Silver has been recognized and used since ancient times and has long been valued as a precious metal used to make jewelry, ornaments, high-value silverware and household utensils (hence the term) and currency. Pure silver is relatively soft and malleable however so it is often combined with other metals to produce a more durable product.
Due to softness of pure silver, it is typically only used in its purest form for handicrafts and jewelry featuring intricate designs that require extreme malleability. Sterling silver is most often used to jewelry and household items because of its combination of beauty and durability.
Sterling silver, composed of 92.5% silver and 7.5% copper, is the most popular alloy used for making fine silver jewelry and precious household items. Most high quality silver items are stamped with a "quality" or "fineness" mark which designates the precious metal content of the item under the federal law and must be accompanied by a maker's mark. Sterling silver is most commonly stamped with a .925 mark to indicate its composition.