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

LEOPARD'S HEAD

In the reign of Edward I it was decided that the fineness of silver for both coin and wrought plate should be standardised and thus the statute of 1300, titled "Vessels of Gold shall be essayed, touched, and marked. The Kingís Prerogative shall be saved" , was enacted making sterling (11oz 2dwt in the troy pound) that standard for all English silver. This statute was originally written in old Norman French, in which language the following directive is given: "E qe nul manere de vessele de argent ne parte hors des meins as overers tant qe ele soit assaie par les gardiens du mester e qu ele soit signee de une teste de Leopart".
As Ďtesteí translates as head this passage therefore translates as: "......and that no manner of vessel of silver depart out of the hands of the workers until it be essayed by the Gardiens ( Wardens) of the craft, and further that it be marked with the Leopardís Head,........")
table of London marks
The statute went on to say: ".....and that all the good towns of England, where any goldsmith be dwelling, shall be ordered according to this statute as they of London be;....." and ".....and that one shall come from every good town for all the residue that be dwelling in the same unto London; for to be ascertained of their touch."). A passage in the Goldsmithsí Companyís charter of 1327 contains similar wording, although the word "fetch" instead of "ascertained" is used, with the addition of the sentence ("Ö.also the punch with the leopardís head with which to mark their work as was ordained in times pastÖ.").
It can be seen from this that not only was the leopardís head a standard mark but also that its use applied to all goldsmiths throughout the land and not just those working in London. It was not until 1856, when the statute of 1300 was repealed by the statute 19 & 20 Vict. c. 64, that the leopardís head mark could have been used for any purpose other than a fineness mark.
There appears to be no evidence that representatives from any town did go to London to receive a punch of the Leopardís head or that any Royal Commissioners, "responsible for assaying and marking in cities throughout the realm" in accordance with a statute of 1363 and an ordinance of 1379, were ever appointed. This has caused some authorities to attribute, quite erroneously, a dual purpose to this mark. Although it was designated as a standard mark and applied rigorously at the London Assay Office it appears not to have been so at other towns until the 18th century and has thus been said to be the London mark whereas, in fact, London had no distinguishing mark of its own at this time. This has led to some confusion since, in its capacity as the standard mark, it was later required to be stamped on plate assayed at the offices at Bristol, Chester, Exeter, Norwich, York and Newcastle when these were established at the beginning of the 18th century.
With the exception of Chester and Exeter, both of which offices had already ceased to use the leopardís head by 1856 and Norwich and Bristol which had gone into decline by then, these towns continued to strike this mark on their plate throughout the 19th century. The last of these was Newcastle which closed its office in 1883.
London continued to use the leopardís head on both gold and silver of sterling standard into the 20th century and by then was the only office so doing. It was not until 1975 however that they first struck this mark on silver of Britannia standard so that technically it is from that year that the leopardís head can be truly said to be the London mark although, of course, it can be treated as if it were the London mark for the period between 1300 and 1697 and again between 1883 and 1975
(the author of the information about Leopard's Head is David McKinley. A wide article about this matter written by David McKinley is available in our companion website www.ASCASonline.org )
Leopard's head in London 1660 hallmark London hallmark 1660
Leopard's head in Exeter 1706 hallmarkExeter hallmark 1706
Leopard's head in London 1664 hallmark London hallmark 1664
Leopard's head in York c. 1800 hallmarkYork hallmark c. 1800
Leopard's head in London 1675 hallmark London hallmark 1675
Leopard's head in Chester 1775 hallmarkChester 1775 hallmark
Leopard's head in London 1685 hallmark London hallmark 1685
Leopard's head in Chester 1800 hallmarkChester 1800 hallmark
Leopard's head in London 1692 hallmark London hallmark 1692
Leopard's head in Newcastle upon Tyne 1737 hallmarkNewcastle upon Tyne 1737 hallmark
London 1782 Leopard's head: London 1782
London 1791 Leopard's head: London 1791
London 1795 Leopard's head: London 1795
London 1800 Leopard's head: London 1800
London 1854 Leopard's head: London 1854
London 1866 Leopard's head: London 1866
Leopard's head on Newcastle 1837 hallmark Newcastle 1837 hallmark
London 1893 Leopard's head: London 11893
London 1895 Leopard's head: London 1895
London 1909 Leopard's head: London 1909
London 1912 Leopard's head: London 1912
London 1942 Leopard's head: London 1942
London 1986 Leopard's head: London 1986
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