Antique Pocket Watch Gold and Silver Hallmarks

Antique pocket watches are not ⁢just timepieces; they⁢ are historical artifacts that tell stories​ of craftsmanship and tradition. One of the most fascinating aspects of ‌these vintage treasures is the array of hallmarks found on them, which serve as a testament ​to their authenticity⁢ and quality. Silver hallmarks in‌ the UK, for instance, ‌have a rich history dating back ‍to the medieval period. These marks were ‍initially introduced as a guarantee of the purity ⁤of⁣ precious metals, making them ⁢Britain’s‌ oldest form of consumer protection.

The tradition of hallmarking began ⁤under the reign ⁢of Edward I (1272-1307), who​ mandated that all silver must meet the sterling standard, defined as a purity⁣ of 925 parts per thousand. This led to the establishment of an assay system, which has been in ⁣place for over‌ 700 years. The ⁣Wardens of ⁤the Goldsmiths’ ‌Guild‌ were tasked​ with marking all sterling silver items with a leopard’s⁣ head stamp, ⁢a practice that started in ⁤London’s Goldsmiths’ Hall​ and eventually spread to other assay offices​ across the UK.

Today, hallmarking is still regulated in ‌key cities like Edinburgh, ⁤Birmingham, ‌and Sheffield, with‍ Dublin’s assay office operating since⁤ the 17th century. Each city ‌has its⁤ unique ⁤hallmark: the ⁢leopard’s ‌head⁣ for London, a three-turreted castle⁤ for Edinburgh, a ⁤crown for Sheffield (later replaced​ by‍ a rosette), and an anchor for Birmingham. Dublin silver⁤ is distinguished by a crowned harp, often accompanied by a ⁤seated figure‍ of Hibernia.

Collectors often seek silver hallmarked in now-closed regional centers, such‌ as Chester, Glasgow, and Norwich, due to their rarity and historical significance. For instance, Chester’s‌ hallmark features⁢ three ⁤wheat sheaves and a sword, while Glasgow’s ⁣includes a tree,⁣ bird, ‍bell,​ and fish. These marks ​not only indicate ‌the place of assay but also add​ a layer of intrigue and value to the pieces.

In Scotland and Ireland,⁢ provincial ⁢silversmiths often operated outside the ⁣jurisdiction of metropolitan ⁤assay houses, marking their silver with unique town or maker’s‌ marks. This practice resulted in a variety⁢ of highly collectible‌ flatware and ⁣hollow wares, each⁤ bearing distinctive marks that reflect ‍their⁣ origin.

The⁣ inclusion of date‍ letters in British hallmarks,⁢ although no longer compulsory, allows for precise dating of antique silver. These letters, which were changed annually, provide a chronological framework that is invaluable to collectors and historians alike. Similarly, makers’‍ marks,‌ which have been‌ compulsory since​ the​ 14th⁢ century, help identify the craftsmen behind these exquisite pieces.

The Britannia standard, introduced in⁣ 1696 to curb the melting of coinage for silver items, ⁢required a higher purity of .958. This standard was marked by a lion’s head and the⁣ figure of Britannia, symbols‌ that are still used for special pieces today.

Georgian ⁤and Victorian​ silver ⁣often feature duty marks, indicating​ that a tax on precious metals had been paid. These marks, ⁣along with commemorative ​stamps added for special ⁢events, further enrich the​ narrative of each piece.

Understanding these hallmarks is essential for‍ anyone interested in antique pocket watches, as they ⁤offer‍ a⁣ window into ⁤the ‍past and a guarantee of authenticity and quality. Whether you are a seasoned collector or a novice enthusiast,​ the⁤ intricate world of hallmarks adds a⁢ fascinating⁣ dimension to the appreciation of ⁣antique silver.

 

Silver hallmarks in the UK date back to the medieval period and the practice of applying them as a guarantee of the purity of the precious metal represents Britain’s oldest form of consumer protection.

It was Edward I (1272-1307) 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.

The statute made it the responsibility of the Wardens of the Goldsmiths’ Guild to mark all items of sterling standard with a leopard’s head stamp.

The first silver hallmarking was confined to Goldsmiths’ Hall in London but in time other assay offices were opened. 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.

 The leopard’s head silver hallmark, which has been used in various forms as the symbol of the London Assay Office since hallmarking began.

hallmarks01 Antique Pocket Watch Gold and Silver Hallmarks : Watch Museum June 2024

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. The Edinburgh mark is a three-turreted castle (to which a thistle was added from 1759 until 1975 when a lion rampant replace the thistle); the mark for Sheffield was a crown until 1974 when it was replaced by a rosette, while the symbol for silver made in Birmingham is an anchor.

Dublin silver is struck with a crowned harp, to which a seated figure of Hibernia was added in 1731.

Regional Hallmarking Centres

Collectors will often place a premium on silver hallmarked in other regional centres which have since closed. 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.

