How to identify Silver Marks

Buying or holding on to silver can be a very smart investment decision. However, when you buy rare or antique silver pieces, it is important to know that the hallmarks are designed to ensure their age and provenance, minimising the risk of your investment. In this article, we explore how you can easily identify what the silver marks – small stamped symbols – on the back or underside of silver items actually mean.

What are silver hallmarks?

The hallmarks on a piece of silver are there to provide you with information on the purity of the silver, who designed it, and occasionally to give you insight into when the item was made. Silver hallmarks should consist of four key elements:

  1. The date letter
  2. The town mark
  3. The maker’s mark
  4. The lion passant

Let’s take a closer look at what each of these marks are telling us…

The date letter

The date letter hallmark on silver is where you can identify the year the silver piece was hallmarked. A full list can be viewed here.

As an example of what this will look like, we’ve used the date letter for Birmingham in 1774 below.

The town mark

The town mark essentially identifies where the item was made, and a number of distinct symbols relating to each area will be displayed. A full list can be viewed here.

Using Glasgow as an example – the mark you would look for consists of a tree, a fish and a bell, as shown below.

The maker’s mark

By now you’ll know where the item was from and the date it was hallmarked. Next, you’ll want to identify the maker. This will let you know which company or person actually created the piece. Again to correctly identify the maker we would recommend using this tool.

Below we’ve used an example of a silver piece that was created in 1828, Chester by the maker John Coakley.

The lion passant

We’ve kept, arguably, the most important hallmark to last. This is known as the lion passant. This mark is of extreme importance as it essentially confirms if the piece you have or are considering for purchase is genuine silver. If it does not have the lion passant, unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be silver. It may instead just be silver plated.

If the piece originated in Scotland however, then you can expect the mark to be of a ‘thistle’ as opposed to a lion.

The lion can appear in two forms; the lion passant or the lion passant guardant. The hallmark on earlier silver items will have the lion looking towards you; this is therefore known as the lion passant guardant.

When did silver hallmarks first appear?

Now that you’ve learned what each of the marks represent, you might be curious about when the first silver hallmarks started? Well, the answer is that the marks first appeared in 1300, known as the ‘Leopard’s head’, and the first guild was then formed to ensure all silver was tested and marked at the guild halls.

‘no goldsmith… shall from henceforth make or cause to be made any manner of vessel, jewel or any other thing of gold or silver except it be of the true alloy […] and that no manner of vessel of silver depart out of the hands of the workers, until further, that it be marked with the leopard’s head’.

Statute of Edward I in 1300 (28 Edw. I c.20)

Hallmark sequences

Provided via the British Hallmarking Council (and recently reproduced), you can view a list of historical hallmarks from the London, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Sheffield offices below.

London Hallmarks

Birmingham Hallmarks

Edinburgh Hallmarks

Sheffield Hallmarks

If you’re on the hunt for authentic silver pieces or vintage furniture then take a browse through our website for our latest finds. Hunt Vintage® works with an extensive network of silver, vintage and antique dealers to help you unearth the rarest pieces effortlessly from anywhere in the world.