Differing Hallmarks on Antique Sterling Silver
By Grant Copland
This piece of writing will concentrate on UK and British hallmarks, as the name “hallmark” comes from the English Goldsmiths' Hall marking system.
It has never been easy to determine the true worth of a piece of sterling silver just by looks alone unless you are a true expert such as a goldsmith. Thus, many countries have put in place a system that is meant to authenticate the true value of a purported object of sterling silver and protect the buyers of pieces. Six hundred years ago or so, the British started the hallmark system.
They set the standard that had to be met at a minimum of 925 parts silver per thousand parts in the object. That is in fact the Sterling silver of name. By 1478 another mark called the “date letter” started being added. The date letter needless to say changed each year and therefore has proven to be of tremendous value to the accurate dating of antique sterling silver objects made after 1477.
The first assay office was in London, but then as other towns began establishing their own assay offices it soon became possible to be able to turn over any piece of British silverware and find marks that indicated town of assay, year of make, standard, and the maker. This one of a kind system is one reason that British sterling silver is typically the highest regarded of all antique sterling silver.
The minimum standard for sterling silver is 92.5%. That the piece meets this standard is represented by the Lion symbol. This symbol can be either the rampant lion of Scotland or the passant lion of England. In Ireland, however, the hallmark for this standard is the Harp. There is an even higher standard known as Britannia. It was introduced in 1657 and demands 95.8% or higher of silver. This was introduced to prevent the melting down of coins into silverware. While this standard did not become mandatory until 1720, it is nevertheless an authorized alternative hallmark that you can trust. The Britannia hallmark appears for the representation of both England and Scotland.
The hallmarks showing the town of assay are very charming. London's is a leopard head. Birmingham has a ship's anchor. Sheffield has a royal crown, but in 1975 that was changed to a rose. Edinburgh has a castle. And Dublin has Hibernia, a female symbolizing the UK. These cities are the only ones left that do assaying in the UK, and pieces of sterling silver that come from former towns or towns that did not assay very many pieces are now selling for very high prices on the market.
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