Know Your Silver<< Back
The assayer's mark is a stamp indicating the purity of the silver and where / when it was made.
The mark for silver meeting the sterling standard of purity is the Lion Passant, but there have been other variations over the years, most notably the mark indicating Britannia purity. The Britannia standard was obligatory in Britain between 1697 and 1720 to try to help prevent British sterling silver coins from being melted to make silver plate. It became an optional standard thereafter, and in the United Kingdom and Ireland is now denoted by the millesimal fineness hallmark "958", with the symbol of Britannia being applied optionally. The purity mark for Irish silver is the harp crowned.
The date mark is a letter indicating the exact year in which the piece was made. The typeface, whether the letter is uppercase or lowercase, and even the shape inside which the letter is stamped, must all be taken together to determine the year.
The city mark no longer indicates the city in which the piece was assayed, or that the item was assayed in the UK. A Legislative Reform Order (LRO) came into law on 8 February 2013 giving UK Assay Offices the legal right to strike hallmarks outside of UK territory.
Since July 2016 Birmingham Assay Office have been striking identical Birmingham Hallmarks in Mumbai, India and there are proposals for further offshore marking centres using traditional UK marks in Jaipur, New York and China. Sheffield Assay have a sub-office in Malpensa, Italy. London and Edinburgh Assay Offices are the only two Assay offices exclusively striking hallmarks in the UK.
An example is this Antique silver hip flask - London 1900. It is nicely faceted glass flask fitting inside oval silver drinking cup with gilded interior - always a sign of quality. Hall marks to drinking cup and also silver neck.
Tudor Rose Antiques has a good choice of silver including some specialist areas. One of the most popular choices for gifts, probably due to its originality, is the stilton scoop. For the man who has everything, he still may not have one of these!
Again, because of our great hall marking system, the age is instantly obvious and this particular boxed example is probably the finest one we have ever had. This antique boxed silver stilton scoop has marks of Sheffield 1900 and the original silk lined case make this the supreme gift.
An alternative to solid silver is Old Sheffield Plate. A fine example is this pair of 19th century Sheffield Plate coasters The shape of them is lovely and they have a central silver plated boss and nicely moulded piecrust tops.
Old Sheffield plate is collected and prized by many, it is a layer of silver plate on copper. The process was first discovered by accident in the eighteenth by one Thomas Boulsover of the Cutlers Company, Sheffield while trying to mend the handle of a customer's knife. He applied too much heat and found the silver had melted and merged with the copper, fusing together very strongly. This process subsequently allowed production of buttons looking similar to silver but for a fraction of the cost.
The process was more or less discarded by the middle of the 19th century when electroplating was introduced. So, early pieces of Old Sheffield Plate are still available today but usually much more expensive than plain old silver plated items, their value and scarcity being appreciated by collectors.
When browsing our website for antique silver look for the assayer's marks.