Some breeds begin laying earlier than others, but the average is about 22-24 weeks old depending on a variety of factors from the breed, to the amount of daylight they receive, to the foods they’re fed. Some of the eggs are teeny-tiny, about half the size of a normal grocery egg. This is both normal for first-time layers AND ADORABLE.

All of our chickens are brown egg layers. We thought for a minute that the red chicken might be an Easter Egger, a blue egg layer, but she’s a regular old heritage hen. She also happens to be the friendliest and most social chicken. She’s our only regular squatter-and-dancer, which means she’s the only one that tolerates being held and socializing with us outside of the coop, which ALSO means she happens to get more opportunities to scratch around the garden for bugs and sprouts while we work in the yard. This is a great opportunity for her, as the more variety and richness that chickens experience with their feed, the more rich and healthy and delicious their eggs will be.

Chickens need calcium, greens, fat, and fiber to stay healthy and lay healthy eggs. We feed them layer feed and supplement with scratch and oyster shell, along with giving them kitchen scraps nightly. They LOVE a wilted grape, tomato, or strawberry and will fight over small fruits. I’ve heard if you feed your chickens onions and garlic, their eggs will taste like it, so we try to avoid that.

What about a rooster?

One thing that people ask me all the time is how the chickens lay eggs without us having a rooster. It surprises me that folks don’t know this!

It’s biology, y’all. The ladies ovulate regularly (just like humans do) whether or not a rooster is around. With a rooster — with mating — you get fertile eggs and chicks for hatching. Without a rooster — without mating — you get infertile eggs for eating.


Boy, bye.

One of my least favorite things when you have a billing error with a major company is being told I don’t know how businesses work. It’s not that I don’t understand a company’s policies — I may or may not — it’s that company policies usually suck for the little guy. When a company error costs an individual a few hundred dollars, that may be small beans for the corporation at fault, but it’s no small issue for the person at home sitting on their hands and waiting for resolution.
After well over ten years with my hosting company, I decided to pull the plug last week over a billing error. This latest fiasco — where my hosting company took $300 out of my bank account after I expressly asked them not to renew my services — is like being robbed, but because I’m “only” without that money for 5-10 business days I’m supposed to be okay with it. I asked customer service what they could do for me as a long time customer who had told them not to charge me for the very thing I was charged for, and the answer was nothing. They can reimburse me, or sell me another three years of service at a discount. After several days of runaround, several calls into customer service employees who were rude and impatient with me, (and three business days and five calendar days later, still waiting for my coin) I decided to go elsewhere.

A million years ago, I worked for Comcast, and it was exactly like this. I spent about three years at Comcast in the slums of customer service, and I was the person on the phone or at the counter who helped you — or didn’t.

I know, I know. Forgive me, it was a recession.

At this kind of company, as with web hosting, the social contract is that the company bills regularly for a utility (cable, web hosting, cellular service, whatever) and the customer expects continuous service at a set price for little to no maintenance. The customer doesn’t want to have to call in and finagle with the details, they just want the service to work and for billing to be predictable. And usually it is! Everyone is more or less happy with this arrangement until something goes wrong. 

The system is great when it works, but when it isn’t, it’s a consumer hell. Then, the customer wants fast and cheap resolution to the problem, and rightly so, because the investment for the person whose been billed at a regular term now has significant money and time invested in this company and expects the company to have a similar investment in the customer’s happiness with the product. But companies aren’t made to work like that. They mostly don’t care, are slow, and push customer service representatives to the front line to take the customer’s anger.

I know it sometimes doesn’t seem like your CSR cares about your plight, but they probably do, or did until they were subjected to hours of complaints, sighs, abusive language, and otherwise clipped and unpleasant interactions all day to earn a paycheck. They care, but they’re usually underpaid, disrespected, and unappreciated, and rarely have good resolution tools to help a customer with, because their real function is to be the buffer between unhappy customers and the operations of the company. So much customer service training is spent on telling CSRs how to manage their stress when they’re under incredible pressure and tension all day, and not enough attention is paid to whether the policies they’re expected to uphold are fair to the customer, and whether the policies create the conflict between customer and company, more or less to keep the customer out of the executive and operational equation.

But the tragedy of it is that while companies could empower customer service reps to help customers in a real way, management trends like lean operating initiatives, as well as a lack of prestige, education, training, trust, and more (for example, I would love to see studies on how the customer service industry in America, frequently staffed and managed by American minorities, when it isn’t outsourced to international minorities, is shaped by racism and sexism), stand in the way of executives giving CSRs the ability to engage in actual conflict resolution.

It seems like bad business to me. Every time I’m put in a situation where I have to call some company I’ve sunk hundreds or thousands of dollars into and beg them to hep me figure out what went wrong, and be told instead that I’m too dumb to understand their anti-consumer policies, I think how silly this scenario is, especially since it’s one of the few touch points where a company can really impress a customer.

