Wednesday, June 11, 2014

English & Irish Silver Hallmark Identification

Decoding the marks on your English or Irish silver may at first seem daunting.   There is a wealth of information on the web including charts and pictures that can help walk you through the process.  The marks reveal the British Isle where the item was made, the town where it was assayed, the year of assay, and the silversmith.
The English system of marking silver resonates with my need for structure and order.   I pick up a piece and there they are….small marks neatly lined up in order.   I will share with you my method for researching the hallmarks.   At the end I will list web sites I think you will find helpful.
Since the marks are usually small and sometimes partially obscure by tarnish I recommend you first do a good cleaning of the marks.  After cleaning the marks take a  close-up picture of them and save it to your computer.  This is always my starting point and I think you will find it helpful.  That way you can use the on-line charts and have a large clear picture of the marks on your piece which will aid in identification.   If the marks need to be cleaned apply a good silver polish to the marks and let it dry.  Once dry take a soft toothbrush or cotton swab and remove the polish.  If the tarnish is stubborn and difficult to remove from the impressed marks dip the end of a match stick (the old fashion square ones work well) in polish, place it over the mark, and turn gently.  This will usually help removed stubborn tarnish in the mark.
To help save time check to see if your piece has a full set of hallmarks which can rule out that your piece might be silver plate.   Some British silver plate will have a series of marks similar to solid silver.  Such as the firm of Ellis Barker.  But silver plate will not have the standard mark.  So looking for the standard mark first is a good place to start.  There will be 4 or 5 marks on British & Irish silver.   Below is a picture of marks on a set of English silver fish knives that were in my Ruby Lane shop.
First; look for a standard mark.  In the picture of my fish knife you will see the Lion Passant/Walking Lion.  This is a guarantee that the piece is English silver is of .925 content. 
Below are other standard marks for British Isles & Irish silver

                                            The standing lion for sterling silver made in Edinburg
                                         The crowned harp for all sterling silver made in Dublin


                                              The thistle for sterling silver made in Glasgow 
                                            The image of Britannia for Britannia standard silver 
Second; look for a town/ city mark.   This is the town where the piece was assayed for silver content.  In the marks shown in the picture you will see a Leopard’s face which denotes London as the assay town/city.  So now you would know to look at date charts for London There were 10 major assay towns. 
Third, look for the date mark.  The “N” shown below is the date mark on the fish knives.  Note the outside shape of the mark and the font. 

Now that you have identified the town/city mark you can use one of the many charts found on-line or in reference books to identify the date on your piece.   These marks correspond to the particular town where the piece was assayed.   So be sure to look at the correct city charts.  Note the letters, their fonts, and the shape of the punch will correspond to years on the chart.  This is where having cleaned your marks will help.  The shape and fonts are important as they changed through the years.
Fourth; look for a sovereign’s head/duty mark.   Your piece may or may not have one.  This will help narrow down the date range if this mark is on your piece.  These marks will show on the date charts. The mark which was used to shown that a tax had been paid to the “Crown”  was discontinued after 1890.  The profile on this mark was the reigning monarch at the time.   The fish knives I used in this article were marked with the profile of Victoria.  This mark was used from 1838 to 1890.  So with the information of this mark I know that I can narrow my date range search to those years.   Thus eliminating the need to look at so many letter marks and hopefully save my eyesight.
Fifth; you will find the maker’s mark/ initials.  There are numerous sites which identify these marks.  The shape of the mark is important since you may find that there will be several silversmiths with similar initials.  So watch for conjoined circles, square, circle, and shield shapes.  Below the GA is in a conjoined circle.

An excellent site for helping to identify British & Irish assay and makers marks;

Enjoy the search! Remember to buy antique silver. Reuse and recycle beautiful pieces from the past!





1 comment:

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