(click on photos to enlarge image)
FRAUDULENT USE OF LONDON HALLMARKS
One of the commonest forms of fraud in the production of
silver plate is transposition (the fraudulent use of legitimate
hallmarks on an item that has never been assayed) and it has
been used by unscrupulous silversmiths throughout the ages. It
came to a head in England after the introduction of plate duty
in 1720 and various steps were taken by the Goldsmiths’ Company
to circumvent the practice.
Although many of these steps were successful they are, as far as
the wider public is concerned, esoteric and this allows that
transposition is still happening today.
Marks that have been 'let in' on plate which has never been to
'HalL' for assay can be fairly easily detected by breathing on
the suspect surface and it will be observed that the
condensation of one's breath shows up the seam round the marks.
However there is one particular form of this fraud that cannot
be detected in this way and a knowledge of both the positioning
and the form of hallmarks is necessary. This fraud involves the
reproduction of late 18th century small wares, such as cream
jugs, that stand on square plinths. The method used is to
construct the plinth in such a way that one side of it is
composed of the stem of a genuine 18th century tea spoon so that
the marks appear integral with the piece and have not been 'let
in' on a larger surface.
There are two things to
look for when purchasing such a piece; the position
of the marks and the order and form of the
individual punch marks.
A genuine jug of this period will be marked in one
of two places.
Usually the marks were punched just below the rim
and to the right of the handle.
Although they can appear just below the lip late in
The order in which the Hallmarks appear on London
made pieces is Lion, Leopard, Date and after 1784
Lion, Leopard, Date, Duty (see ADDENDA) but as this
order does not apply on provincial pieces the
position of the marks is paramount.
However the outline to the individual punches is
indicative and on the London lion, for instance,
should be rectangular with canted top corners and an
Hallmarks on a caster
by Hester Bateman
Geo III Cream Jug by George Andrews
If there is some reason why the maker would not want the
marks to be applied in this position, because there is some
decorative feature that he would not want spoiled for instance,
then the marks will be found under the base of the piece and in
this case the double mark punch was used and applied in the
Geo III Cream Jug by
Charles Cathery London 1793
When marked in this way the Lion and Leopard (in that order)
will always be found together and the Date and Duty mark (in
that order) will likewise always be together.
If a jug is found to be marked along one side of its plinth then
it is probably a fake.
There will be no leopard’s head and the order of the marks will
be Lion, Date, Duty. The outline to the lion will be rectangular
with canted top corners and a curved base. (see ENDNOTE)
These marks were only applied to tea and other small spoons.
Tea spoon marked at
London in 1786
It is illegal to sell such a piece and as it stands it is
worthless. It should be sent to Goldsmiths' Hall in London where
the mark will be struck through but left readable. It will also
be given an LAO (London Assay Office) number which will be
stamped near the falsely used mark. If required the piece will
be assayed and, if found to be of sterling quality, given a
modern hallmark which, of course, makes it worth less than an
18th century piece.
It should be added here that an unhallmarked piece that has been
given an LAO number can be sold legally, although no claim can
be made that it is made of silver of sterling standard. It can
be worth nearly as much as a genuine piece to a collector of
oddly marked pieces!
The underside of a
muffineer made by Robert Hennell and marked in
London in 1789 is just such an exception. It will be
observed that the marks on this piece have been
struck in the reverse order with the duty mark first
and the lion last although they are in the right
place. I am advised by the librarian at Goldsmiths’
Hall in London that they "would not raise any
suspicion" in his mind. I can offer no explanation
for this oddity but would say, however, that any
hand punched marking (other than the clock face
layout used on the underside of large hollow ware)
of this period not in the order lion, leopard, date,
duty should be viewed with suspicion and the advice
of an expert sought before contemplating the
purchase of such a piece.
I have also seen this layout on a set of plates
dated 1770, which should have been fly press marks
in the order date, lion, leopard and similarly on
the base of an oval tea pot of 1780 and the base of
a hot water jug of 1787 both of which should have
been in clock face format. A note I took at a
seminar at Goldsmiths’ Hall on 'Fakes and Forgeries'
reads: "London marks on base of hollow ware never
in a straight line on antique plate"! This last
statement appears to be unequivocal so that one must
be very skeptical about any late 18th century large
hollow ware not marked in a clock face fashion.
Underside of a muffineer by Robert Hennel
showing marks struck in reverse order
Photograph by kind permission of Giorgio Busetto/ASCAS
- 2012 -
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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