TL;DR: After ten years with Bluehost and a tragic-for-me billing faux pas,  I’m moving to A Small Orange. They’re cuter anyway.

The Chickening

I wish I had before and after pictures of my yard. I moved into this house about eleven years ago, and at the time, most of the yard was dedicated to a massive garden. It was too big for me, so we eventually sodded it over and put in grass. There was a pond at one time too, the neighborhood watering hole for a family of cardinals and a place for moles and voles to drown while trying to get a drink. That was torn out too. Today this area is home to a greenhouse and chicken coop (still under construction).

Greens to the left, chickens to the right.

Chickens love compost. Give them some yard and kitchen waste and they turn it into beautiful compost. Above, the ladies are working over a pile of straw and scraps. Our ladies are brown egg layers and exotics, a mix of Wyandottes and others, a Cochin, an Easter Egger, and a Fayoudi. 

Obviously to use this beautiful compost, I needed to turn an old flower bed into a vegetable garden. 

Baby squash.

We are growing squash, tomatoes, cukes, zukes, eggplant, peppers, cantaloupe, and pumpkin this year. We planted a patch of asparagus and another for strawberries as well. Some of this will feed the family, and some of this will make it back to the chickens. 

Eventually the ladies will lay eggs, and after we eat the eggs, the ladies will eat their eggshells. 

Lady in front is called Adventure Chicken. She is an Egyptian Fayoudi.

They use the nutrients in the eggshells to keep making strong, hard eggshells. 

Further compounding the system we have going here is the greenhouse, where we can extend the growing season a couple of months on either end. I plan to grow greens, arugula, lettuces, and more, and the greenhouse should help keep the chickens warm in the cold season. 

The veggies feed us, the scraps feed the chickens and/or are turned into compost which feeds the garden where we plant the veggies that feed us, and so forth. 

I never thought I’d get this excited about compost, but hey. 

Biking With Google Maps

A couple of summers ago, my beau and I biked through Chicago from Logan Square to the Chicago Botanical Garden and back. It was a magical day: perfect weather, great company, and a lot of adventure. 

We didn’t have any maps to guide us other than Google Maps and a vague idea of where the bike trails go. It turned out Google Maps was an excellent guide for taking us through the city. Once we figured out how to find the trail heads, we were golden. 

The best part, at the end of a very long day, was coming back through Northwestern University’s gorgeous campus on the coast of Lake Michigan. We were a little lost, trying to find the trail head, when I looked up and saw the pristine Baha’i temple ahead, an imaginably ornate white dome bathed in pink against the bluest sky. 

We pedaled in wonder, with the city and waterfront bathed in pink,  until the sun set. We were exhausted, euphoric, and grateful to be witness to such a golden moment.

But back to Google Maps. 


This trip was great fun, but in hindsight it felt reckless not to bring any other kinds of navigational equipment. We had our cell phones and our wits, and that’s all. 

Doubling down on our recklessness, we repeated this plan — nothing navigational but our phones — on a trip in Elkhart County, Indiana, that Fall, doing a sixty mile loop including the Pumpkinvine Trail, a rural rail-to-trail line through Amish country. On both trips, the Google Maps app gave us clear directions which included the best route for cyclists, using designated bike trails when possible.

Tip: get an inexpensive stem mount to hold your phone for easy use while in the saddle. Your friends will make fun of it until you lead them home.


Purple Hat in Blackberry Stitch


I saw this hat on Pinterest and decided to try to make it without buying a pattern. I casted on 96 stitches (worsted weight yarn and size 8 needles), then 1×1 rib for about six inches, then blackberry stitch for about seven inches, then decreased and topped it with a Pom Pom. It’s super cute, but I did the decrease in stockinette which I don’t love. I’ll try it again and figure out a more attractive decrease. 

It helps to have an adorable model. 

Blackberry Stitch, aka Trinity Stitch, in the Round

Trinity blackberry Stitch knitting
Knitting blackberry, AKA Trinity, stitch.

I couldn’t find a straightforward explanation for knitting blackberry stitch — also known as the trinity stitch — in the round as when you knit a hat, so here goes:
The stitch is knit in multiples of four stitches. Knit in multiples of four rows until your desired length is reached. 

Row 1: Purl all stitches.

Row 2: *k3tog, (p1, k1, p1) into the next stitch; rep from * to end.

Row 3: Purl all stitches.

Row 4: *(p1, k1, p1) into the next stitch, k3tog; rep from * to end.

I’m currently knitting a hat from the bottom up. CO 96, (k1,p1) for 30 rows, then blackberry stitch until I decrease. I’ll let you know how it goes. (EDIT: It was cute!)

One tip is to keep the 1st and 3rd rows — the purl rows — looser than you normally knit, because knitting three stitches together on the front-facing side will give you hand cramps. This is a remarkably satisfying knit, however, because the little bobs of yarn give you so much texture.

