British Sterling Silver Hallmarks
A Guide to Reading and Understanding English Silver Marks
British sterling silver hallmarks help to identify the maker and year of manufacture of sterling silver items produced by Great Britain. Understanding and learning to recognize these marks, can help you avoid costly mistakes in both the purchase and sale of antique English silver. This guide will explain what each mark means and how to find them on a piece of antique British sterling silver.
I've been buying and selling antique silver for many years now. When I first started going to estate sales, I was always drawn to the silver gleaming on the tables. I didn't know what the marks meant, but I was determined to find out. Thus began my education and passion for silver. I found great resources online, bought out of print books on the subject and picked the brains of antique dealers I met. The knowledge I have gained has helped me score some big finds over the years. The estate sales people often miss these sterling treasures and sell them cheap, not realizing their great value. I once purchased a English silver sovereign case for $5 at an estate sale and later sold it on eBay for $250.
Learning to recognize these marks will help you to find treasures too, maybe even in your own home. Here's how to read the marks.
The British Standard for Sterling Silver
Ever hear the word "sterling" used to describe a person? "Why, John has a sterling reputation". Britain's long use of the sterling standard has made the word "sterling" mean the pinnacle of quality, whether in metal or a person's character.
By law, British sterling must be 925 parts silver to 75 parts other alloy metals, or 925/1000. This is known as the "sterling standard." This standard has been in place in Great Britain for centuries, with most other countries adopting this standard much later... Every removable part of a British sterling item must be fully hallmarked. For example, a teapot with a lid will have marks on the pot, as well as on the lid.
Look for hallmarks on the underside, rims and handles of items.
British System of Sterling Silver Hallmarks
All of Great Britain use the same system to mark their sterling silver. Each item is assayed (tested) for quality, then marked with a series of 4 - 5 symbols, each in a cartouche of the same shape. The shape is used with letters to help date the item. The hallmarks will tell you if the item is sterling silver, what town it was assayed in, the date of assay and the maker's initials.
British Sterling Quality Marks
The symbol for English sterling is a walking lion, or "Lion Passant". Most countries that live under the reign of the British crown have their own sterling mark, instead of the lion. Scotland uses a thistle flower, Ireland uses a harp, and so on. Make a note that England itself has made the bulk of sterling wares over the centuries. Items from Scotland and Ireland are rare, and can command higher prices.
British Town Marks
The town, or city mark denotes the place where the item was tested for it's silver quality, or "assayed". Common town marks are:
London - Leapord's Head (with or without a crown)
Birmingham - Anchor
Dublin - Seated Lady
Edinburgh - Castle
British Date Marks
British date marks use letters from A - Z to represent dates. Each town of assay uses it's own system. London uses A - U, Birmingham uses A - Z, etc. One letter represents one entire year, then it changes to the next letter in the following year. Some letters can be omitted, like "J" or "V", because they are too similar to other letters. When the last letter is reached, the alphabet is repeated, but with a different style of lettering or font. The style of letter changes every 20 years or so, For instance, the letter "A" can be either lowercase "a" or uppercase "A", BLOCK or script, or even old English. There are guide books that can help you identify the date mark on most older pieces of sterling silver.
British Sterling Maker's Marks
The maker's mark is a series of initials representing the name of the silversmith or company. They are set into a cartouche, usually the same as the other marks, but not always. For example; W & H, for Walker & Hall of Sheffield is set within a flag. A crown on top of the initials means that the maker was a designated crown jeweler for that year, serving the royal family in repairs and creating new things for royal use.
What iis it? Answer the questions below using the information you just learned.view quiz statistics
Other British Silver Marks
Britannia Mark - A seated woman. Used by law from 1697 - 1720, optional later. Denotes higher quality silver than sterling at 958/1000.
Monarch's Head - A duty mark denoting taxes paid to the crown. This tax was instituted in 1784, after the American Revolution, to rebuild Britain's coffers that the war had drained. This tax remained in place until 1890, when it was rescinded. The image was changed to reflect the current reigning monarch.
