Have you gotten some old sterling silver as a gift and wondered what the symbol on it means? Sterling silver marks are a hallmark that indicates the silver's quality and purity. These marks are usually stamped or engraved on the back or bottom of a piece of silver and can be used to identify the maker, the year of manufacture, and the type of silver used. Understanding the different sterling silver marks is an essential part of collecting antique silverware, as it can help you determine if a piece is genuine and how much it is worth.
Common Sterling Silver Marks
The use of hallmarks on silver dates back to the 14th century when the first hallmarking system was introduced in England to protect the public from fraud and ensure that silver was of the correct quality. In the United Kingdom, these compulsory marks were stamped on silver items to show they met the legal standard for sterling silver by indicating that a piece was made of 92.5% pure silver. The tradition of hallmarking silver continues to this day.
Here is a quick guide to some of the most common marks you will come across on antique silverware.
Silver hallmarks. (2023, February 1). In Wikipedia.
The Lion Passant
Introduced in the early 16th century, the Lion Passant is one of the world's oldest and most recognized sterling silver marks. The mark shows a lion in the passant position, walking with its right forepaw raised.
The Crown Mark
Introduced in England in the 17th century, this mark features a crown, the symbol of the British monarchy, and was used to signify that the silver had met a certain standard of purity and quality.
The Anchor Mark
The Anchor Mark is a hallmark introduced in the 18th century in Birmingham, England. This mark features an anchor, a symbol of the Birmingham Assay Office, and was used to signify that the office had assayed and approved the silver. It is usually accompanied by the letters "sterling."
The Date Letter Mark
The Date Letter Mark was introduced in England in the 16th century, and it is a letter that indicates the year of the silverware’s manufacturing. The Date Letter Mark changed every year, so it's essential to consult a reference guide to determine the manufacturing year.
The Maker's Mark
The Maker's Mark is one of the hallmarks used on silver items to indicate the identity of the manufacturer or silversmith who made the item. It is an important hallmark, as it helps establish the item's provenance and can provide valuable information for collectors and historians. The Maker's Mark is typically a unique symbol or initials stamped on the silver item by the manufacturer or silversmith. This mark may include the silversmith's name, initials, or symbol representing their workshop or company.
The Duty Mark
The Duty Mark is one of the hallmarks found on sterling silver items, indicating that a tax, known as a "duty," has been paid to the government. This mark was introduced in 1784 in the United Kingdom and remained in use until 1890 when the duty was abolished. The Duty Mark is a symbol of a monarch's head within an oval cartouche, which indicates the reigning monarch during the time the duty was in effect.
The Assay Office Mark
The Assay Office Mark was introduced in England in the 17th century, and it is a symbol that indicates the Assay Office tested the silverware for quality and purity. For example, in the United Kingdom, there are four assay offices, each with its own unique symbol: the Anchor for Birmingham, the Crown for Sheffield, the Leopard's Head for London, and the Castle for Edinburgh. Other countries may have unique symbols for their respective assay offices.
Sterling Silver on Consignment at Around the Block
Around the Block has been Toronto’s go-to destination for sterling silver on consignment for over 12 years. If you are considering consigning sterling silver flatware, tableware, candlesticks, or a tea and coffee serving set, our experts can help you assess the items' value. If you are a collector of fine sterling silver pieces, be sure to check out our ever-changing collection online or in our showroom.