Sunday - 26 October 2014

Hallmarks

History

Directory of Hallmarks

Date letters

Makers' marks

Fakes

 

hallmarks01.jpg

 

Above: the leopard's head, which has been used in various forms as the symbol of the London Assay Office since hallmarking began.

 

History

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 since.

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

Scottish/Irish provincial

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.

 

 

Directory of Hallmarks

Sequences of historical marks for the following offices can be viewed through the links below (reproduced courtesy of the British Hallmarking Council).

 

London Hallmarks

Birmingham Hallmarks

Sheffield Hallmarks

Edinburgh Hallmarks

Other Hallmarks

 

 

Date letters

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.

 

 

Makers' marks

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.

 

 

Fakes

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.

Click here for ATG's reports of the case.

Click here for the Assay Office's published guide detailing many of the fakes and forgeries.