The post about nickel silver two weeks ago prompted questions from curious readers about silver marks and hallmarks. From what was asked and what I have encountered through experience, the English silver marks (or Hallmarks as they are more properly known) are what trip people up the most.
English Silver Marks
The little group of hieroglyphics found on a piece of English silver are not just random. Each of the four (or sometime five) marks has a specific purpose and meaning. For the casual collector, if you are in a shop or out hunting at your favorite outdoor market and you run across something that may (or may not) be English silver, here is the simple key that separates silver shopping success from failure 98% of the time. Why is the success rate only 98%? Because I’m sure that somewhere out there some manufacturer at some time or another has made a set of pseudo-marks that…ahem, emulate…this one key feature of English silver marks. Also, there are sometimes legitimate reasons why the mark isn’t there…such as a component may have gone missing over time.
Let’s imagine you come across this lovely English silver gravy ladle. You adore the size and shape. The lion armorial on the handle is a bonus. And when you turn it over, it has lots of little pictures and letters in tiny boxes on the back. All good, right?
Not so fast! Before you exclaim ‘eureka’ and whip out your wallet, please, please make sure your super-fantastic new piece of antique English silver actually has this all important stamp on it. It doesn’t matter who you are buying it from and what they say it is. You need to see for yourself: either in person, if you are standing there, or via a photo if it is a virtual shopping trip.
No reputable dealer is going to get upset if you ask to look at the marks yourself!
60 Second Silver Seminar
If you have an antique English silver collecting friend, pass this post along to them. Understanding the Lion Passant is a great shortcut to know about…a real worry and money saver.