A SMALL COLLECTION OF ANTIQUE SILVER
AND OBJECTS OF VERTU
THE WHAT IS? SILVER DICTIONARY

HOW TO READ ENGLISH / BRITISH STERLING SILVER MARKS
THE UK SYSTEM OF HALLMARKS

From the end of the 12th century the craft of silversmith has been regulated in conformity with Royal Ordinances and Acts of the Parliament.
In England the craft was regulated by the Guild of Goldsmiths at London and in Ireland by the Guild of Dublin. In Scotland the craft was theoretically supervised by the Edinburgh Goldsmiths' Incorporation, but in practice its influence outside the capital was limited and a plethora di unofficial Scottish Provincial marks was created.


HOW TO READ, DECRYPT AND IDENTIFY THE MARKS ON ENGLISH SILVERPLATE AND ELECTROPLATED SILVER

MARK OF ORIGIN - TOWN MARK

Identifies the Assay Office where the silver item was verified.
London origin is identified by the use of the leopard's head, crowned and uncrowned from 1821. In reality the leopard's head was a standard mark and its use applied to all goldsmiths throughout the land. It was not until 1856 that the leopard's head mark could have been used for any purpose other than a fineness mark.
Birmingham has the anchor, Chester the three wheat-sheaves and sword, Sheffield the crown and the Tudor rose (from 1975).
York has a five lions passant in a cross, Exeter a castle with three towers and Newcastle-upon-Tyne three castles.
In Scotland, Edinburgh has the castle and Glasgow the "tree, fish and bell".
In Ireland, Dublin origin is deduced by the presence of the figure of the crowned harp and Hibernia.
London: leopard's head crowned (until 1820) London: leopard's head uncrowned (1821-present) London: lion head erased ((1696-1719) Birmingham: anchor (1773-present)
London
leopard's head crowned (until 1820)
London
leopard's head uncrowned (1821-present)
London (1696-1719)
lion head erased
Birmingham
anchor (1773-present)
Birmingham: anchor, bicentennial commemorative (1973) Sheffield: crown (1773-1975) Sheffield: Tudor rose (1975-present) Chester: a sword erect between three wheat-sheaves (1784-1962)
Birmingham
bicentennial commemorative (1973)
Sheffield
crown (1773-1975)
Sheffield
Tudor rose (1975-present)
Chester
a sword erect between three wheat-sheaves (1784-1962)
Exeter: a castle with three towers (1701-1856) Newcastle-upon-Tyne: three castles (c.1658-1883) York: five lions passant on a cross (1700-1856) Edinburgh: castle (1483-present)
Exeter
a castle with three towers (1701-1856)
Newcastle-upon-Tyne
three castles (c.1658-1883)
York
five lions passant on a cross (c. 1710-1856)
Edinburgh
castle (1483-present)
Glasgow: tree, fish and bell (1681-1963) Dublin: crowned harp Dublin: Hibernia (1730-present) .
Glasgow
tree, fish and bell (1681-1963)
Dublin
crowned harp mark (until 1806)
Dublin
Hibernia (1807-present)
.

STANDARD MARK

Since the 14th century the standard for silver in England was set at 11 ounces and two pennyweights in the Troy pound (925 parts in 1000), it was related to money and as far as wrought plate was concerned it had to be as good as money. The Statute 28 Ewd. Cap. XX which introduced this standard reads as follows: "It is ordained, that no Goldsmith of England, nor none otherwhere within the King's Dominions, shall from henceforth....... work worse silver than money".
The 925/1000 (sterling) silver fineness is certified in London and other British Assay Offices by the use of the "lion passant" mark.
For a short period (1696-1720) the standard was elevated to 958.4/1000 and the "Britannia" mark replaced the "lion passant".
Different standard marks are used in Scotland ("thistle" in Edinburgh and "lion rampant" in Glasgow and, later, Edinburgh) and in Ireland ("crowned harp" in Dublin).

lion passant (guardant) mark lion passant (facing left) mark Britannia mark (1696-1719) .
lion passant (guardant) mark (London and other English Assay Offices) lion passant (facing left) mark (London and other English Assay Offices) Britannia mark
(1696-1719)
.
thistle standard mark (Edinburgh) lion rampant standard mark (Glasgow and Edinburgh from 1975) crowned harp standard mark (Dublin) .
thistle mark (Edinburgh) lion rampant mark (Glasgow and Edinburgh from 1975) crowned harp mark (Dublin) .




