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Most British and Irish silver carries a number of stamps indicating not just the standard or purity mark (typically the lion passant) but also the initials of the maker, a date letter and the place of assay.
Since hallmarking began, the leopard’s head has been used in various forms to denote the London Assay Office.
Today there are still offices in Edinburgh, where hallmarking has been regulated since the 15th century, and in Birmingham and Sheffield, where assay offices were established by an Act of Parliament in 1773.
Dublin’s assay office has been operating since the middle of the 17th century and silver is still marked there.
Available in; Stainless steel, Silver Plate, Sterling silver Sheffield Ribbon and Bow (click image) The delicate detail of this pattern has been appreciated by discerning diners for more than two centuries.
It was Edward I who first passed a statute requiring all silver to be of sterling standard – a purity of 925 parts per thousand – ushering in a testing or assay system that has survived for over 700 years.
Neoclassical styles such as small bead borders or column candlesticks might indicate a piece from the early 1800s. Many auction houses or dealers will value your silver items for free, often on the expectation that you might sell it through them at a later date.
Plain angular designs are often from a later period, such as the art deco style of the early 20th century.
Available in; Stainless steel, Silver Plate, Sterling silver Sheffield Rattail (click image) The earliest English pattern originating around 1700.
Developed from the traditional hand forging with the central rib (rat-tail) providing extra rigidity to the handle.
Some of these ceased hallmarking as early as the Stuart period (the Norwich assay office identified by a crowned lion passant and a crowned rosette shut in 1701), while others such as Chester (three wheat sheaves and a sword) and Glasgow (a tree, bird, bell and fish) were still operating into the post-war era.
Silver struck with the half leopard’s head and half fleur de lys of York (closed 1856) and the crowned X or a three-turreted castle of Exeter (closed 1883) can be collectable on account of its rarity and sense of place.Sequences of historical marks for the following offices can be viewed through the links below (reproduced courtesy of the British Hallmarking Council).