The majority of British UK silver produced over the last 500 years is stamped with four or five symbols known as Hallmarks. The purpose of these Hallmarks is of a certain level of purity and dating your silver – A guide to read British Silver Hallmarks There are many different types of Hallmarks on silver and to know them all is almost impossible. How to Read the 5 Standard Hallmarks on Silver – Sterling Silver and Hallmarks Explained
Hallmarks that you will find on British Silver
The 5 standard hallmarks that you will find on British Silver will include the following stamps and be explained in this post. You will find the breakdown in this post.
The authenticated Hallmarks on Sterling Silver should be
- The walking lion for all sterling silver made in England
- The standing lion for all sterling silver made in Glasgow
- The thistle for for all sterling silver made in Edinburgh
- The crowned harp for all sterling silver made in Dublin
- The image of Britannia for Britannia standard silver
Recognition of Hallmarks
In the 19th century, few people realized that a hallmark would reveal a date and thus elaborate disguises through decoration were perpetuated which made no stylistic sense when combined with the hallmarked date of the altered piece.
Although Octavius Morgan first demonstrated there was an annual date letter system to the Society of Antiquaries in 1851 it was another quarter of a century before people became familiar with the more detailed works of W. Chaffers and W. J. Cripps. Universal recognition of the British hallmarking system was certainly not apparent until the publication of 1 905 of English Goldsmiths and their Marks by Charles J. Jackson F.S.A., and probably not easily available until the first edition of Bradbury’s (pocket) Book of Hallmarks was published in 1927.
English Hallmark Silver Explained
The silver hallmarking system, introduced in the late 15th century in the form which has lasted to the present day, is one of the earliest types of consumer protection. The 21st-century dealer and collector is extremely fortunate to have this system to back up his knowledge of style and form.
The hallmark will indicate to the purchaser that a piece is of sterling or Britannia standard, in addition to revealing its age. This provides a system for double-checking the instinctive judgment of a piece against the marks of one of the official Assay Offices.
The faker of silver articles has to be that much more inventive than fakers in other areas of antiques, as he has to produce not only the piece but also the hallmark. The ultimate guardian of honest trade practice is the Assay Master at Goldsmiths Hall. In addition to being responsible for the assaying and marking of all new wares, the Assay Master chairs the Antique Plate Committee which sits regularly to examine suspect pieces submitted for scrutiny.
The Committee is made up of experts in the trade. As well as attending meetings their duties include informing the Assay Office of any suspect piece they may come across. The Assay Master will then require other members to examine the item and either confirm or contradict the original suspicion.
The focus of this attention naturally falls on the auction market, as that is where the majority of traders purchase pieces. Occasionally a piece Will be withdrawn from sale because it is suspect. This makes London unique in that an amateur collector has unparalleled protection against being duped at auction. If a piece to escape the eye of one of the Antique Plate Committee members- which is unlikely, the major auction houses have a reputation to and some of them give a five-year guarantee which offers additional protection.
The British Antique Dealers’ Association requires its members to reimburse the full monies invoiced should any piece be discovered to be fake or intentionally mis-described. This Association also offers an arbitration and disputes procedure which can be used by members of the public and of the trade and this can frequently be of help to effect a mutually satisfactory conclusion to a previously difficult difference of opinion. The trade description Act can also be employed in extreme cases.
Finding the Town Mark
The leopard’s head crowned for silver hallmarked in London pre 1820
The leopard’s head for silver hallmarked in London post 1820
The anchor for silver hallmarked in Birmingham
The crown for silver hallmarked in Sheffield
The three wheatsheaves for silver hallmarked in Chester
The castle for silver hallmarked in Edinburgh
The tree, fish, bell and bird for silver hallmarked in Glasgow
The crowned harp for silver hallmarked in Dublin
Finding the Duty Mark
The duty mark was only struck in certain years and, when found, will take the form of either a King or Queen’s head, depending on who was on the throne at the time. It tells you if duty has been paid. To the collector, the main importance of this mark is that it helps you find the date letter.
The King’s head duty mark was first struck in 1784. In that year and the following year, the head faced left and was debossed (indented) rather than embossed (raised up in relief). This mark has become known as the Incuse Duty Mark. From 1786 to Victoria’s reign, the King’s head Duty Mark always faces right and is embossed like all other hallmarks. When Victoria came to the throne in 1837, the mark was replaced with the Queen’s head duty mark which always faces left. The use of a duty mark was dropped in 1890.
Finding the Date Letter
Go to the appropriate section in Bradbury’s for the given town. Look for a matching date letter with or without the duty mark as needed.
Whilst looking for the date letter, you need to bear in mind that the font, its capitalisation and the shape of the background, known as the shield, are varied in each cycle of letters. So, although only 20 letters are used, it is possible to know exactly which year that particular combination of font and shield is referring to.
It is also important to note that each town has a different series of letters, starting on a different year. That means that not only is the font and shield different depending on the town, but also the letter. For example, the date letter for 1898 in London is a lowercase ‘c’, in Sheffield it is a lowercase ‘f’ and in Birmingham it is a lowercase ‘y’. The shield and font is different in each case. This is why it is important to find the town mark before you try to find the date letter.
Finding the Markers Mark
The Maker’s mark was initially a picture, but this practice was superseded by using the first two letters of the maker’s surname and later the initials.
There are simply too many maker’s marks for a pocket guide to include, and so to find the maker one needs to refer to a variety of large reference books. Most people would need to rely on the dealer or auction room from which the item was bought to identify the maker.
How to Read Silver Hallmarks
Make sure that you pay attention to the smallest details. If the lion is facing right or left and the size and layout of the font will indicate a correct year, town, duty and makers mark.
This is an silver Hallmark and we will decipher it together – How to Read the 5 Standard Hallmarks on Silver
Make sure that it is Sterling Silver
The first step is to find out if the piece is sterling silver. If there is a lion facing to the left then we know it is sterling silver. If there is no passant present we know that it is not sterling silver.
Finding the Town
As you can see the second symbol is a head of a Leopard. The Leopards head represents the town mark for London. It does change slightly over the years and it may have a crown if it is pre-1820.
The date letter tells us what year the item was hallmarked in. In order to read it you will need a hallmark guide which you can find here
Note that the shield can vary slightly but the font and shape of the letter is exactly the same
The makers mark
So now we know that our item is made of silver and was assayed in Birmingham in 1859. Now we can look at the maker’s mark (also known as the sponsor’s mark) to see what company or person made the item. As with the date letter we need to go to the London pages. If you go to another town by mistake you can easily miss-read the mark and get the maker entirely wrong. Find the full list of makers here
To correctly identify the maker Henry Holland on our piece of silver we selected the London pages, then the H pages, then the H.H marks, then compared our marks to all of the H.H marks listed. This is the maker’s mark for Henry Holland (of Holland, Aldwinckle & Slater)
By using this guide we now know that the piece of silver was made in London in 1859 by Henry Holland.
Sterling Silver and Hallmarks Explained
These images will help you show in what town your silver was produced
Sterling Silver and Hallmarks Explained
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Antique Sterling Silver and Hallmarks Explained
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