Introduction to English Sterling Silver Hallmarks

Views 221 Likes Comments Comment
Like if this guide is helpful

This is a brief introduction to the subject of hallmarks on English sterling silver since the 1700s.

It may enable the reader to decide whether their article is solid silver or silver plated and help identify the maker and date.

Separate guides are being written for Scottish and Irish Hallmarks.

 

Hallmarks

Hallmarks were introduced to protect the public from fakes, to ensure taxes were collected, and most importantly to ensure the purity of the silver (925 parts silver to 75 parts copper) from which coins were made up until 1921.

They are generally made up of up to 6 elements

  • Lion passant guardant

  • Town mark

  • Date letter

  • Maker's mark

  • Duty mark (for certain dates only)

  • Import mark (for imported wares only)

Example of set of hallmarks

In the photograph above, from left to right

  • Lion Passant Guardant

  • Town Mark - Leopard - London

  • Date Letter - t - 1794

  • Duty Mark

  • Makers mark - IB - John Beldon

If you think it is sterling silver then first look for the Lion Passant Guardant symbol to establish it really is.

 

Town Marks

This is the mark of the town where the piece was checked for purity before it could be hallmarked .  The date when the assay office closed is given in brackets below.

  • London - Leopard

  • Sheffield - Crown until 1973 then a Rose

  • Birmingham - Anchor

  • Chester (closed 1962) - Sword erect between 3 wheat sheaves

  • Exeter (closed 1883) - Triple towered castle

  • York - (closed 1858) - 5 Lion Passant symbols in a cross

  • Newcastle (closed 1884) - Three towers

  • Norwich closed around 1701 and Bristol closed in 1740

All of the town marks can be found on the web but photographs are being added to this guide.

 

Date Letters

  • The cycle of date letters vary according to the town so an "a" stamped on a piece made in Birmingham indicates a different date from an "a" stamped on a piece made in London

  • The shape of the letter (upper case, italics etc) and the shape of the shield surrounding the letter vary with each cycle of date letters

A section on how to date silver is given further below. 

 

Makers Mark

  • Makers marks were introduced in 1300 

  • Each maker had a unique stamp by which people could recognise their work

  • Initials are used  predominately

  • Prestigious or common makers marks such as Mappin&Webb, Walker & Hall, William Bateman, Paul Storr and Robert Welch can be found all over the www 

  • To find the maker, without using a book, first identify possibilities from the lists in my other guides below and search on the www for a photograph of the appropriate makers mark to match against

Lists of  the 19th & 20th makers against each town, are given in other guides I have published and the links to these are given below.

Duty Mark

This mark indicates that the required tax has been paid on the piece.

  • The duty mark was the current sovereign's head

  • It was introduced in 1784 and discontinued in 1889 

  • Certain small pieces were exempt

If your piece has the head of a king or queen on it, as part of the hallmarks, then it was made between 1784 and 1889. 

 

Import Mark

From 1842 it was against the law to import silver (or gold) into Britain without assaying it (and hallmarking it) for its purity.

  • From 1867 to 1904 the foreign mark "F" was added to hallmarks of imported wares

  • From 1904 the decimal value of the silver replaced the F 

If your piece has an "F" as part of its hallmarks then it was made between 1867 and 1904 and was made outside of Great Britain. 

 

Dating Sterling Silver 

  • First establish it is sterling silver by finding the Lion Passant

  • Then establish the town

  • Then

    • either:

    •  Search on the web for say Sheffield silver date letters. Try to find 2 sites to verify it (some are wrong)

    • Or:

    •  try using a book - for quick dating I use the pocket edition of Jackson's Hallmarks which gives date cycles from 1300 to 1974 but there are many books available.

    • Or:

    • try a forum - there is an excellent one on the www but I am not allowed to post a link to it here

    • Or:

    • you can ASQ me if you are stuck

  • Try to validate your answer with the makers mark and duty mark if possible eg the maker should have been alive when the piece was made!

  • Use the shape of the shields to differentiate between similar shaped letters in different date cycles 

 

Other guides on silver

London Silver Makers

Sheffield Silver Makers

Birmingham Silver Makers

Mappin & Webb

Tips on Cleaning Silver

 

 

 

Have something to share, create your own guide... Write a guide
Explore more guides