Cigarette Cases

A 1950’s Emu Chrome Cigarette case (left) and an 1899 Sterling Silver Cigarette case – very different in size as cigarettes were smaller before the 1950s.

One of the most popular items I sell are cigarette cases. If you’d told me when I first started my shop I’d be selling a wide range of cigarette cases I’d have been really surprised! Particularly as less people smoke and many people use e-cigarettes instead nowadays. But it’s one of those regular items people buy.

In the late 1800s and early 20th Century snuff went out of fashion and smoking became more popular. Consequently cigarette cases were made and often given as presents, particularly ones made from Sterling Silver with engraved messages on them. Some were given to people when they were going off to fight in the 1st World War.  Reading the inscriptions you realise what a special gift the cases must’ve been.

Many of the earlier cigarette cases were made of Sterling Silver or Silver Plate, however by the 1950s it became more common for cigarette cases to be made of chrome, leather or other materials.

Before the 1950s cigarettes were a lot smaller than today’s regular or king size cigarette. It was only really from the 1950s cases were being made that would fit cigarettes you are able to buy today.

Most of the cases I sell aren’t bought for cigarettes any more. Some are used as business or credit card cases, but a lot of the pre 1940 cases aren’t big enough to hold standard size cards.

Many of the smaller cases are bought to use as trinket or jewellery cases. They are given as pretty gifts to store special items in.

So if you see a vintage cigarette case they have many uses and quite often a lot of history.

Reading Silver Plate Marks

Identifying the background of Sterling Silver pieces can be done quite easily by using the Hallmarks and Maker’s Marks as a reference.

However, it’s more difficult to work out the history of Silver Plated items. They don’t have Hallmarks from an Assay Office, so a number of makers included marks to give more authenticity to their wares.

Some manufacturers would include a letter to show the town where an item was made, such as an S for Sheffield, L for London, G for Glasgow or M for Manchester. Birmingham doesn’t seem to have been included in this lettering, so it was possible Birmingham based makers used S for Sheffield instead.

The quality of the Silver Plate was shown by makers imprinting another letter on their wares.  A1 was used for the best quality with D being the lowest quality, with the least amount of Silver used in the plating process. Where less Silver Plate is used it is more likely to wear away, showing the base metal underneath.

A few manufacturers used date letters so people could identify the age of items. However each company created their own date letter system which makes it harder to identify the correct age.

An Elkington Toast Rack with a letter p for 1901

A lot of vintage Silver Plated items will include a maker’s mark, however this could be a symbol rather than the initials of the manufacturer. For instance Barker Brothers used a maker’s mark of BB or BBS in a shield on Sterling Silver, but on Silver Plate they put a symbol of three stars in three circles.

Manufacturer’s symbols have ranged from birds and animals to shapes or gothic letters.

The one symbol Silver Plate manufacturers are not allowed to add is a crown. This was forbidden in 1895 as it was too easy to confuse with the Sheffield Assay Office’s Sterling Silver stamp. If an item includes a crown as a mark it will have been made before 1895.

A Victorian Silver Plated spoon with crown marks.

A Guide to British Silver Hallmarks

A Sterling Silver Fruit Knife made by William Needham, assayed in Sheffield in 1936

Ever wondered what the stamps are on that Sterling Silver knife or trinket box that has been sitting in the drawer for years?

One of the things I love about Silver is that you can find out so much about the history of a piece with just a little research.

Those stamps are the Hallmarks and Maker’s Marks.

There are usually three parts of a Hallmark you’ll see on your Silver item:

  1. The first one is the mark for the Assay Office which is where items are tested for the purity of precious metals. The most common UK Assay office marks you’ll come across are Sheffield (Crown or Rose mark), Birmingham (Anchor), London (Leopard head) and Chester (Chester City Arms).
  2. A ‘Lion Passant’. British Sterling Silver is stamped to verify it’s fineness which is 92.5% Silver. As Silver is a soft metal it is usually mixed with other metals such as Copper or Zinc to become Sterling Silver so it can be used to make durable items. This is represented by a Lion as one of the Hallmarks. If your item has this stamp it is Sterling Silver.
  3. The final mark is a date letter – this tells you when an item was assayed and is very likely to be close to the date it was made.

You will also see a set of initials next to the Hallmarks. These are the ‘Maker’s Mark’ which will tell you the name of the individual, company or sponsor who made the item.

Using the date letters can help when identifying Maker’s Marks. Some Marks are quite similar (or may be worn) so by looking at the date it will help confirm if you’ve identified the correct Maker.

The best research website I’ve found to go to find out more about your Silver item are http://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/ for identifying Maker’s Marks and https://www.silvermakersmarks.co.uk/Dates/  for dates.

A lot of Silver items people come across were made in the 20th Century, but you may come across Victorian or Georgian Silver occasionally which is more rare. Another time I’ll explain how the marks differ on these pieces, just in case that piece of Silver you have left in a drawer is a bit older than you originally thought!