Start with these sterling hallmarks and silver marks guides.
The books listed below are my top picks for baseline information and guides about sterling silver hallmarks, silver marks, a sterling silver hallmarks guide, and other useful information.
1. Dorothy Rainwater, Encyclopedia of American Silver Manufacturers
An essential guide to American manufacturers marks. Note, per the title, it is for the most part about manufacturers, not individuals. Pictures of marks and further details are listed in alphabetical order. For the larger companies, Gorham, International Silver, etc, Rainwater provides detailed and in some cases quite lengthy entries. Where this book really shines is it’s myriad listing of the companies most people have never heard of. Sometimes the entries are only a few sentences long, but they add a great deal to your store of knowledge.
2. Stephen Ensko, American Silversmiths and Their Marks
This is the first place to start when you find a piece of “coin silver” without company markings. This is the gold standard for finding early American silversmiths.
3. Tardy, International Hallmarks on Silver
The best comprehensive guide to silver purity marks (aka standard of fineness) worldwide. If you have a piece you are pretty sure is sterling – perhaps of an unfamiliar standard of fineness – Tardy is the place to start your search. The section on French sterling is a particularly helpful launch point. The French system is extremely complicated and encompasses not only various standards of purity, but also detailed regulations about where an assay mark is to be placed on each item. Except of course, when there is an exception to the rule. The edition I have, has approximately 400 pages of content, excluding indexes, etc, covering marks worldwide. Of those 400 pages, 120 cover France.
4. Ian Pickford, Jackson’s Hallmarks (Pocket Edition)
If you have any interest in silver from England and the British Isles, then Jacksons is a good start. It provides information about the marks associated with the Standard of Fineness (in the UK this is typically the .925 most are familiar with), the marks for the City of Assay, and the date & tax marks associated with each City. It has a brief section on maker’s marks for each city, but given the size of the silver trade, nowhere near all the marks are included.
More specialized reference books covering a range of information from US made flatware to the development of cutlery. More titles will be added to this collection as I have a chance
5. Phil Dreis, Warman’s Sterling Silver Flatware
An indispensable guide for the individual interested in American flatware patterns. Mr. Dreis is extremely knowledgeable and has been in the business for a long time. The Guide is comprehensive and nicely laid out. A must addition to the bookcase.
British Cutlery offers a fascinating wealth of information and a wealth of gorgeous full color photographs, all of which are well curated, but it is not simply an illustrated timeline. The chapters are thoughtful pieces, each adding another part to the jigsaw puzzle of our knowledge. As you are familiar with Silver Magpies, you know it is one of my passions. Placing these items within a larger context adds to our appreciation of them. Perhaps my favorite tidbit (pardon the pun) is on page 21. I learned that the spork is not an invention of the 20th century. A piece of traveling cutlery from 1620 is an ingenious solution to packing lightly for a trip, if bringing cutlery made of sterling can be reconciled with packing lightly.
Although not my taste, the cover photo sets the stage for this magnificent book. For anyone interested in the development of styles and techniques this reference book is well worth adding to your bookshelf. It’s well curated, with hundreds of photographs and clear descriptions.
Written for a broad audience, I think this book is just as valuable to those who have a passing interest as well as the professional. The Boston MFA has been a long-time promoter of American silver, and their collection is breath-taking. Interestingly, they have so much American silver that the best way to see the collection is online, as much of it is not on display.