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THE BRITISH HALLMARKING SYSTEM FOR GOLD, SILVER AND PLATINUM                                                                                                                                                                            


Standard Marks

Maker Mark

date letter

Town Mark

duty matk

Jubilee and commemorative Marks

Gold and platinum marks

Import marks

The present system of hallmarking


STANDARD MARKS


Hallmarking of silverware represents one of the first Quality Assurance System adopted by man. Since 1300 any silverware produced in England should be marked. The system evolved in the time in order to make possible to track the entire process of control and in particular to identify the person in charge for the standard control and the hallmarking.

In bygone days fraudulent activities in hallmarking silver and gold were punished with death, but the penalty it is still significant today (till ten years of prison).

The first guarantee marks used in England was the leopard head, that was impressed on silverware made of alloy containing at least 925 ppt of silver (sterling standard).

During the XV century, to prevent the bad practice of marking as sterling under standard items with a possible detriment of the silver standard use for coin (silverware could be converted in coin without assaying if marked with the leopard head), some change were promoted. Hallmarking operations were moved to the Goldsmith Hall of London, where the Workshipful Company of Goldsmiths was established, and put under the control of an Assay Master (then the term hallmarking).

In 1544 Henry VIII moved the hallmarking operation from the Goldsmith hall putting them under the direc control of the Crown. A new marks, the lion passant, was introduced to demonstrate the Royal supremacy to preserve the silver standard. In 1550 hallmarking operation moved back to the Goldsmith Hall, under the control of the Workshipful Company of Goldsmith, but the new mark was kept becoming soon the guarantee for the sterling standard. The leopard head was not disused and became the symbol of the London Assay Office.

The leopard head was crowned until 1820. The marks was also used during the XVIII and XIX century by some provincial Offices together with their own marks. 

The lion passant was crowned between 1544 and 1549 and it was not more "guardant" since 1820 (at least in London).

The lion rampant was used in Scotland to denote the sterling standard instead of the lion passant: in Glasgow between 1819 and 1964 (year when the Office closed down), and in Edinburgh between 1975 and 1999 when the mark for sterling silver was unified thoroughly the UK. Before 1975 (and since 1759) the sterling mark for silver assayed in Edinburgh was the thistle.

In Ireland, at least since 1633, a crowned harp is in use to denote sterling standard.

In 1697, to prevent the practice of producing silverware using as base metal silver obtained by melting sterling coins, the silver standard for silverware was increased up to 958,4 ppt (Britannia standard or high standard). The female figure of the Britannia was introduced to denote this new standard instead of the lion passant. Also the symbol of the London Assay Office was changed by adopting the heraldic figure of the lion head erased. At the same time silversmiths were imposed to register new maker marks.

This new rules for hallmarking was compulsory until 1720, when the sterling standard was restored and the lion passant and the leopard head reintroduced. The Britannia standard was nor repealed and its optional use was allowed until today. Since 1999 the Britannia standard silverware was marked with the Britannia but not with the lion head erased because the mark for the London Assay Office was unified (the leopard head for both standards).

The Britannia standard was used in London and in some provincial town but never in Ireland, Scotland. Some confusion can arise for silver marked in Ireland where a mark similar to the Britannia (the Hibernia) was in use between 1730 and 1807 as duty mark. After the Union Act of Ireland with England and Scotland and the adoption of the English system for hallmarking, the Hibernia became the symbol of the Dublin Assay Office.

Between 1784 and 1890 five marks are struck on silver crafted and hallmarked in the UK: the maker mark, the sterling standard mark, the town mark, the duty mark and the date letter. There are some exception for small articles and detachable parts of silverware like tea and coffee pot which were occasionally only partially hallmarked.

