Hall-Marks started in England around 1300 AD. and has continued through the ages making it very useful for collectors, firstly as an accurate form of dating and history as well as being quite possibly one of the first forms of consumer protection.
It was decided in 1363 that a method of identifying the makers of sub-standard work or if you like, to maintain a quality control, was to make the Master Goldsmith register a unique mark of his work in the form of initials, symbols or shield. These then would be struck onto the silver.
To maintain this standard further a date letter was introduced in 1478 using the alphabet. Starting with the letter A, but omitting the letters J and from V to Z, merely changing the letter style or shield with each cycle. This went on without a break until 1696, when, a new cycle was started called the Britannia standard. So extensive had been the abuse of clipping or melting silver coins, silversmiths were forbidden to use the sterling standard for their wares. Instead a newer, higher standard of 95.8% pure, was introduced.
New Hall-Marks were ordered, using the initials of the maker, a figure of a woman known as Britannia and a lion's head, replacing the lion (Passant) i.e. Full size looking ahead, first used in 1544.
Changing to the higher standard of 95.8% caused some controversy, so it was agreed that the old standard would be restored, running along side the higher standard in, 1720.
In 1720, a charge of 6 pennies an ounce was made, as a duty for restoring back to the old standard. This created a practice called "duty-dodging" whereby silversmiths avoided paying duty by incorporating pieces of plate bearing hallmarks into the new piece of silver ware. To get over this problem the assay office introduced a duty paid hallmark in the form of the sovereigns head, in 1784 until 1890, covering the reigns of George III,
and IV, William IV and Victoria.
Although these marks are a great help to the collector, one still needs to be careful when checking the Hall-Marks as there are still fakes or alterations to fool you and it is best to buy a book on English Silver Hall-Marks to check the marks and pieces carefully.
Marriages of two pieces or alterations have been produced over the years. What may have started out as an early tankard, could end up with an added spout and handle to make a nice coffee pot etc.
The reason for Hall-Marking as mentioned earlier, was to protect the purchaser, but over the years the marks had been somewhat confusing. In 1973 the Hall-Marking act resulted in simplifying marks and making it easier to recognise and understand.
In 1975, PLATINUM also had to be marked.
A photographic directory of American, British, European & Mexican silver maker's marks and hallmarks found on antique sterling and coin silver.
Antique Silver Spoons