Table of Contents
The objects of marks-Hall marks-Simple methods of distinguishing marks-London marks-Provincial assay offices-Date letters. ONE of the most satisfactory things connected with old silver is that in many instances the plate can be identified and its local origin traced. In the early days the makers of silver plate were almost entirely craftsmen, and for the most part worked in connection with the old guilds which preserved the quality and fineness of the silver used, and also took care that there should be no adulteration of the metal. Further, they were careful to insist on the different makers using marks by which their handicraft could be known. Naturally, the makers them-selves were glad to have such marks of identity, which to a certain extent acted as an advertisement and secured them further orders. The guilds early instituted a system of dating the plate, and marking all pieces of silver of any authentic value. As will be seen later there were a variety of marks which add to the interest the collector feels in tracing these marks and symbols of the early makers, denoting the places of assay, and the quality of the different metals used from time to time. The hall-marking of silver is, of course, somewhat different to adding the impress of the maker, but the collector in examining his pieces must take all the different marks in conjunction. These steps for the preservation of the quality of craftsmanship and of the metal used can be traced to an early
fig19 Sheffield Plate Teapot and Coffe-pots
fig22 Set of Three Sheffield-Plated Coasters on Stand
date, strengthened by subsequent Acts of Parliament, and by additional powers granted to the guilds by an enactment of March 25th, 1697, the quality or fineness of the metal used in the manufacture of silver plate was declared to be 11 oz. 10 dwt. fine silver to every pound Troy. Hence it was that the silver coins so often melted down were not always of the standard quality required. This, perhaps, acted beneficially in that it checked the using up of the coinage, and tended to insure the purchase of new silver. It may, however, be pointed out that in the early days the re-making of silver was a common practice, and as customs changed old silver plate was remodelled, and in some instances the older marks were left. Hence it is that the marks on old silver do not always coincide with the shapes and designs of some well-known period. Furthermore, in judging silver and assessing its value from the marks upon it, it should be borne in mind that sometimes old silver of plain design was afterwards engraved and decorated by later artists to please the fancy of those who wished to possess silver plate of styles and designs more in accord with the period when they were being used.