A Brief Guide to Silver Hallmarks including English and American Sterling Identification

October 8th, 2009

Identification Silver hallmarks Hallmark Silver Hallmarks: What are They? Silver Hallmarks are a mark on sterling silver that proves their purity. Every country has its own traditions, markings and history when it comes to Silver Hallmarks. For the British, this tradition began in 1300 when King Edward decided to mark all pieces of sterling silver as pure. The traditional symbol was a lion passant. However, every country has a different system. For example, France’s silver sterling mark is the goddess Minerva while America’ s marking system is based on certain companies, such as Tiffany’s own silver hallmarks. Mexican, Canadian, Italian and many more silver hallmarks exist across the world.

Silver Hallmarks: Hallmark History As mentioned above, the English hallmark system was adapted in 1300 by King Edward. He ordered that every piece of gold or silver item be tested for fineness by the officers at the Goldsmith’s Guild in London. Before these pieces could be sold, they must be tested and stamped with a hallmark to prove they were of good quality. The “Leopards’ Head” was the gold and silver hallmark. However, then in 1363 another marking was required- a maker marking, which identifies the maker of the gold or silver. This was simply a letter but, over time, it has been adapted to two letters side by side. In 1478 another letter was added- a letter of the alphabet to indicate the year the piece was graded, or tested. In 1544 the leopards heads was replaced by the lion passant which showed that silver was 92.5% pure.

American Identification for Silver Hallmark The United States never adopted a national grading and silver hallmarking system. Instead, during the 19th century coins were marked with “COIN”, “PURE COIN” and “STERLING.” In more recent times, big name jewelry companies such as Tiffany and Gorham have adapted their own hallmark system which indicates the date marking and the marker’s mark. For example, “T and Co” is the date mark for Tiffany, while Gorham uses a Lion Passant, an anchor and the letter “G” as their silver hallmarks.

English Identification for Silver Hallmarks The British system for silver hallmarks is extremely complex. Not only do they have the Lion Passant as the standard of silver, but they also have several other markings indicating date, city and maker’s mark. The date is written in upper or lowercase letters, and to determine the date you need to take into consideration the typeface and the capitalization of the letter. Each city also has a different marking. For example Birmingham uses an anchor while Newcastle uses three castles and Sheffield uses a crown. This indicates where the piece was manufactured. Then there is the maker’s mark which is now usually the marker’s initials. There was also the tally mark and the duty mark which have both been discontinued. The tally mark was used as a payment plan for the journeymen while the duty mark showed that the proper tax had been paid to the monarchy for that piece of silver.