The History of British Silver Hallmarks

The United Kingdom and Ireland have one of the most highly structured hallmarking systems in the world, and represents Britain’s oldest form of consumer protection. King Edward I (1272 to 1307) passed a statute requiring all silver to be of sterling standard, equaling a minimum of 925 parts per thousand. The statue made it the responsibility of the Wardens of the Goldsmiths’ Guild to mark all items of sterling standard with a leopard’s head stamp.

Initially all hallmarking was done in London, at Goldsmiths’ Hall, but now Assay offices exist in Birmingham, Sheffield, Dublin and Edinburgh (where hallmarking has been regulated since the 15th century) as well. Each Assay office has its own unique mark.

A hallmark is made up of 3 compulsory symbols – the Maker’s Mark, the Purity Mark and the Assay Mark. Some silver may also have a year mark, but this is not a requirement. Traditionally marking was done using a “punch style stamp, increasingly silver is being hallmarked by laser, particularly with fine or hollow silver so that there is no distortion to the item being hallmarked.