English Antique Silver Assay & Hallmarking Guide

Assay Offices & Hallmarking of English Antique Silver

Assaying silver is about giving a piece of precious metal an identification that is governed by law that certifies that it is of a level of purity, the year it was made, the silversmith who made it & the English, Irish or Scottish assay office that it was tested at. This is clarified by four main stamps that should always be present on English, Irish & Scottish silver. There are some exceptions during the eighteenth century that some marks were not present, but the list is as follows:

City or Town mark
to establish which British assay office the silver was tested & hallmarked

Date Mark
Letter representing year of hallmarking

Lion Passant Mark
to establish the purity of the silver item, this can be also stamped as 925

Makers Mark
which is listed in the city or town assay office's register

City or Town mark
to establish which British assay office the silver was tested & hallmarked

Assay Marks

Assaying includes the operation of testing the purity of precious metals, with regards to silver, the amount of pure silver in an object. (From the Old French assai, assay, essay = examination, trial essay) There are four remaining assay offices left in England, these are London, Birmingham, Sheffield & Edinburgh. Our Tarvier makers mark CRA is registered with London Assay Office & Birmingham assay office. Both assay offices using the same shield design. All our new silver supports the anchor symbol of the Birmingham Assay Office, along with other representative marks required for authenticity. This guarantees that what you are purchasing is silver, with what pureness of silver the item is made from.

Date Marks

Date marks are represented as letters by all assay office then & now. These are alphabetically ordered with varying text styles using lower & upper case letters & varying background shapes. Part or all of the alphabet is used to distinguish the year of hallmarking. Assay offices used a different year letter to represent the same year. For instance, London assay office used the letter A for 1816, Birmingham used letter S for the same year. All this has helped to date a piece of silver more accurately due to the assay office marks being unique to their district.

Silver Purity Marks

The first introduction in England for purity standards governing Gold & Silver wares was in 1300, set standards of purity had to be equal to or above limits set by the government. Softness in pure silver & gold is a problem as usage will wear the pure metal away. So dilution is created to harden the precious metal, copper is one metal that is added to harden & stabilise. As with silver coins significant wear would occur if the metal wasn't of a relative hardness. Such reductions in the purity of these metals have & had to been governed. As the value of silver & gold is very high, hallmarks have given precious metal certification of content. Silver that we supply new is generally all 925 assayed which evaluates to 925 parts out of 1000 parts of pure silver. Silver purity can been seen in a lower value such as 800 & in a higher value as 958 which is known as Britannia silver & finally in 999 denoted as fine silver.

Makers Marks

The initials of the silversmith was & is the signature of the silversmith who has produced the silver for hallmarking. Although not necessarily the maker, they may be the business owner and the initials are the representation of him or her & or their business. Our CRA makers mark are my initials & I am the maker of all my new silver. As many initials are the same, the assay office individualized identity by the use of varying background shapes.

Duty & Commemorative Marks

Along with the above marks others can be included such as Purity assay symbols marks, commemorative assay marks & with silver antiques duty marks can be found depending on the period of your silver antique. In 1784 the duty mark was created as a punch to show the tax on the item had been paid to the crown, this was portrayed by the assay mark depicting the profile portrait of the reigning monarch's head. The Duty mark was abolished in 1890 during the reign of Queen Victoria.
There was an additional British Hallmark during the 18th Century, the tally mark. This was so a journeyman could mark how many pieces has been made under his or her hand so that when he finished his apprenticeship he or she could be paid correctly.

Assay Offices

Assay offices covered many arrears of the Britain during the growth of the silver industry around the end of the 17th century. Ten assay offices existed, although today six have been closed with one switching cities to control Ireland. Those assay offices that closed are:

Dublin (now in Ireland
Exeter (closed 1883)
Chester (closed 1962)
York closed (1857)
Glasgow (closed 1964)
Newcastle (closed 1884
Norwich (closed 1702)

Jackson's Hallmarks – English, Scottish, Irish Silver & Gold Marks from 1300 to the Present Day

We recommend Jackson's Hallmarks Pocket Edition as a good bases for the identification of silver hallmarks. Dates listed from 1300 up to the present day. This will give you a good bases for identifying silver with regards to the most popular silversmiths, assay offices and dating your silver.