Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Silver Hallmarks

Silver Hallmarks do not just apply to sterling silver. Silver hallmarks are used by virtually every country in the world to mark their silver. This means there are literally thousands of silver hallmarks in the world.

What is a silver hallmark?
A silver hallmark is a distinctive mark designed to identify the purity of the silver, its manufacture and country of origin as well as other useful information. There are literally thousands of hallmarks around the world and these are usually impressed into the silver by or under the auspices of an essay office

British Silver Hallmarks
Hallmarking silver originally started in the 1300s being introduced by statute of Edward the 1st in England and is often considered the earliest form of consumer protection. This was originally carried out by Goldsmiths of London, UK but these days four assay offices in the UK carry out this duty. The hallmark attests to the standard and purity of silver used.

One of the main reasons for hallmarking is that silver, when manufactured or fabricated, is rarely used in its purest form due to its softness and lack of durability. Silver also tarnishes. So additional metals such as copper for example, are added to give it some durability. Due to the enormous profit available by reducing the volume of silver with alloys in silverware, a standard hallmarking system is vital to offer protection to the consumer. Hence hallmarking is now compulsory

A hallmark generally consists of three compulsory marks and two optional marks. The compulsory marks are the silver content, usually 92.5 which is the sterling silver mark or the 95.8 which is the Britannia standard mark, the assay office symbol and the sponsors mark. In fact you should find also a date mark and makers mark. Sterling silver is represented by a Lion Passant and Britannia by the seated figure of Britannia holding a spear and shield. There are also other variations such as a lion rampant or thistle representing Scottish sterling silver and a harp crowned for Irish silver.

French Silver Hallmarks
The French assay mark for sterling silver is the head of the goddess Minerva. This can be important as the French standard for silver is higher than other nations being a silver content of 950 parts per thousand or 95 percent silver. If there is a "2" next to the head that signifies a lower grade of silver, usually 800 parts per thousand or 80 percent, important not to overlook when buying French silver. French silver meant for export will also carry the head of mercury with a number to indicate the millesimal fineness: "1" for .920, "2" for .840 and "3" for .750.

US Silver Hallmarks
The US is a bit of a different story buying silver as no assaying system was ever formulated except the city of Baltimore did maintain an assay office of its own between 1814 and 1830.

Before the general adoption of sterling silver as the standard of purity in 1868, silver was obtained from melting silver coins. These could vary considerably in purity, from 75 percent to 90 percent silver content and silver at that time was sometimes marked "COIN" or "PURE COIN", and often was without a standard mark altogether. After the adoption of the sterling standard, pieces were marked with "STERLING", the number "925" or the notation "925/1000".

As the United States had no date marking system, some companies within the U.S., such as Tiffany and Gorham, adopted their own date marking systems.

Also American manufacturers did not apply assay marks, city marks or date marks but they do apply a maker's mark. Pieces from the Gorham company, for example, can be identified by a Lion Passant (or Lion Rampant, depending on the year), an anchor and the letter "G". The letters "T. and Co." indicated a piece manufactured by Tiffany and Company. These stamps were as unique as today's logos, and disputes often arise if one company copied another's stamp.

Hallmarks are usually applied with a hammer and punch, a process that leaves sharp edges and spurs of metal. Therefore, hallmarking is generally done before the piece goes for its final polishing.

When buying sterling silver it is a good idea to do plenty of checking to find out exact what the piece is, its purity and manufacture. Also to ensure there is a assay mark on it and the date of origin, if possible, is stamped on it. Sterling silver can be a great buy provided one does one’s due diligence. A study of Sterling silver hallmarks can be great fun too.

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