Directory of Hallmarks
Above: the leopard's
head, which has been used in various forms as the symbol of the
London Assay Office since hallmarking began.
Hallmarking is a form of regulation and consumer protection
dating back 700 years.
It was Edward I who passed the statute requiring silver to be of
sterling standard to match coinage and introducing an assay system
which made it the responsibility of the Wardens of the Goldsmiths'
Guild to mark all items with a leopard's head stamp.
Hallmarking has continued at Goldsmiths' Hall in London ever
Other assay offices were opened in provincial centres and today
there are still offices in Edinburgh, where hallmarking has been
regulated by statute since the 15th century, and in Birmingham and
Sheffield, where assay offices were established by act of
parliament in 1773. Dublin has had an assay office since the mid
17th century and silver is still marked there.
Antique hallmarked silver typically carries a number of stamps
indicating the maker and date of assay, along with the standard or
purity mark and the place of assay. The United Kingdom and Ireland
currently have five assay offices. The London mark has always been
a leopard's head in some form. The Edinburgh mark is a
three-turreted castle, to which a thistle was added from 1759 until
1975, when a lion rampant replace the thistle. The Birmingham mark
is an anchor. The mark for Sheffield was a crown until 1974 when it
was replaced by a rosette.
Sequences of historical marks for these offices can be viewed
through the links below.
The Dublin mark is a crowned harp to which a seated figure of
Hibernia was added in 1731.
Marks were also applied by a number of provincial assay offices
which have now ceased operating:
Chester - closed in 1962
Mark: three wheat sheaves and a sword
Exeter - closed in 1883
Marks: a crowned X or a three-turreted castle
Glasgow - closed in 1964
Mark: combined tree, bird, bell and fish
Newcastle upon Tyne - closed in 1884
Mark: three separated turrets
Norwich - closed by 1701
Mark: a crowned lion passant and a crowned rosette
York - closed in 1856
Mark: half leopard's head, half fleur de lys and later five
lions passant on a cross
For many reasons town
silversmiths in Ireland and Scotland seldom sent their plate to
Edinburgh, Glasgow or Dublin to be assayed. Instead, they stamped
the silver themselves with a maker's mark, a town mark or
combinations of these and other marks. Rarity dictates that
Scottish/Irish provincial silver is collectable.
Sequences of historical marks for the following offices can be
viewed through the links below (reproduced courtesy of the British
The addition of a letter to the other marks was adopted in order
to indicate the year in which a piece of silver was assayed.
Generally the letter was changed annually until a complete alphabet
had been used and then the cycle would begin again with an
alteration to the style of letter or its surrounding shield.
For a variety of reasons this practice was not always adhered to
and the resulting anomalies can be seen in the tables of marks.
For collectors and students of silver the date letter system
generally means that antique plate can be dated more accurately
than most other antiques. It should be noted that while the date
letter has routinely been taken to represent a single year, it was
not until 1975 that all date letters were changed on January 1.
Until then, assay offices adopted different policies on the date of the change, so that
most letters were applied in parts of two years.
It is becoming increasingly common to see silver catalogued with
a two-year date range. Since 1999 the inclusion of a date letter
has not been compulsory.
The inclusion of initial stamps
alongside the hallmarks means that most makers can also be
identified. An up-to-date edition of Silver and Gold Marks of
England, Scotland and Ireland by Charles James Jackson remains the
best reference work on these.
Following a successful conclusion to one of the largest cases of
its type in years, a serial forger was jailed in 2008 for the
faking and forging of antique silver maker's marks.
here for ATG's reports of the case.
Click here for the Assay Office's published guide
detailing many of the fakes and forgeries.