American Silver Marks on Coin Silver and Sterling

Unlike the highly centralized and regimented English Silver Hallmarks system, American silver marks take a different approach.

american silver mark, coin silver

A late coin silver piece – the silver mark is a whole name rather than initials only.

There is no central or defined set of American silver marks.

  • When American silver marks are referred to as American sterling silver Hallmarks it is in the general sense.
  • Technically speaking the stamps found on US silver are either
    • trademarks of the respective companies who made them (trademarks tend to be found on sterling silver)
    • or makers marks – many terms refer to the marks on coin silver including:
      • American coin silver marks,
      • early American silver marks,
      • coin silver marks, or
      • American silver makers marks
  • After 1907 the “Sterling” or “925” stamp was required by federal law to guarantee to the buyer that the silver was .925 – acting as an assay mark.
  • Early pieces display only American silver makers marks. After 1907, makers using coin silver were required to stamp them “coin silver”.

American silver falls roughly into two categories.

Prior to 1850-ish silver was made from “coin silver” – literally melted silver coins. The silver content ranged from approx. .892-.900. and pieces were generally only stamped with a makers mark.

This is an example of an early American silver mark. This silver mark is simply some initials within a rectangular cartouche – generally speaking marks like this tend to be older.

American silver marks - Hanners

William Hanners – Boston, c. 1720’s

Here is an American silver makers mark with full names – again, generally speaking, marks like this tend to be younger.

American silver marks - coin silver

Here’s a good one. A coin silver teaspoon with maker’s mark and some pseudo English marks!

Both of these are wonderful examples of American silver, and both are made out of “coin silver”. No other stamps were applied as no other stamps were required.

After the 1850’s “sterling” was introduced.

Tiffany & Co. struck on the idea of adopting the 925 standard within their company and marking them “Sterling” as a way to differentiate themselves from their competitors. It did not take long before other manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon. There was still no law or regulation mandating the Standard of Fineness or the use of the term sterling.  That did not come until the 20th century.

The effect was two fold. First, “coin silver” came to be seen as inferior goods – in my opinion an utterly ridiculous notion. Second, and more important for the purposes of this overview sterling and 925 appeared on silverware.

Here is a piece with the American sterling silver mark.

American silver marks - Web bowl

This piece is marked with the company trademark Web and Sterling.

Sterling and 925.

American Silver marks - Bassett

The Bassett Jewelry Co covered all the bases marking 925 and sterling.

On this piece Gorham use sterling.

American silver marks - Gorham

Here is a piece by Gorham – look closely at their trademark.

But look at that trademark – a lion, an anchor and, the letter G. Looks a bit like the English marks doesn’t it. The lion is facing the wrong way, but for a short time in the 1840’s Gorham used a lion who faced the same way as the Lion Passant.

What to look for?

With American silver pieces, unless it is stamped “sterling” or “925”, it is not sterling.

It might be coin silver, but NOT sterling.