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Crowned leopard head impressed on a silver article of  XV century, standard mark for sterling silver between 1300 and 1544

Lion passant: standard mark for sterling silver from 1544 to 1999 (after 1999 is an optional mark)

Up: guardant: in use before 1820 (London) and  1975 (Birmingham and Sheffield)

Down: not guardant: in use after before 1820 (London) and  1975 (Birmingham and Sheffield)

Lion rampant in use in Scotland instead of the lion passant: Glasgow from 1819 to 1964 and Edinburgh from 1975 to 1999

    

Thistle in use in Scotland instead of the lion passant. Edinburgh from 1759 to 1975

 

Crowned harp in use in Ireland as standard mark for sterling silver since 1637

            

Britannia, standard mark for silver fitness of  958,4 ppt (compulsory between 1686 and 172)


Maker Marks


In 1360, in order to reduce the production of under standard silverware, all silversmith were ordered to register a mark at the local Assay Office and struck it on all they works. During XIV and XV century, due to the diffused illiteracy, marks were constituted by symbols and, sometime, rebus, solving them one can understand the name of the silversmith. Since the XV century, marks formed by the initial letters of the silversmith come into use. During the period of the Britannia standard (1696-1720) the silversmiths were ordered to register new marks with the two first letter of their surname. Since 1720, in concomitance with the reintroduction of the sterling standard, and definitively with an act of 1739 all the older marks were destroyed and replaced by new marks reporting the silversmith initials.

In more recent time (from the beginning of XIX century) the form of the maker mark becomes more complicated, including, ii the case of enterprises, the initials of all the consociated silversmiths.

An example of maker marks formed by a symbol (on the left) (Robert Durand?) impressed on a silverware hallmarked in London in  1565

A collection of maker marks is reported at the page The slversmiths.

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An example of maker mark formed by the first two letter of the silversmith surname, in use during the period of the Britannia standard (1696-1720) (Paul de Lamerie)

An example of maker mark formed by the initial of the silversmith,  in use before and after  the period of the Britannia standard Paul de Lamerie)


DATE LETTER


In 1478 a third mark, reporting a letter of the alphabet to be change each year at the beginning of the month of May, was introduced. The use was not in the intention to allow the posterity to identify the year where the silver was hallmarked, but those to make identifiable the Assay Master in charge at that time, in order to comminate him a penalty in case of marks struck on under standard silverware.

In London only 20 letter were used (all except J, W, X, Y e Z); in Birmingham all the alphabet; in Edinburgh all the letter except J. In Sheffield, in the period between the opening of the Assay Office (1773) and 1824 the date letter randomly changed. In Glasgow the use of the date letter was suspended for most the XVIII century

The font of the letter was changed each cycle, combining the use of capital and lower letters and different shape of punches, in order to cover with different combination all the period of time th Assay master was in charge.

Since 1975 the date letter was unified for all the survived Assay Office in the UK (London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh), and changed at the beginning of January each year. Since 1999 the use of the date letter became an optional.

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London 1697

London 1758

London 1792

London 1838

London1908


TOWN MARKS


In 1478 the town mark indicating the Assay Office were the silversmith was registered, began to be struck together with the maker mark. The town mark is often representing the City Arms and its use was intended to help in the i-identification of the silversmith

 

 

Crowned leopard head in use as London mark since 1550 except the period between 1696 and 1720). After 1820 is not more crowned

Lion head erased, in use as London Mark for silver of Britannia standard 

 

Some example of town marks. From the left: Birmingham, Chester, Exeter, Newcastle, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dublin

More town marks at the pages Provincial assay Offices and The main Assay Offices

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DUTY MARKS


In 1720, when 'sterling' standard (925 ppt) was reinstated after the compulsory use of Britannia standard (958,4 ppt), a 6 pence duty per troy ounce of silver was imposed on silverware production and trade in UK. An item of about 33 oz (1000 g) as subject to a duty equalling a 2005 value of about 120/140 dollars, that is to say the same price requested by a silversmith for its manufacture. The temptation for a silversmith to "dodge the duty" and keep this money for himself was consequently very high, in spite of a death sentence imposed for hallmarks forgery or transposing. Some dishonest silversmiths used spoons or little salt cellars (paying a small duty for the standard verification of the Assay Office) cutting their hallmarks and soldering on pieces of higher weight.

The duty on silver and gold was repealed in 1757 when a tax for any activity producing and selling silver and gold was introduced.

