A guide to reading British Hallmarks.
Stage 1: Standard marks
If your piece of silver is British, and hallmarked, it will have one of the following marks present on it. These marks tell you that the item has been assayed, i.e tested for purity in an assay office.
This is denoted by the Lion Passant mark in England
the Crowned harp mark in Ireland
and the Thistle mark for Scotland
which changed to the Lion rampant mark in 1975 (after the hallmarking act of 1973)
This is denoted by the Brittania mark
Brittania standard was introduced in 1697, and sterling silver was reintroduced in 1720. Brittania standard is slightly purer than sterling, 95.8% pure rather than 92.5% pure.
If your item has one of these marks then it is British silver, and it is therefore fairly easy to date it to the year it was made. If it doesn’t have one of these marks, then please post it up on the forum, and we will do our best to help.
Stage 2: Town marks
Each town in England, Scotland and Ireland that has an assay office, or has had an assay office in the past, has its own individual hallmark that denotes where the piece was tested for purity. Here I list a selection of the most common British assay office marks
English town marks:
London (the most popular and largest assay office) uses a Leopards head as its mark. Until 1822 the Leopards head was crowned
and then after this the crown was removed
Birmingham uses an anchor mark
Chester, which closed down on the 24th of August 1962, used the three sheaths of corn mark
Exeter, which closed in 1882, used a castle mark
Newcastle, which closed in 1883, used the three seperate castles mark, based on the city arms
Norwich, one of the rarest marks on silver, as it was only open from 1565 - 1701 used a mark that shows a castle over a lion passant
Sheffield used the Crown mark
until the introduction of the hallmarking act of 1973, and then after 1975 the rosette mark is seen
York, open until 1856, used three different marks. From 1560 - 1697 a half leopards head/half fleur de lys mark was used. From 1697 - 1701 a half rose crowned/half fleur de lys mark was used. And from 1701 - 1857 a cross charged with five lions passant was used.
Scottish town marks:
Edinburgh uses a three towered castle mark
Glasgow uses a mark denoting a tree, fish and bell
Irish town marks
Dublin uses the Hibernian mark
There are other provincial towns that had a mark registered. If you do not see a mark similar to the one on your item, please post a picture on the site, and we will do our best to help.
Stage 3: Date letters
For each town that had an assay office, a series of date letters was then used to show which year the piece was assayed. At the moment we are unable to list every individual letter, but we are working on a way of getting them onto the site. In the meantime you can post any pictures of marks onto the site, and we will try to give you an idea of when the item was made.