Below is list of marks applied by provincial assay offices which have now ceased operating:

Chester – closed in 1962

Mark: three wheat sheaves and a sword

Exeter – closed in 1883

Marks: a crowned X or a three-turreted castle

Glasgow – closed in 1964

Mark: combined tree, bird, bell and fish

Newcastle upon Tyne – closed in 1884

Mark: three separated turrets

Norwich – closed by 1701

Mark: a crowned lion passant and a crowned rosette

York – closed in 1856

Mark: half leopard’s head, half fleur de lys and later five lions passant on a cross

Scottish and Irish Provincial Silver

For many reasons town silversmiths in Ireland and Scotland seldom sent their plate to Edinburgh, Glasgow or Dublin to be assayed. Here, often for reasons of security and economy, it was prudent to operate outside the jurisdiction of the metropolitan assay houses of Dublin and Edinburgh.

Instead, they stamped the silver themselves with a maker’s mark, a town mark or combinations of these and other marks.

hallmarks05 Antique Pocket Watch Gold and Silver Hallmarks : Watch Museum June 2024

Rarity dictates that Scottish/Irish provincial silver is highly collectable, most obviously in the flatware and hollow wares produced in provincial Ireland and Scotland.

In Ireland, silversmiths in Cork, Limerick and beyond simply marked their silver with the word ‘Sterling’ and a maker’s initials. In 18th and 19th century Scotland more than 30 different silversmithing centres were active from Aberdeen to Wick with each ‘hammerman’ using their own mark.

Specialist publications are essential for locating and unstanding the meaning of a huge proliferation of different marks and symbols used on Scottish provincial silver.

hallmarks06 Antique Pocket Watch Gold and Silver Hallmarks : Watch Museum June 2024

Date Letters

Although no longer compulsory, British hallmarks typically include a letter to indicate the year when a piece of silver was assayed. Generally the letter was changed annually until a complete alphabet had been used and then the cycle would begin again with an alteration to the style of letter or its surrounding shield. For a variety of reasons this practice was not always adhered to and the resulting anomalies can be seen in the tables of marks.

However, the date letter system allows antique plate to be dated more accurately than almost all other antiques.

It should be noted that while the date letter has routinely been taken to represent a single year, it was not until 1975 that all date letters were changed on January 1. Until then, assay offices changed punches at different times of the year, so most letters were in fact used across two years. Accordingly, it is increasingly common to see silver catalogued with a two-year date range.

Since 1999 the inclusion of a date letter has not been compulsory.

Makers’ Marks

The company or person responsible for sending a silver article for hallmarking has their own unique mark that must be registered with the assay office – a process that has been compulsory since the 14th century.

Specialist publications help explain different makers’ or sponsors’ marks, with Sir Charles Jackson’s English Goldsmiths and their Marks, first published in 1905 and revised in 1989, still the most authoritative work on the subject.

The inclusion of initial stamps alongside the hallmarks means that most makers can also be identified.

Often makers are celebrated in their own right with some collectors choosing to collect the work of just one workshop or retailer such as Paul Storr, Hester Bateman, Charles Ashbee or Liberty & Co.

Britannia Standard Silver

Historically the standard mark for sterling (.925 purity) silver in Britain has been a lion passant and this will be found on the majority of pieces. However, in 1696, rising concerns over the amount of coinage being melted down and used to make silver items meant that the required fineness was raised to the higher Britannia standard (.958 purity).

This measure was continued until 1720 and all silver marked between those two dates bore a lion’s head and the figure of Britannia in place of the lion passant.

Britannia marks may still be found on special pieces made to the higher standard.

hallmarks07 Antique Pocket Watch Gold and Silver Hallmarks : Watch Museum June 2024

Duty Marks

Many items of Georgian and Victorian silver will carry a sovereign’s head – a ‘duty’ mark reflecting a tax on precious metals collected between 1784 and 1890. The excise duty on gold and silver articles was collected by the assay offices and the mark was struck to show that it had been paid. Two examples are shown below.

hallmarks08 duty hallmarks Antique Pocket Watch Gold and Silver Hallmarks : Watch Museum June 2024

Commemorative Marks

Special commemorative stamps have been added to the regular silver marks to mark special events. In addition to the four examples shown below, the head of Elizabeth II facing right was used to mark her Golden Jubilee in 2002 and another set in a diamond was used from July 2011 to October 1, 2012, to mark the Diamond Jubilee.

hallmarks09 commemorative hallmarks Antique Pocket Watch Gold and Silver Hallmarks : Watch Museum June 2024

European Marks

Since 1972 the United Kingdom has been a signatory to the International Convention on Hallmarks. Silver marked in Convention countries bears a maker’s mark, a common control mark, a purity mark and a country mark. Nine examples of country marks are shown here.

hallmarks010 european hallmarks Antique Pocket Watch Gold and Silver Hallmarks : Watch Museum June 2024

British hallmarks stamped overseas

The practice of overseas hallmarking was established the UK in 2014 with UK assay offices setting up sub-offices offshore. For example the Birmingham Assay Office began stamping jewellery in India in 2016.

hallmarks011 birmingham overseas hallmark Antique Pocket Watch Gold and Silver Hallmarks : Watch Museum June 2024

However, in 2018, the British Hallmarking Council decided that hallmarks struck offshore by UK assay offices should be different to those applied in the UK. Following this move discussions took place over what form the offshore mark should take.

A differentiated hallmark for articles hallmarked outside the UK by Birmingham Assay Office was officially launched in April 2019.

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