Beginners guide to English silver hallmarks

Published on February 16th, 2011

The Goldsmith’s Hall has been responsible for issuing hall marks as an official guarantee of the purity of Sterling Silver since 1327. Sterling silver has a purity of at least 92.5 percent pure silver. In Britain Sterling Silver will usually have at least four different marks placed upon it by it by the assay office. The purpose of such marks are to guarantee the quality of silver, to denote the town in which the silver was tested (“assayed”), to denote the year of manufacture, and to name the maker.

Hallmark-Strip

Example of a four hallmark strip

1. The Standard Mark

The Standard mark is placed on the silver to guarantee its level of purity. The first mark, used from 1300, was the leopard’s head which gained a crown in 1478.

silver-standard-mark

In 1544 the leopard’s head was replaced by the lion passant, which is an image of a lion walking to the left. With this introduction the leopard’s head still with its crown became the town mark for London.

The Britannia standard mark is much rarer and represents a purer level of silver, guaranteeing a purity of at least 95.8 percent. It was instituted in 1697 – 1720 during which it replaced sterling silver. It is still in use today on silver where appropriate, most notably on silver bullion coins issued by the Royal Mint, which are fittingly referred to as ” Britannias”.

2. The Town Mark

The town mark stamped on sterling silver varies according to its assay office.

hallmark2

  • The leopard’s head that was introduced as the mark for London in 1544 ( losing its crown in 1820).
  • The mark for Birmingham is a ship’s anchor.
  • The mark for Sheffield is a crown.

3. The Date Letter

silver-date-letter

After 1478 Sterling silver will usually have an upper or lower case letter stamped on it to denote the year it was made. The letter will be enclosed in a shield which may also vary from year to year. The actual letter stamped for each year varied according to where the piece was assayed, until 1975. In 1999 the application of a date letter has no longer been essential.

4. The Makers Mark

The maker’s mark was introduced upon silver from 1363. The earlier marks tend to be in the form of symbols largely due to the lack of literacy at the time.

hallmark1During the later part of the 17th century such symbols were combined with initials. From the later part of the 18th century  the practise of using  two initials, first for the Christian and then the surname, became the norm. For example PS for one of England’s finest makers, Paul Storr circa 1792-1834. Sometimes  we find that craftsmen working together will combine all their initials together in one mark such as William Shaw II and William Priest

 

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