(click on photos to enlarge image)
THE DUTY AND EXPORTATION MARKS ON ENGLISH SILVER
Duty, of 6d. per troy oz, was first levied on plate sent in
for hallmarking in the act of 1719 which took affect on 1st June
1720. No mark was struck on plate at this time as a receipt for
this tax although the introduction of a crowned date letter was
considered. The tax was abolished by an Act of 1758
(see note 1) and, following complaints of its
inequity, was replaced by a flat fee of £2.00 per annum levied
on all makers.
(see note 2)
The same duty was reintroduced however in 1784
(see note 3) and this time receipt for the tax was
identified by the striking of a mark on all plate sent in for
assay. The mark was initially an intaglio of the monarchs bust
in an octagonal outline (Fig 1) and it came into use on the 1st
December 1784. This was the Government's third attempt to raise
funds by taxing plate. In 1756 a bill had been introduced to tax
the mere possession of plate over 100 oz.
(see note 4) but this was found difficult to
administer and it was repealed in 1777.
(see note 5)
Incuse Duty Mark. Struck to the right of the
Some authorities have suggested that the duty on wrought
plate was reintroduced in 1784 in order to offset the expense of
the American War of Independence but there is no evidence to
support this claim although it is true that the Treasury's
coffers were greatly depleted by this debacle. The Act which
imposed this tax clearly states that it was to raise funds for "his
Majesty the King and his heirs in perpetuity" and not for the
(see note 6)
The Goldsmiths' Company was jealous of its ancient right to
strike the marks on all plate assayed in England and it came to
an accommodation with the Stamp Office by which it was paid 6d
(2.5p) in the pound for striking the new duty mark on plate
passing through Goldsmiths' Hall. It is of some interest that
the Company was, for reasons not explained, prepared to accept
the administrative responsibility for collecting and receipting
this tax although it was put to some expense in doing so.
The following entries in the minute books make this clear.
The Committee book entry for 12th October 1786 reads:
"Resolved that it be a recommendation from this Committee to the
next Court of Assistants that a memorial be presented to the
Commissioners of the Stamp Dutys (sic) praying for an allowance
of the Expenses which the Company hath been put to in building
and fitting up the new Office wherein the plate duty accounts
are kept "and in providing StationeryWare for that business in
and for the Additional Salary they have given to their Engraver
and other incidental Expenses relating to the carring (sic) that
act of Parliament into execution ...."
(see note 7) and the Court Book entry for 20th
October of that year reads:
"....Court were pleased to come to a resolution that no memorial
should be presented as therein recommended...."
(see note 8)
Of particular interest in these minute entries is the reference
to "the additional salary they have given to their engraver"
since he, John Pingo, was under separate contract to the Stamp
Office to make the duty punches for the provincial assay offices
and was paid by that Office for so doing.
(see note 9) Although kept at the Assay Offices these
punches were not hallmark punches and were presumably the
property of the Stamp Office (forerunner of The Inland Revenue,
now H.M. Revenue & Customs) and one wonders why the London
Goldsmiths& Company elected to pay for those which were for
their own use, themselves!
The late Maurice Ridgway refers to the high cost of these
punches to the Chester Assay Office drawing a comparison between
them at six shillings (30p) each and date punches at two
shillings and sixpence (12 1/2p) each. He also makes it clear
that, although they were "probably made by John Pingo, the
engraver to the Goldsmiths' Company", they were supplied by the
(see note 10)
This latter gives a possible explanation of the reluctant
acceptance of the cost incurred by the Goldsmiths' Company who
were paying their own engraver for producing the duty punches to
be used at the London Assay Office. It also explains the entries
showing payments by the Stamp Office to the Pingos which appear
in various records.
(see note 11) It was almost certainly cheaper to pay
Pingo for the punches, since he would be making them anyway,
than to pay the Stamp Office for them!
The Company also accepted responsibility for taking in the duty
on behalf of the Stamp Office and appointed its own clerk, who
was already acting as its accountant, to keep separate accounts
of duty received. The Weigher was deputed to make sure that the
correct duty was collected and these moneys were paid into the
Bank of England on a twice weekly basis.
(see note 12)
The Stamp Office, on the other hand, accepted its own
administrative responsibility and appointed one William Harris
as 'Inspector of Plate Duty' at a salary of £70.00 a year "To
inspect the Entries of Gold and Silver Plate assayed by the
Goldsmiths Company of London -- to see that the Duty is
regularly charged and to report an Account thereof to the
That Office also appointed one John Johnston as 'General
Accountant of the Duties, 1784' at a salary of £120.00 a year "To
examine the Accounts of the new Duties 1784, and of those
granted since, previous to their being delivered over to the
(see note 13)
Items which were destined for export were exempt from this tax
but as the statute, which introduced it, required that the duty
mark be struck on all items before assay, duty had to be paid on
everything sent in for hallmarking and then reclaimed on export
To show that this refund had been made a separate mark, the
exportation mark (now known as 'the duty drawback mark') was
also applied to export goods.
This latter mark was an intaglio of the figure of Britannia
standing and as it was applied after the plate had been 'tidied
up' following the initial hallmarking it was found, in some
cases, to have damaged the plate and a complaint against its use
was lodged by the silversmiths. Accordingly it was withdrawn
from use by Act of Parliament
(see note 14) on 24th. July 1785 and was thus only in
use for just over seven months. This makes it a rare mark and
one sought after by collectors.
Examination of the mark plate at Goldsmiths' Hall shows that the
punch for this mark was engraved in two forms. One fairly large
free standing figure (Fig 2a) and one much smaller example which
was entirely enclosed within a punch outline (Fig 2b). This
latter is usually difficult to see clearly and the punch outline
must therefore be relied on to identify it. It is not clear why
two examples of this mark were produced and as the illustrations
given here are of a table fork and a table spoon respectively it
seems that they were used indiscriminately! Both are, of course,
Fig. 2a: Duty Drawback mark struck to the left
of the hallmarks and at a right angle to them
(Image by kind permission of The Silver Spoon Club
of Great Britain)
Fig. 2b: Duty Drawback Mark. Struck at a right
angle to and to the right of the other marks
It is believed by some authorities that the initial concept
at Goldsmiths' Hall was that the exportation mark should cancel
out or negate the duty mark and that it was therefore struck
over that mark but that it was very soon realised that if the
duty mark could not be seen there was no way of establishing
that the duty had been paid and that the decision was therefore
taken to strike the exportation mark separately. Whatever the
truth of this is it is certainly the case that there are pieces
so marked (Fig 3). Examples of overstruck duty marks are very
In 1786, when the duty mark was incorporated with the other
marks on the stub used in the fly press, the mark became cameo
to match the hallmarks. The intaglio mark was only in use
therefore from 1st December 1784 until 28th May 1786 and is, for
this reason, also sought after by collectors because of its
Fig. 3: Over struck Duty Mark. The maker's mark
is on the left followed by the fly pressed Hallmarks
The duty mark over struck by the drawback mark is on
Duty on plate was abolished in 1890.
I am indebted to the Worshipful Company Of Goldsmiths for
allowing me the privilege of examining their records.
- 2014 -
David McKinley devotes much of his time to researching the history of silversmithing in England with
particular reference to hallmarking at the London office.
He writes for The Silver Spoon Club
of Great Britain, The Silver Society and ASCAS website.
David McKinley is the author of the book THE FIRST HUGUENOT SILVERSMITHS OF LONDON.
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