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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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!