Since December 1784 a new duty (to support the expensive for the secession war in the North America but abolished only in 1890), was imposed and a new mark, the profile of the reigning Sovereign was introduced to demonstrate its payment. So, on silver marked between 1784 and 1890 we can find the profile of George III (1784-1820), George IV (1821-1830), William IV(1831-1836) and Victoria (1837-1890).

All these marks show the Sovereign profile looking right with the exception of the mark of George III in use between the first of December 1784 and the 30th of April 1785 (the so called "incuse", being impressed in depth on the silver), and those of Queen Victoria. which are looking left.

Between December 1784 and July 1785 a special marks for retrieval of the duty paid on exported items (the erected silhouette of the Britannia) has been in use.

In Ireland the duty was introduced in 1730 and a duty mark (the Hibernia) was struck on silver to demonstrate its payments. Since 1807 (after the Union Act of Ireland with England and Scotland) and the adoption of the English system for hallmarking, the Hibernia became the symbol of the Dublin Assay Office and the current duty marks in use in England was adopted.

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Hibernia, in use in Ireland as duty marks from 1730 and 1807 and as Dublin Mark after 1807

Duty mark during the reign of George III (1784-1785)

Duty mark during the reign of George III (1785-1820)

Duty mark during the reign of George IV (1821-1830)

Duty mark during the reign of William IV  (1831-1836)

Duty mark during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1890)

Duty drowback mark in use between December 1784 and July 1785

 


COMMEMORATIVE AND JUBILEE MARKS


During the XX and XXI some optional commemorative marks (mainly royal jubilee marks) have been introduced. Jubilee marks are very similar to duty marks (not to be confused with) as a sovereign profile is represented. Their have been use in:

  • 1936/7 (25th anniversary of George V coronation);
  • 1953/4 (coronation of Queen Elizabeth II);
  • 1977 (25th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II coronation and 750th anniversary of the royal chart for the Goldsmiths' Company;;
  • 2002 (anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II coronation);
  • 1999/2000 millennium mark (a cross with the number 2000)

Millennium Mark (1999/2000)

Some commemorative marks can be found on Irish silver: a revolution jubilee mark in 1666; commemorative mark for the entrance of Ireland in the EU in 1973; 350th anniversary of the Silversmith Association in 1987, Dublin city millennium in 1988 and millennium hallmark in 1999/2000.

The revolution Jubilee mark (1916-1966) was struck on gold and silverware together with the date letter Y, from  January to  December 1966. Only 34,715 articles of silverware has been struck with this mark.

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Optional mark for the George V jubilee (1936/7)

Optional mark for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II (1953/54)

Optional mark for the silver jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II (1977)

Optional mark for the gold jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II  (2002)


THE PRESENT SYSTEM OF HALLMARKING


Since 1975 some change occurred, in particular:

  • new standards for silver have been introduced (800 and 999 ppt);
  • the silver standard is now struck as Arabic number in a oval;
  • the symbol of the Sheffield Assay Office (a crown) was change adopting the Tudor rose to avoid confusion with the mark used for gold;
  • the date letter was unified for all the survived Assay Office in the UK (London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh), and changed at the beginning of January each year;
  • the sterling mark (thistle) for the Edinburgh Assay Office was change in the lion rampant;

Since 1999 some more changes have been introduced:

  • the sterling mark (lion passant) was adopted by all the Assay Offices (including Edinburgh, instead of the lion rampant);
  • the symbol of the London Assay Office (the leopard head) was also adopted for the Britannia standard (instead of the lion head erased);
  • only the maker mark (now known as sponsor mark) the finesse or standard (Arabic number in a oval) and Assay Offices marks remain compulsory; other traditional marks (Britannia and lion passant became voluntary marks;

Traditional name

Finesses in ppt

Standard mark

Convention mark

 

800

Sterling

925

Britannia

958

 

 

999

Standard marks in use since  1999

Details of the new system

Hallmarking act of 1973 (in force since 1975)

Hallmarking act of 1998 (in force since 1999)

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GOLD AND PLATINUM MARKS


Gold (at first 19.5, then 22 and 24 carats) was marked in the same way as for silver until 1798, with the only difference in the use of the lion passant also in the period when was in force the Bbritannia standard (1696-1720). As a consequence of the introduction of a new fitness for gold (18 carats), a new mark to be impressed on item conforming to this new standard was introduced (a number equals the carats and a crown). The crown was usually impressed above the number, bat one can find some item were this two marks were separately struck.

