A silver object that is to be sold commercially is, in most countries, stamped with one or more silver hallmarks indicating the purity of the silver, the mark of the manufacturer or silversmith, and other optional markings to indicate date of manufacture and additional information about the piece. In some countries, the testing of silver objects and marking of purity is controlled by a national assayer’s office. Hallmarks are applied with a hammer and punch, a process that leaves sharp edges and spurs of metal. Therefore, hallmarking is generally done before the piece goes for its final polishing. The hallmark for sterling silver varies from nation to nation, often using distinctive historic symbols, although Dutch and UK Assay offices no longer strike their traditional hallmarks exclusively in their own territories and undertake assay in other countries using marks that are the same as those used domestically. One of the most highly structured hallmarking systems in the world is that of the United Kingdom, Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland , and Ireland.
The joy of collecting British silver is the variety of choice this is mainly due to the hallmark. The subject of hallmarks is sometimes thought to be a complicated one, but this is not so, each hallmark can broken down into four individual marks. Firstly and probably most important is lion passant, this stamp of a lion seen from side on indicates that the item is made from sterling silver which is parts per thousand.
I am often asked why Birmingham, so far from the sea, has an anchor for the town mark. The story is that in the late 18th Century Matthew Boulton was sending his silverware to Chester to be hallmarked, as that was the closest assay office to Birmingham, unfortunately due to the condition of the roads his work was often damaged in transit. He decided to petition Parliament for an assay office in Birmingham.
British date marks use letters from A – Z to represent dates. Each town of assay uses its own system. London uses A – U, Birmingham uses A – Z.
To be sold as Silver or any other precious metal, all finished items must undergo tests carried out by the assay office. There are four Assay offices in the UK London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh and each undertakes tests to ascertain the precise metal content of the items delivered to it to ensure they comply with the law. The Sterling Silver standard requires all of the metal making up an item to contain parts pure Silver to the When an article of Silver doesn’t comply with the required standard the assay offices can and do destroy the object and the Silversmith has some explaining to do.
Although it has to be said that most cases are a result of miscalculation. For example, if the clip of a pen is not made of silver, but the rest of the pen is, then the Assay office would not hallmark the object if by their calculation the whole pen clip an all melted down would not still contain part pure silver. In , a new format of English hallmarking on objects of Sterling Silver was initiated consisting of a maker’s mark, the assay office insignia and a symbol.
The standardising of the date letter sequence, shared by all four remaining assay offices in Birmingham, Edinburgh, London and Sheffield, were introduced to bring the UK system closer in line with other European Union standards.
ENGLISH SILVER MARKS
Each article will be focused on a specific cycle of British hallmarks, not taken in a chronological order, beginning from the London Assay Office. At the London Assay Office, each series refers to 20 years, starting with the date letter “a” and ending with the date letter “u” or “v”. Only twenty letters of the alphabet have been used, excluding: j, v or u , w, x, y and z.
Note that the last letter of each cycle can be an “u” or a “v”, but this is probably due to the fact that in the classic Latin language and alphabet there was no difference between “u” and “v”.
The Full Traditional Hallmark comprises five marks: Sponsor’s mark; Traditional fineness mark; Millesimal fineness mark; Assay Office mark; Date letter mark.
A typical set of antique British silver hallmarks showing left to right ; 1. Standard Mark, 2. City Mark, 3. Date Letter, 4. Duty Mark and 5. A – Sterling.
A Guide to British Sterling Silver Hallmarks
By it was deemed more practical for items dating be brought to Goldsmiths Hall letters assay and a permanent assay office was established there. This is the origin of dating term “hallmark”. In the leopard’s head mark was adopted as the mark of the London Assay Office. A letter mark coinciding with the date of assay was first introduced in London in.
The most comprehensive internet resource for research of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Makers’ Marks found on antique and vintage silver and silverplate. Gorham Date Marks · Kirk Date The site’s main focus is the silver markings used on vintage and antique sterling and coin silver, for those of you interested in silverplate.
A hallmark is an official stamp on gold, silver and other precious metal articles, impressed by an assay office to attest their standard. English gold and silver articles have been marked by some form of hallmark since the 13th Century. This duty was originally carried out at Goldsmiths hall in London. Today there are four assay offices in the UK, although there have been several others over the intervening years.
Please click here for more information on Assay Offices. Today a hallmark consists of three compulsory marks “” standard mark, assay office mark and sponsors’ mark , with two optional voluntary marks lion passant and date letter. However until the system had been more or less the same for years. A lion rampant or thistle represents the Sterling standard in Scotland and a harp crowned in Ireland.
Today, the metal purity is tested, by taking a scrape from each article and subjecting the scrape to an electronic analysis. In the past, several other methods were used. The earliest method was by the touch rubbing the metal on a touch-stone and comparing those rubbings with a sample of known pure silver , a later alternative was by crucible which involves the melting away of all impurities and comparing the resultant weight of pure silver with the weight of the original sample.
DATE LETTERS – 1773 TO 2020
Hallmarks are one of the most important factors in identifying antique silver jewelry, flatware, and other items. These small stamped symbols on the back or underside of silver items can tell you the purity of the silver, the manufacturer of the piece, and sometimes even the date it was made. Understanding how to read hallmarks is an important skill for any antiques enthusiast.
