Hallmarks for Sterling Silver
Many people contact us to ask about the silver
hallmarks that are located on their sterling silver flatware,
tea sets, and hollowware.
This page is built to try and explain some of these
Great link to details on various metals like
sterling, silverplate, stainless, brass and pewter.
A silver hallmark is nothing more than an indication
of metal content and its purity or quality.
It may or may not include the manufacturer’s mark or
location of origin. A
manufacturer’s mark or “maker’s mark” alone are not
necessarily considered hallmarks.
The word hallmark is derived from London’s
Goldsmiths’ Hall of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths,
the originator of Britain’s first hallmarks, which still
maintains a record of all British hallmarks.
Depending on country of origin, hallmarks can also
include symbols for place of origin.
Sterling silver hallmark
etching and engraving have been in use in England and France since
the 14th century. Most other European countries
also use hallmarks. The
United States has never used hallmarks per se.
The British system of hallmarking is somewhat
complex, but relatively easy to follow once the system is
deciphered. British hallmarks include a fineness or purity
mark, an assay office mark, a date letter, and usually but not
always, a maker’s mark.
The assay mark -- the famous lion. This silver
testifies that the piece has been tested as sterling
silver, i.e., an alloy that is 92.5% pure silver. Prior to
1831, this was the mark of the lion passant guardant
-- (in heraldic terms, the lion walking to the left with
its head turned to look at the spectator). After 1831, the
head was turned from full face to profile (the lion passant).
The town mark. This is the mark of the city where
the assay office was situated. The first assay office was
in London, its mark of a leopard's head (wearing a crown
until 1831) is still in use today. Edinburgh and Dublin,
the capitals of Scotland and Ireland, were soon granted
assay offices, and provincial English cities such as York,
Chester, Norwich and many others soon followed. Sheffield
and Birmingham, which both began assaying silver in 1773,
are the only cities outside of London whose assay offices
are still working. Their town marks of an anchor
(Birmingham) and a crown (Sheffield) are the most
frequently found after London's leopard's head.
The date letter. Each year, which runs from May
till April, is allocated a different letter. A cycle of 20
letters is used (omitting J, V, W, X, Y, and Z) so there
are five cycles in a century. Each cycle has its own style
of letter and/or its uniquely shaped shield. The original
purpose of this letter was not to record the year in which
the piece was assayed, but to identify the Assay Master
(who was appointed annually in May) so that he could be
called to account if he passed lower grade silver as
sterling. To be pedantically correct, the date of silver
should include two years, for example 1783-4, but in
practice we usually use only the first of the years that
the letter spanned, e.g., 1783.
The maker's mark. This consists of his or her two
initials (except in the Britannia period from 1695 to 1720
when the marks was the first two letters of his name).
Early makers often used an emblem with or without their
silver, the lion passant (walking lion) is the symbol for
sterling silver (925). If
your piece has the Lion Passant or the number 925 then it is,
in all probability, Sterling Silver.
If it has the numbers ‘900’, ‘850’,’800’ or
similar, then this would be the silver content (per thousand)
of the silver alloy used.
Once you've looked at the
sterling silver hallmarks and realized the value of your
silver....you can figure out how to repair
your sterling silver.