History of British Silver Hallmarks

BRITISH HALLMARKS

Hallmarking History

Hallmarking was originally introduced in 1300 by a Statute of Edward I and is probably the earliest form of consumer protection.

Hallmarking is necessary because when jewellery is manufactured, precious metals are not used in their pure form, as they are unworkable. Gold, Silver, and Platinum are always alloyed with copper or other metals to create an alloy that is more suitable to the requirements of the jeweller. Such an alloy needs to be strong, workable and attractive.

Due to the high value of gold, platinum and silver, there are significant profits to be gained by reducing the precious metal content of an alloy at the manufacturing stage. Even an expert cannot determine the quality or standard of precious metal items by eye or touch alone. Base metal articles plated with a thin coat of gold or silver are indistinguishable from the same articles made wholly of precious metal until subjected to expert testing.

With volume manufacturing, enormous profits can be made from undercarating. Without compulsory independent testing there is huge potential for deception and fraud.

The UK Hallmarking system has offered valuable protection for over 700 years. Compulsory Hallmarking protects all parties; the public who receive a guarantee of quality, the manufacturer who is given quality control and protection from dishonest competitors at a very low cost and the retailer who avoids the near impossible task of checking standards on all his goods.

Brief History of UK Hallmarks
Hallmarking is the world’s first known instance of consumer protection law, in the UK it dates back to about 1300 AD.

Date Event
1300 Hallmarking introduced in UK
1378 Town Marks Introduced
1477 18 Carat Replaces 191/5 Carat as Standard Gold
1478 Date Letters Introduced
1478 London Assay Office Opened
1544 Lion Mark Introduced for Sterling Silver
1575 22 Carat Replaces 18 Carat as Standard Gold
1681 First Edinburgh Date Letters
1697 Britannia Mark Introduced for Silver
1701 Castle Mark Introduced for Exeter
1720 Sterling Silver Standard Re-admitted
1731 Hibernia Mark Introduced for Dublin
1759 Thistle Mark Introduced for Edinburgh
1773 Birmingham Assay Office Opened
1773 Sheffield Assay Office Opened
1774 Duty Mark Imposed
1798 18 Carat Reintroduced in Addition to 22 Carat
1819 Lion Rampant Mark Introduced for Glasgow
1842 Customs Act Requiring Foreign Goods to Have British Hallmark
1854 9 Carat Introduced
1854 12 Carat Introduced
1854 15 Carat Introduced
1856 York Assay Office Closed
1867 Foreign Mark Introduced
1882 Exeter Assay Office Closed
1890 Duty Mark Dropped
1904 Carat Marks Compulsory on Gold
1932 12 Carat Mark Discontinued
1932 15 Carat Mark Discontinued
1932 14 Carat Introduced
1934 – 1935 Silver Jubilee Mark Used
1952 – 1953 Silver Jubilee Mark Used
1953 – 1954 Coronation Mark Used
1962 Chester Assay Office Closed
1964 Glasgow Assay Office Closed
1973 Hallmarking Act
1974 British Hallmarking Council Formed
1976 Platinum Mark Introduced
1976 UK Ratifies Convention Mark
1977 Silver Jubilee Mark Used
1998 Revised Hallmarking Acts
1999 New Acts Become Effective
1999 – 2000 Millennium Mark Used

 

A typical set of antique British silver hallmarks showing (left to right) ; Standard Mark, City Mark, Date Letter, Duty Mark and Maker’s Mark

This group of marks tells us that this piece was made of Sterling, in the city of London, in the year 1789, during the reign of King George III, by the silversmith Thomas Wallis.

Note – British hallmarks come in sets, the rule of thumb is, if you do not have a complete set including:

Standard mark, city mark, date letter and maker’s mark [+ a duty mark if 1785-1890], the item is
either from another country or a piece of silverplate with a hallmark-like trademark.

History of British Silver Hallmarks
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