13 May 2009
There is a common misunderstanding about what a hallmark really is. Many people confuse hallmarks with makers' marks. A hallmark is nothing more than an indication of metal content, a guarantee of purity or quality, which may include a maker’s mark and other marks. Makers' marks alone are not considered hallmarks. Hallmarks are most often found on precious metal objects. Jewelry is exempted from hallmarking under certain circumstances. However, when a piece of jewelry is hallmarked, the marks can yield clues to country of origin and, sometimes, date of manufacture, as well as indicate the metal content of the piece.
Most jewellery bears the common three marks which are:
1: The Makers mark
2: The Assay Office mark
3: The Quality mark
And that brings us to the last mark...
4: The Date stamp.
Belive it or not but the date stamp is where more mistakes are made then with any other mark.
This is caused by two reasons.
The first: because 26 letters can only be used for 26 years (a different one for each year, although they did use italics or capitals for a change). So in order to extend their use, they changed the shape of the stamp mark itself.
One series of 26 years may use a Shield shape, while the next 26 years may use a square shape with the corners trimmed off.
And second: because humans being humans, (and contrary to common belief, Jewelers are Human), a manufacturer who lived in Birmingham had to use one shape of stamp, while jewelers in London had to use another shape.
All very good, you say, until a jeweler who USED to live in London went to Birmingham to work and took all his old tools and stamps with him, and couldn't be bothered (they cost money) to buy a new set. So he used his old set....
Ahhh... Life is never simple.
However; and in general terms, if all else fails use common sense.
As London was the Largest and most common stamp, you may find a Birmingham mark with a slightly wrong date stamp, although the date YEAR mark should be the same.
By using all of the marks together and taking into account the wear and look of the item - plus what it is, you should get fairly close to accurate.
If your still not sure, get a written valuation done with your local professional Jewelry Appraiser, and use that piece of paper as fact.
Even though YOU know, they are going through the same process of 'Dating' it's still a little confusing. Plus it's not the only form of Dating I get confused with...? And my eyeglass doesn't help at all....
Look out for these tips next time you're spying with your eyeglass.
HALLMARKING TIPS #1:
In Circa 1821 the Leopard's Head Hallmark became 'Uncrowned'
In Circa 1891 Queen Victoria's head was no longer used in Hallmarking.
The major point is to use ALL of the Hallmarks, not just the date letter.
Also check the style of an item, as this could give a clue to the period.
HALLMARKING TIPS #2:
As a general rule, Hallmarks should be assessed by going from the 'Big Picture' to the 'Small Picture' or the particular date in question.
For example: Date the article within a 25 year time span first, as this can be calculated from the overall 'SHAPE' or style of the stamp mark (Shield or Oval etc). Then go to the actual 'Year' stamp mark.
Remember, these can sometimes be wrong, but if we are in the ballpark, so to speak, we won't be too far out.
It is interesting to note that the expression 'Circa' or 'c' actually means 'around'...
Silver imported into England carried the 'F' mark (for Foreign) between 1883 - 1904.
HALLMARKING TIPS #3:
It is helpful if we can remember some of the more important changes to Hallmarking and just how that effected Quality.
The quality of Hallmarked Gold can give us a clue regarding its age.
Items of 22ct stamped with the 'Lion passant' were made up to 1844.
After that date items were stamped 22ct with a 'Crown' hallmark.
HALLMARKING TIPS #4:
UKHM stands for the United Kingdom Hall Marks and has been in existence since 1300. Yes... 1300!
The basic marks are:
The Assay Mark which indicated the 'Guarantee of Quality'.
The Origin Mark which shows WHERE it was Assayed.
The Duty Mark to confirm 'Tax' had been paid.
The Maker's Mark to indicate the company or individual who made the item.
The Date Mark based on the letters of the Alphabet, changing each year.
The Assay year was NOT a Calendar year as it began (as for London) in May. That means it covered TWO Calendar years.
Hopefully with this in mind next time you look into your newly aquired ring you might realize youve picked up more of an antique than you first thought!