DATE LETTER

A date letter first appeared on English silver plate in the year 1697 as a result of legislation. In clause VIII of the Act 8 & 9 William III c.8 which, among other things, deals with the marks that must be applied to assayed plate at Goldsmiths' Hall the following wording is used: " .... and a distinct variable mark to be used by the warden of the said mystery, to denote the year in which such plate is made;..." This legislation remained in place until 1999 in which year the Government adopted European hallmarking practice which does not require that an assayed item of plate must be dated.
Series of alphabetical letters were chosen to indicate the year of assaying (date letter) using "cycles of letters" of different font and size inside punches of various shapes.
Any Assay Office adopted its own cycle of date letters so that only from the 1975 the four surviving Assay Offices use a uniform system of dating (optional from 1999).

These are the links to the date letters tables of main Assay Offices:

London          Birmingham          Sheffield

Chester          Dublin          Edinburgh          Glasgow


London Assay Office Letters: Cycles 1-2-3-4
London Assay Office Letters, as illustrated in
"Hall Marks of Gold and Silver Plate",
by William Chaffers, Tenth Edition, London 1922

MAKER'S MARK

In early times the maker's mark was constituted by a symbol but from the 15th century the mark was formed by silversmith's name and surname initials.
Only for a short period (1696-1719) the maker's mark was formed with the first two letters of silversmith's surname.
Various fonts, sizes and outlines were adopted to differentiate the marks of silversmiths having the same initials.




LIST OF MAKER'S MARKS

ILLUSTRATED SELECTION OF MAKER'S MARKS

LIST OF NAMES

DUTY MARK

The Sovereign's Head demonstrates the payment of the duty on the piece bearing it. It was introduced in 1784 and lasted until 1890. In Glasgow the Sovereign's Head was introduced in 1819 while, from 1798, watchcases were exempted from the fee.
From July 15 1797, for nine months, the King's Head was duplicated owing to the Duty being doubled.
The "Duty Drawback" mark was used from December 1, 1784 to July 24, 1785 to claim back the duty when the item was exported.
A special duty mark (Hibernia) was used in Dublin from 1730 to 1806.
"Duty dodger" is the definition of unscrupulous silversmiths that used fraudulent methods to avoid paying the tax (e.g. inserting into a large piece a small disk bearing marks from an article on which a low tax had been paid).


Sovereign's head 1784 Sovereign's head 1787 Sovereign's head 1795 Sovereign's head 1797 Sovereign's head 1804 Sovereign's head 1812 Sovereign's head 1818 Sovereign's head 1818
1784 (LON)
1787 (LON)
1795 (LON)
1797 (LON)
1804 (LON)
1812 (DUB)
1818 (EDI)
1818 (LON)
Sovereign's head 1822 Sovereign's head 1823 Sovereign's head 1824 Sovereign's head 1825 Sovereign's head 1826 Sovereign's head 1829 Sovereign's head 1832
1822 (SHE)
1823 (LON)
1824 (BIR)
1825 (DUB)
1826 (LON)
1829 (DUB)
1832 (EDI)
Sovereign's head 1833 Sovereign's head 1835 Sovereign's head 1835 Sovereign's head 1838 Sovereign's head 1854 Sovereign's head 1862 Sovereign's head 1871 Sovereign's head 1871
1833 (GLA)
1835 (EDI)
1835 (LON)
1838 (LON)
1854 (LON)
1862 (BIR)
1871 (LON)
1871 (SHE)
Sheffield 1797, King's Head duplicated duty drawback mark with free standing figure duty drawback mark entirely enclosed within a punch outline .
King's Head duplicated
owing to the Duty being doubled
"Duty Drawback" mark
for exported items
.




COMMEMORATIVE MARKS

Special temporary hallmarks are adopted to commemorate special events and anniversaries.
British Assay Offices used commemorative marks in 1935 (Silver Jubilee of King George V), 1953 (Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II), 1977 (Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II), 2000 (Millennium Mark), 2002 (Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II) and 2012 (Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II).


Silver Jubilee of King George V mark Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II mark Silver Jubilee of Queen  Elizabeth II mark
Silver Jubilee of
King George V
Coronation of
Queen Elizabeth II
Silver Jubilee of
Queen Elizabeth II
Millennium Mark Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II mark Diamond Jubilee of Queen  Elizabeth II mark
Millennium Mark Golden Jubilee of
Queen Elizabeth II
Diamond Jubilee of
Queen Elizabeth II

IMPORT MARKS

The Custom Act of 1842 ordered that imported gold and silver couldn't be sold in Great Britain and Ireland unless it had been assayed at a British Office.
In 1867 the Foreign Mark was introduced adding an "F" to the appropriate British hallmark.