Tips on Collecting Antique British Sterling Silver
Find English Sterling Silver at various place.; local antiques shops and auction houses, estate sales, or onlin at eBay, RubyLane or other antiques websites. Terms to know and questions to ask.
- Solid Silver - Often used by International Sellers in place of "Sterling". Be careful though, as sometimes this means that the silver content is NOT sterling, but coin silver. Coin silver is still considered "solid" silver, but the actual silver content is lower, anywhere from 800 - 900 parts per 1000, instead of sterling's 925. Read the description carefully. Ask the seller questions if you aren't sure.
- Era - English silver is often listed by the era it was produced in. This includes words like: Colonial, Victorian, Edwardian, and Modern.
- Always ask the seller for a picture of the hallmarks, if one is not shown on the listing.
- Ask questions about the condition. eBay sellers are notorious for giving very few details in their descriptions sometimes. Always ask if the description is sparse. Ask if there are any deep scratches or dents in the silver, broken hinges, detached handles, etc.
How to Identify English Silver Marks
Questions & Answers
I have a small platter that has the letters HSCEP and the numbers 5596. Between them is a crown with a lion and a horse both lying down on either side of it facing each other. Can you tell me about this?
Hi, Your platter is most likely electroplated silver on copper, or some other material (sometimes brass or nickel). EP usually stands for "Electroplate". Your mark sounds like the one from Hartford Sterling Co of Philadelphia, PA (1900-1931). The word "sterling" in their name doesn't mean that all their wares are sterling, just that they make things with silver, and that can include plated wares. The number 5596 is most likely a pattern, or set number. The latter belongs to a set (tea set, serving set, etc...) and each piece in the set will have a matching, consecutive number. I'm glad I was able to solve this riddle for you. You can find the mark on the website 925-1000.com under "Silverplate Marks."
I bought a queen pattern 100+ silver sent by John Mason from an older gentleman on craigslist. It came in a nice table box. It is shiny and looks new. It says "Made in Sheffield England" on the back, but with no mark. The back of the knife is hollow, and the forks are really heavy. Am I looking at a Chinese set or a silver plated original?
The only thing I could find on John Mason was a post selling a tea tray. It stated that John Mason was a silversmith for Tiffany in the late 1800s, but struck out on his own to start his own business in 1890. It failed after two years. He supposedly operated a high-end retail shop, importing fine goods for sale. That would make sense with the box stating, "Made in Sheffield, England." The US government began requiring imported goods to say where they were from, in 1890. England has always been noteworthy for its fine silver, so it makes sense that he would be selling those kinds of goods in his shop. As to whether or not it is sterling, If it doesn't have a full set of British sterling hallmarks, it is most likely silverplate. There should be marks on the handles of the pieces, either on the underside of the handle or sometimes on the side on knives. Rarely, it will be stamped on the knife blade. If you can find any hallmarks and tell me about them, or better yet, send me a picture of them, I can help you further. Without marks, I can't tell you anything definitive.
I have an antique silver teapot from my Grandma. On the bottom is the number 3, plus a circle with 'Monarch Plate Brand' written inside it with a flower-like logo. The centre of the logo has the letters 'c M j' on top of each other. Underneath '2045' is stamped. Under that, '8/T/658' is handwritten. Is it made of sterling silver? Where is it made?
Your silver teapot is silverplate, not sterling. Monarch Plate Brand is the trademark of Standard Silver Co. out of Toronto, Canada. They were founded in 1893.
What is an English hallmark that looks like a candelabra?
I don't know of any English marks that look like a candelabra. The city marks for Exeter and New Castle have castle turrets that could be mistaken for a candelabra, I suppose, if the mark is extremely worn. Are all the other mark there identifying it as a piece of English silver? Specifically the lion, date letter and maker's initials.