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SILVER HALLMARKS – THE WORLD’S OLDEST FORM OF CONSUMER PROTECTION

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A question staff are often asked at Woodbridge Antiques Centre is ‘how do I know if this is silver?’ So, if you’ve had a clearout and have found some pieces you are unsure of, here is a brief guide.

What is hallmarking?

Silver is never completely pure. Like gold, it is a soft metal and needs to be mixed with other metals to make it stronger. In Britain the most common grade of silver is 925 known as ‘Sterling silver’, the most popular grade around the world and so-called because it is 925 parts per thousand silver, the other 75 parts being other metals. To ensure that a piece has the correct amount of silver in it, it is sent to an assay office where the piece is tested and stamped with a hallmark.

Hallmarking is probably the oldest form of consumer protection, dating back to the 1300s! A hallmark is really an independent seal of approval. Great Britain is lucky to have one of the best hallmarking systems in the world, so it is possible to date and identify the maker of a piece of silver and the location it was assayed. There is another grade of silver for British pieces which is Britannia this is 958 parts per thousand silver and has a different symbol. There are also different grades and symbols for other countries but we will be focusing on identifying British sterling silver.

What to look for on your piece:

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First you need to find your marks. Sometimes they will be quite obvious, on the back of cutlery or on the base of an item, but sometimes they are hidden within a pattern so you may need a magnifying glass to hunt for them. The photos below are of a silver button hook with a Mr. Punch head. The hallmarks are shown with arrows - as you can see they were quite difficult to spot.

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 transparent-barOnce you have found them it’s time to identify them: The most important symbol to look for is the lion passant (1), which identifies your piece as being sterling silver. Now look for the town hallmark: in this photo we see the anchor (2), denoting it was assayed in Birmingham. The date letter ‘k’ (3) indicates it was assayed in 1909, and finally the maker’s mark (4) shows that it was made by Jones & Crompton.

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transparent-barCommon town marks are London, Birmingham, Chester, Sheffield, Edinburgh and Dublin. The designs have changed a little over the years but typical marks are shown in the photo.

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Silver plate

Silver plated pieces are made from base metal which can be nickel or copper with a layer of silver applied. These can also have markings that look a bit like hallmarks. Look out for the letters EP or EPNS which stand for electro plate or electro plated nickel silver. It may also have the marking A1 or B1 which denote for the quality of the silver plate. Here are some examples of silver plate markings.

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It is also a good idea to look for signs of wear. Silver will tarnish and may have grey or black marks but underneath if you polish it, it will return to a shiny surface. With silver plate you may be able to see a yellow hue to the metal where the base metal is beginning to show through the layer of silver (such as in the last photo, above). This usually occurs where the silver has been worn away by repeated cleaning. 

This is a little insight into the big world of hallmarks. There are some useful links on our links page.

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Woodbridge Antiques Centre buys items as well as selling them. We specialise in jewellery and silverware and are always looking for quality pieces. It is not just high value items we are interested in but also more everyday items from times gone by, including:

  • Silver and gold jewellery: vintage, antique and second hand.
  • Silver items: table pieces, novelties, desk items and decorative pieces.
  • Vintage and antique ladies and men's jewellery including costume jewellery, amber, brooches, glass bead necklaces, rings, bracelets and cufflinks.
  • Pre 1960s ladies accessories: dressing table items, hat pins, compacts andhandbags.
  • Sewing-related items such as thimbles, needlecases, button hooks and pin cushions.
  • Antique copper, brass and wooden items.
  • Decanters, cocktail shakers and sets of glasses.
  • Other interesting antique or pre-1970s vintage items that are in good condition.

Give us a ring on 01394 387210 before bringing anything in, to make sure the right person will be here to help you.

 

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