22 carats gold was marked as for the 18 carats finesses only since 1844, but always with the number and the crown impressed in sequence.

Between 1816 and 1844 a rare mark (the sun) for 22 carats gold has been in use at least in London.

In 1854 new gold standard of 9, 12 and 15 carats have been introduced for commercial reason related to the export of gold item to the North America.

Since 1933 gold standards are only four (9, 14, 18 and 22 carats). The new marks report the number of carats and the finesses per unit of gold (e.g.14 followed by .585 for 14 carat gold standard).

 

Gold mark on a article made of 9 carats gold bearing the  Birmingham hallmarks for 1899

                                                                                          

       A selection of gold itnesses marks                                                    Finesses marks for gold of  9, 14, 18 e 22 carats (since 1975)

1  19 1/5 carats (1300-1476) and 18 carats (1477-1544)                                                                                                                     

2  18 carats (1544-1574) and 22 carats (1575-1843)                                                                                                                          
3  18 carats (1798-1974)                                                                                                                                                                  

4  22 carats (1844-1974)                                                                                                                                                                  

5  15 carats (1854-1931)                                                                                                                                                                  

An act of 1973 (coming in force in 1975) established that on platinum metalwork a mark (an orb with a cruise) must be struck when up to standard of 950 ppt. Gold is now marked with a crown and a number reporting the finesses in ppt. This system was then modified according to the following table:

Traditional finesses

Finesses in ppt

Standard mark

Convention mark

GOLD

9 Carats

375

14 Carats

585

18 Carats

750

22 Carats

916

 

 

990

999

PLATINUM

 

850

 

900

950

999

 

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IMPORT MARKS


Since 1842 any silver item imported in the UK must be checked for the conformity to sterling or Britannia standard, with the formal exception for items manufactured before 1800. In 1883 a mark (a capital letter F) was imposed to indicate the foreign origin of the item (with some exception for small items for which hallmarking can result difficult). This mark generated some problem, because it was very similar to a date letter.

In 1904 hallmarking on import silverwares was completely revised and integrated in 1906 to avoid confusion between the introduced marks (e.g. for London) and similar trade marks.

Office

 symbol since 1904

 symbol

 symbol since 1906

 symbol

London

 the sun 

 

 constellation of Leo      

 

Birmingham

a  triangle

 

 

 

Chester

 an acorn and two leaves

 

 

 

Sheffield

 crossed arrows

 

 Libra

 

Edinburgh

 St. Andrew's cross

 

 

 

Glasgow

 a bishop's mitre

 double block F letter inverted 

Dublin

 a shamrock

 boujet 

In 1976 a common agreement on imported/exported precious metalwork was subscribed by Austria, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal and UK, later integrated in 1983. As a consequence of this agreement a common mark for finesses (convention mark) was adopted.

Convention marks in force since 1976 in Austria, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal and UK and since 1999 also in the Check Republic, Denmark, Ireland and Netherlands.

Although not compulsory, each Country can maintain own town and traditional marks (e.g. the lion passant, the lion rampant, the date letter, the 1906 import mark, etc.). Special marks (not reported in the table but available at the link below) are struck on exported silverware produced in the UK with finesses standards of 800 or 830 ppt, not in use in the UK internal market.

On silver marked with the convention marks no more control should be dome to within the Countries that signed the agreement.

Convention marks in force since 1976 in Austria, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal and UK, and since 1999 also in the Check Republic,  Denmark, Ireland, The Netherlands. From the left: silver mark, gold mark and platinum mark

More details in the Regulation of 1983

Import mark  (London 1895) in use from  1883 to 1904 

Import mark for Chester, 1909. This item also bears the mark of Bertold Muller (BM), famous for the import of German silver based on old style, operating in London and Chester

Import mark for London 1906 in use since 1906.

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