An alternative explanation put forth by Walter
de Pinchebek circa 1300 is that sterling silver
may have been known first as "Easterling
Silver". The term "Easterling Silver"
is believed to have been used to refer to the
grade of silver that had originally been used
as the local currency in an area of Germany, known
as "The Easterling".
This "Easterling" area consisted of
five towns in northern Germany that banded together
in the 12th century under the name Hanseatic League.
The Hanseatic League proceeded to engage in considerable
commerce with England. In payment for English
cattle and grain, the League used their local
currency. This currency was in the form of 92.5%
silver coins. England soon learned that these
coins, which they referred to as "the coins
of the Easterlings", were of a reliably high
quality and hardness.
King Henry II set about to adopt the alloy as
the standard for English currency. He recruited
metal refiners from The Easterling and put them
to work making silver coins for England. The silver
these refiners produced came into usage as currency
by 1158 in the form of what are now known as "Tealby
Pennies", and was eventually adopted as a
standard alloy throughout England. The original
name "Easterling Silver" later became
known as simply "sterling silver".
The original English silver penny was 22½ troy
grains of fine silver (as pure as can readily
be made). 22½ troy grains is equivalent to 30
so-called tower grains or one tower pennyweight.
When Henry II reformed the coinage, he based the
new coinage on the then international standard
of the troy pound rather than the pre-conquest
English standard of the tower pound. A troy pennyweight
is 24 troy grains. To maintain the same amount
of silver (and thus the same value) in a coin
that weighed more required less silver. It required
that the alloy be only 92½% pure.
Though coin weights and silver purity varied considerably
(reaching a low point before the reign of Elizabeth
I, who reinstated sterling silver coinage for
the first time since the early 14th century),
the pound sterling was used as currency in England
from the 12th century until the middle of the
20th century. Specifically this was in the silver
coins of the British Empire: Britain, British
colonies, and some former British colonies. This
sterling coin silver is not to be confused with
American "coin silver".
Sterling silver, no longer used in circulating
currency, is still used for flatware, jewellery
and plate, and is a grade of silver respected
for both relatively high purity and sufficient
hardness to form durable objects in daily use.
A century of dining regalia: the silver craze of 1840 to 1940