Foreign mark on London 1880 hallmark, importer Gustave Guilaudet
Foreign mark on London 1880 hallmark, importer Gustave Guilaudet


In 1904 an Act of the Order of Council ordered that foreign silver had to be marked with the decimal value:
.925 for Sterling Standard and .958 for Britannia Standard.
A special Assay Office mark was introduced to be used in the addition to the annual date letter, while the "F" mark was omitted.


London import mark 1904-1906 London import mark 1906-1998 Birmingham import mark 1904-1998 Chester import mark 1904-1962
London
1904-1906
London
1906-1998
(often upside down)
Birmingham
1904-1998
Chester
1904-1962
Dublin import mark 1904-1906 Dublin import mark 1906-1998 Edinburgh import mark 1904-1998 Glasgow import mark 1904-1906
Dublin
1904-1906
Dublin
1906-1998
Edinburgh
1904-1998
Glasgow
1904-1906
Glasgow import mark 1906-1964 Sheffield import mark 1904-1906 Sheffield import mark 1904-1998 .
Glasgow
1906-1964
Sheffield
1904-1906
Sheffield
1906-1998
.

JOURNEYMAN MARK
WORKMAN MARK

The word journeyman comes from the French word journée, which means a period of one day.
It refers to the right the journeyman had to obtain a reward for each day's work.
In origin he was "a man who did not gain the freedom of the City and was therefore a 'non Freeman' but was free of a livery company and thus qualified to ply his trade could do so as a 'journeyman' provided he was licensed by the corporation. Often he would continue to work for his old master in the capacity of journeyman but he could, if he wished, go to another workshop and sometimes a silversmith would remain a journeyman for all of his working life" (courtesy David Mckinley/ASCAS).
The majority of silversmiths never actually registered their own mark. They were employed by large workshops of companies or were used as out-workers. The work they part or wholly produced was marked under somebody else's name.
These workers on plate were often paid on a pro rata basis, the foreman counting up their output each day so that they could be rewarded at the end of the week. The foreman also could distinguish between each of his workers' wares so that poor workmanship could be traced to the source. Thus a system was devised where each member of staff had his own punch (journeyman or workman mark), sometimes cut with the initials, but more often cut with a small symbol (a star, a leaf, a triangle, etc.) usually stamped next the maker's mark.


journeyman mark journeyman mark journeyman mark journeyman mark journeyman mark journeyman mark
Examples of journeyman marks working for Chawner family
journeyman mark
Spoons dated 1816 made by different workmen in Eley & Fearn workshop




CONTEMPORARY HALLMARKS

The British hallmarking system has been substantially modified in 1999.
Compulsory marks are the Assay Office mark, the sponsor's or maker's mark (at least two letters within a shield) and the Metal and fineness mark (purity in millesimal number).
The use of the traditional fineness mark (lion passant, lion rampant, Britannia) and date letter is maintained only on a voluntary basis.




HOW TO READ STERLING SILVER HALLMARKS

The marks of electroplated silver were often inspired to the hallmarking used for sterling silver.
The purpose of these marks hid the unacknowledged goal of confusing the customer about the nature of the metal alloy.


silverplate trademark: Evans & Matthews - Birmingham
silverplate

Sterling silver hallmark, Sheffield Assay Office, date 1850, maker Martin Bros & Co
sterling silver

The mark above is a trade mark on a mid-19th century silverplate piece manufactured by Evans & Matthews of Birmingham, while the one below is on a sterling silver piece hallmarked by Sheffield Assay Office in 1850, maker Martin Bros & Co.
These two marks are very similar: both have a "crown" and a set of alphabetical symbols to represent maker and date, but the fundamental difference is that the standard mark (lion passant) is missing on Evans & Matthews trademark as its use on metal different from sterling silver or on silver having silver fineness below 925/1000 is severely punished in the UK. Actually also the "crown" on silverplate was forbidden, but until 1895 c. its use was tolerated by Sheffield Assay Office.


journeyman mark

(1) journeyman mark
(2) maker's mark (William Chawner)
(3) standard mark (lion passant 925/1000 purity)
(4) town mark (leopard's head London)
(5) date letter (1825)
(6) duty mark (sovereign head George IV)

I am indebted to David McKinley/ASCAS for many of the information contained in this page


English home page
This is a page of 'The What is? Silver Dictionary' of A Small Collection of Antique Silver and Objects of vertu, a 1500 pages richly illustrated website offering all you need to know about antique silver, sterling silver, silverplate, Sheffield plate, electroplate silver, silverware, flatware, tea services and tea complements, marks and hallmarks, articles, books, auction catalogs, famous silversmiths (Tiffany, Gorham, Jensen, Elkington), history, oddities ...
HOME - SITE MAP - SILVER DICTIONARY - COOKIES CONSENT AND PRIVACY