Targeted, Promoted Tweets for Marketing in Higher Ed

Below, I live-tweeted and storified the UPCEA 2015 JMH consulting presentation on #Tweetsmarter, Twitter marketing for higher education. Is Twitter marketing effective for marketers? Is it a good platform for higher education marketing in particular? Is Twitter a good way to connect with prospective students?

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Biking and Feminism: “I belong on the road.”

I’ve been very fortunate that I haven’t had some of the aggressive interactions with drivers and pedestrians that others have had — mine have been limited to cat calling and the traffic incident that inspired my petulant “red dress” campaign

A guy I know wears an American flag jersey on his distance rides, and has anecdotally reported a sharp decrease in aggressive road incidents with angry drivers. Also, I once read that one of your best safety measures on the road is to ride without a helmet, with a mess of long blonde hair trailing behind you. If that isn’t loaded symbolism, I don’t know what is.


One London lady’s commute to work got weird this week when a man got incensed at her request for him not to walk in front of her while she crossed the street — which seems wise — and he chose to chase after her and push her off of her bike into traffic. Lucky for her, it was caught on her GoPro. She submitted the video to police, and the man turned himself in after the video went viral. A friend sent along this essay about biking and feminism, written in response to this London woman’s story and the number of people cheering her attacker on social media:

The first time I cycled from my front door to the sea (a ride of about 65 miles thanks to a particularly poor map) I stood on the beach, looked out at a bending blue horizon and realised that I had reached the very edge of the country using nothing more than my thighs, sweat and gears. I felt like Tessie Reynolds, the 16-year-old girl who shocked 19th-century England by cycling from London to Brighton and back in eight hours, wearing knee-length breeches. I felt like Sylvia and Christabel Pankhurst cycling around Manchester and London agitating their female comrades. I remembered the words of the American suffrage campaigner Susan B Anthony: “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling: I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.”


From suffragettes to midwives, Olympians to resistance fighters, commuters to campaigners, the history of the bicycle runs like a dual carriageway alongside the history of feminism. Cycling put us in trousers, let us pass messages behind the frontline, stood us on podiums, helped us mobilise in the streets, took us out of our conscribed domestic sphere and taught us the thrill of having the wind in our eyes. Despite the warnings from AD Shadwell published in 1897, our wombs did not fall out, we did not suffer dementia and we avoided the “bulging eyes” and “tightened mandible” that characterised the dreaded (and entirely fictional) “bike face”.


And we are good cyclists. Many of those victim-blaming on Twitter were keen to point out that cyclists jump red lights, cycle on pavements or hog the road. To which I say yes, sometimes, we do. The mayor of London does, the prime minister does and probably I have too. Primarily because I don’t want to be accidentally crushed by an HGV – one of the few road casualties that disproportionately affects women, too timid to overtake on the right or pull ahead, out of a driver’s blind spot. But the urge to push a woman off her bike while calling her a mug and shouting in her face has very little, if anything, to do with road hogs and red lights.

I’m still not certain why cycling is reserved an extra-special level of hatred that other modes of transportation are not. I think many people see cyclists as a sub-culture, and perceive people with gear (even so little as a helmet) to be road warriors, and believe road warriors don’t respect the rules of the road, so why, it follows, respect a person on a bike?

My Favorite Cure for Writers’ Block

I read this article yesterday while I was fretting about an upcoming project, so I pulled up my WordPress set-up and started typing like I was writing a blog post instead of a major presentation. Lo, the words came easily.

Something about writing in a Word document lends itself to formality, where I can compose a logical and clever argument about things far more easily as a blog post or a series of tweets, which is more casual and has a well-defined audience. Starting the writing process by speaking to that audience plays to my strengths.

Girls to the Front

NPR is asked, “Are Tall People Obligated To Stand In The Back At Concerts?

They mostly get it right: The only obligation tall people have in concerts is the same one the rest of us have, to do everything you can to be “good and courteous neighbors.” 

Frequently, though, that’s not what happens.

In the early ’90s, Kathleen Hanna noticed that it was women that get pushed to the side at concerts, and made Bikini Kill concerts a place where women got a chance to participate, with her rallying cry, “Girls to the front!” She made literal and figurative space for women at punk shows to be full participants, instead of being bystanders to larger, more aggressive, male concert-goers who angled for space and attention in front of the stage. This is a famous story, a key political moment in modern music, and a known issue, so it seems weird that the discussion around this article completely overlooks the gender angle.  

My experience is that for this very reason, as a lady, when ladies tend to be shorter than men, live music shows can be a drag because you can’t see the act. Every live show I’ve attended, without exception unless seating was assigned, I’ve been elbowed out of the way of the stage by people bigger than me, and pushed to the side of the room. These folks tend to be men. And as a thing that happens to women at concerts, being literally pushed to the side by male fans exacerbates the cultural impression in rock and punk scenes that female fans aren’t real fans, because the real fans are at the front of the crowd.

H/T to Cathryn for the link.