If you have a piece of silver jewelry or a household item you’d like to identify, there’s a process that can help.
Jewelry marks in France date back even earlier, with known Silver purity marks also specify metal content (for reference, sterling silver is
The vast majority of English, Scottish and Irish silver produced in the last years is stamped with either 4 or 5 symbols, known as hallmarks. The prime purpose of these marks is to show that the metal of the item upon which they are stamped is of a certain level of purity. The metal is tested and marked at special offices, regulated by the government, known as assay offices. Only metal of the required standard will be marked.
It is a form of consumer protection, whose origin goes back almost years. There are so many different hallmarks found on British silver that to know all of them would be impossible. Fortunately, with the use of a single reference book, it is possible for even a complete novice to decipher the vast majority. Although there are many books on the market which can be used to help read hallmarks, the standard book of reference, used by dealers and collectors world wide is Bradbury’s Book of Hallmarks.
This pocket sized reference contains all of the marks that one is likely to encounter on a regular basis. Armed with this book, the process of reading these marks can be split into the 5 simple steps shown below. Bradbury’s book of hallmarks was last updated in by the Sheffield Assay office.
Blog CF – Shopping News & Secret Stories
Diane is a lover of all things beautiful; music, art, antiques and nature. Her guides bring insight to topics she cares passionately about. British sterling silver hallmarks help to identify the maker and year of manufacture of sterling silver items produced by Great Britain. Understanding and learning to recognize these marks can help you avoid costly mistakes in both the purchase and sale of antique English silver.
Optional extra marks are the ‘Lion Passant’, the UK sign of Sterling Silver, and the date letter stamp. The standardising of the date letter sequence, shared by all.
The full detail of what assay marks mean, when they are needed and what they look like can be found on the London Assay Office website. The date letter allows you to determine the date the piece was assayed. There is a 25 year cycle of letters. The images below are date letters from a series of ingots — I have made at least one every year since I registered my mark. I have had some pieces so marked. The Jubilee mark is show above and depicts a young Queen Elizabeth with an oversized crown in a diamond surround.
The LAO have a list of charges for basic and supplementary services. Basically there is a fixed charge and a per item charge. All silver sold must be assayed and hallmarked if it weighs above 7. I like to have my work assayed even if it is less than that. To minimise the cost of assay across my clients, I aggregate my work to spread the fixed costs. So the timing of when the order is placed can be critical.
Sheffield silver date marks
View all Silverware. Trays, Plates and Salvers. Fish Knives, Forks and Servers. View all Teaware. Samovars and Kettles.
Any Assay Office adopted its own cycle of date letters so that only from the the four surviving Assay Offices use a uniform system of dating (optional from ).
A typical set of antique British silver hallmarks showing left to right ; 1. Standard Mark, 2. City Mark, 3. Date Letter, 4. Duty Mark and 5. Maker’s Mark This particular set of marks tells us that this item was made of Sterling, in the city of London, in the year , during the reign of King George III, and by the silversmith Thomas Wallis. Establish that it has one of the Silver Standard Marks , if not it is likely silverplate or from a different country.
Locate and identify the City Mark. Note whether it has a sovereign’s head Duty Mark – or not. The sovereign’s head, or lack thereof, will narrow the date range. Having identified the city mark, click on the link to its date chart and find your Date Letter. Identify the Maker’s Mark , they are listed by city and in alphabetical order by the first initial. A – Sterling.
Confusing Marks on Sterling Silver and Silver Plate
The marks on the bottom of a piece of silver can be an indication of the age, maker, and origin of the piece. This is a list of American silver marks and solid American silver. Other lists include silver-plated wares and pewter. It will not help you to identify other silver. Four or five small pictorial marks usually indicate England as the country of origin.
These will be the marks of the maker/ silversmith, the Lion Passant to signify that its English Sterling Silver, the Assay Office Mark, the date letter, and finally the.
Antique silver hallmarks have been used to control the quality of goods made of silver since the 14th century and the organisation that regulates the craft, Goldsmiths Hall, gave the world the term hallmark. This is to ensure it is of the required sterling silver standard and, provided it conforms to a standard, a series of symbols are stamped into each part of the item. Today and for the past few centuries, this stamp or silver hallmark has shown the place and year of manufacture of the assayed silver item, as well as the silversmith who made or sponsored the item.
The laws governing silver hallmarking are very strict and if an item does not comply with a standard the item will not be hallmarked and will probably be destroyed. A false silver hallmark has always been treated with the utmost severity by the law and in the past a silversmith was pilloried for their first offence, where they would be pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables. There was a simple reason for this seemingly Draconian behaviour in that the manufacture of silver and gold was allied to the minting of currency.
Therefore, by debasing silver or gold, the offender was undermining the coin of the realm. A treasonable offence in times when treason was punished by death. Sometimes called the Sterling Mark, the lion passant, the mark for Made in England, first appeared on English silver and gold in For two years it was crowned, but has been struck ever since in its present form by all English Assay Offices.