Understanding Hallmarks in Victorian Silver
Dear Diva Readers,
Loveday Antiques - an interior design consultant who has built up a knowledge and appreciation of antiques over the years – to guest blog today at The Antiques Diva & Co. William currently works for an antique furniture shop in London who specialise in modern art and a range of antique furniture pieces but he loves silver and today he’ll be explaining “Understanding Hallmarks in Victorian Silver”hile I was in Italy on a Antiques Diva To-the-Trade Tour, I asked William Robinson of
People who collect English Victorian silver can get the best value by collecting silver that bears clear hallmarks. German silversmiths were brought to England by Henry II, and the tradition of English hallmarks originated about 1300 during the Reign of Edward I. The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and Silversmiths were the first to enforce the current standard of 92.5 percent sterling and 7.5 percent alloy. The Goldsmith’s Hall served as the authoritative branch for both goldsmiths and silversmiths, and the word “hallmark” derived from the need to show the authority of the Goldsmith’s hall in a clear and definitive way.
Hallmarks became necessary to keep silversmiths from producing items which did not meet the sterling standard. Some silversmiths tried to cut corners by counterfeiting hallmarks and reducing the silver content in their products. The result of this was harsh punishment, and by 1757, silversmiths who passed off diluted silver using fake hallmarks could be sentenced to death.
To ensure the quality of British silver, each piece of English silver from 1300 onward had four marks: the standard, town, date, and silversmith. Each silver item was required to pass the 92.5% silver quality test at the local assay office, and the marks were stamped on the pieces after they passed the test.
Image from: Antique Marks.com
The town mark is often of interest to collectors because it can tell you a great deal about the piece. These marking’s were chosen due to idiosyncrasies connected with the town of origin and, therefore, have historical interest. Silver stamped with a mysterious or rare town mark will often increase the value of a piece.
Part of the hallmark is still prevalent today and the date letter mark is still being used. The date mark shows the assay date when the piece is tested for sterling content, and the letter is assigned and changed each year. The silversmith’s or maker’s mark is like the artist’s signature and allowed the buyer or the authorities to trace an item back to the specific maker. The mark underwent several changes until it became the initials of the maker’s first and last name.
If you see a shield with an “F” stamped inside that will tell you that you are not looking at a piece of English silver. The “F” indicates a foreign origin, and you have no assurance of the amount of silver in the piece. You should also beware of blurred marks which indicate that they have been made with brass dies, rather than steel. This means that you might be looking at a forged piece of silver which probably has lower silver content and possible low quality workmanship.
During the Victorian era, sterling plating was used and was stamped to show it had been “quadruple plated”. While some Victorian silversmiths used a silver plate method, they were still bound by British law to produce silver that was 92.5% pure if they were going to sell it as British sterling.
Sheffield silversmiths began to form sterling silver into sheets and bound it to a copper sheet. They then hammered and formed this into shape for much less than the cost of sterling. They succeeded with this because they did not attempt to pass Sheffield plate off as sterling, so they were not required to pass the tests at the local assay office. You can identify Sheffield plate by its mark, which is a crown, a lion, or the profile of a man’s head. You can also sometimes see the copper showing through on Sheffield plate. Some Sheffield plate is very collectible, but not for its silver content.
While Sheffield plate may not be a strong investment in terms of the silver content, there are some beautiful English Art Nouveau pieces that are known for their adherence to the British sterling rule. These pieces were created by companies like Liberty & Co. and Omar Ramsden, virtual icons in the art nouveau movement. Anything produced by Liberty or Ramsden is a highly valuable collector’s item and their beautifully crafted pieces include sterling silver house hold items, fashion accessories and jewellery.
As long as you carefully inspect your Victorian silver for the proper markings, then you may find a beautiful piece of Victorian silver that will not only hold its value as an antique but also as an investment in a semi-precious metal.