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British Silver Hallmarks - a brief history

One of the appealing factors to collectors of British Silver is the fact that hallmarks have been used to protect the public against fraud for over 600 years.

From about 1300 to 1477 a leopard's head uncrowned was used as a standard mark throughout the realm. In 1478 under Edward IV a statute added date letters and a leopard's head crowned indicating that the piece had been assayed in London. This was significant as with the changing of the letter each year the item could be dated. In 1544 the lion passant guardant (head turned left) crowned was added to notify the sterling standard, 92.5% pure silver. From 1550 to 1821 the lion passant guardant was uncrowned. From 1821 to the present time it was just a lion passant (head facing forward).

During the reign of Charles II there was an increase in demand for silver with the fashion for luxury and ostentation and much sterling coinage was being melted down to meet this demand. To try and stop this in 1697 the standard was raised to 95.8% and this new Britannia standard was marked with a lions head erased and the figure of Britannia. In 1720 the sterling standard was reinstated as the higher standard proved too soft a metal but the higher Britannia standard remains as an alternative, mainly for prestigious items. From 1784 to 1890 the duty mark was added, this being the sovereign's head, to show that duty had been paid on assaying.

Understanding Hallmarks
Lion Passant: This mark is essential to identify that the piece is sterling silver (925, 92.5%). Any piece of English silver must have this mark, or it is not sterling silver.

Britannia: This mark is essential to identify that the piece is Britannia standard (958, 95.8%) Although the use of the Britannia silver standard was not compulsory after 1720 (as explained above), it is still an authorized alternative. Good quality old Britannia marked silver is quite rare and collectible and therefore commands a slightly higher price.

Makers Mark: This is the mark of the maker and identifies the specific person or company that made the item. This is very important as specific makers are more collectable than others, e.g Hester Bateman, Paul Storr, etc.

Date Letter: This is the stylized letter which denotes the year in which the piece was made. The letters change case, style and shield shape over the years.

Town Mark: This will tell you in which city the piece of silver was manufactured. The mark changes it style through the years but stays the same symbol (except Sheffield see below). For example the mark for London is a Leopards Head and it was crowned up until 1821, and then lost his crown from then onwards. (crowned - to 1821) (bare - from 1821)

List of Some of the Town Marks:

  • Leopards Head London
  • Crown Sheffield (Then from 1975 Rose)
  • Anchor Birmingham
  • Three Castles Edinburgh
  • Three Sheaves of Corn Chester
  • Tree Fish and Bell Glasgow
  • Harp / Hibernia Dublin
  • Newcastle
  • Exeter

Duty Marks: Duty marks were stamped on silver to show taxes had been paid, Tax was calculated on the weight of the piece of silver.
. 1784   1785 - 1821   1822 - 1833   1834 - 1837   1830 - 1890

Optional additional commemorative hallmarks
Jubilee hallmark could be added to pieces assayed in 1935 showing the heads of King George IV and Queen Mary, marking their silver jubilee.
Coronation hallmark could be added to pieces assayed in 1953 showing Queen Elizabeth's head facing right.
Silver Jubilee hallmark could be added to pieces assayed in 1977 showing Queen Elizabeth's head facing left.
Millennium hallmark could be added to pieces assayed in 1999 and 2000 showing 2000 in a cross.
Golden Jubilee hallmark could be added to pieces assayed in 2002 showing Queen Elizabeth's head facing right on a flat base.

In Scotland and Ireland the silver standards and the dates of introduction of hallmarks have varied so the above information is to be used as a guide only. Further detailed information can be found in Bradbury's Book of Hallmarks or Jackson's Silver and Gold Marks.

 
   
     
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Styles Silver, 12 Bridge Street, Hungerford, Berkshire, RG17 0EH. UK