Sterling silver flatware is beautiful but expensive––even at the flea market. You can expect to pay between $10 and $30 per piece. So you might want to start with silver-plated settings, and replace the pieces one at a time with sterling silver as your budget allows. To identify the real thing, look at the back. American silver will say “sterling” or “.925” or “925/1000.”
If you have a magnifying glass, check out the hallmarks on the back. A picture of a lion with a raised foot indicates a piece is sterling silver all the way through. The letters EP or EPNS tell you right away something is electroplated. In other words, just silver-plated on the outside. It’s a lot less expensive, but it can be just as elegant!