What requires Hallmarking?
Silver, gold platinum and palladium are all considered to be precious metals and can be hallmarked here in the UK in one of the four Assay Offices https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/british-hallmarking-council or in any of the other countries that are members of the International Hallmarking Convention http://www.hallmarkingconvention.org.
How to understand Hallmarks?
If you are considering investing in some precious metal it is helpful to understand what hallmarks mean.
The different symbols in a hallmark will tell you WHO made the item, WHAT standard of metal it is, WHERE it was hallmarked and possibly the date WHEN it was hallmarked.
The art of hallmarking in the UK has a long history; it dates back 700 years, when a rigorous system of hallmarking was developed – a system stricter and more sophisticated than in most countries. You’ll find 4-5 of these authenticating marks on most old English, Scottish and Irish silver and gold. It is, in fact, the oldest form of consumer protection known in the world.
Hallmarks are proof that the article has been independently tested and stamped according to their standard. These marks can only be applied out by an Assay Office. In the past most cities and towns in the UK had an office but these days there are only 4 remaining in London, Birmingham, Sheffield and Edinburgh. The office that we use is Edinburgh http://www.edinburghassayoffice.co.uk/
What hallmarks are compulsory in the UK?
SPONSOR MARK – Sometimes know as the Makers mark, this unique mark tells you the person or company responsible for sending the article to the Assay Office. It is normally 2 or 3 initials and always proceeds the hallmark.
FINENESS MARK – tells you the standard or purity of the precious metal. Given in parts per thousand. The mark consists of three numbers.
ASSAY OFFICE MARK – shows you the symbol of the Assay Office where it was tested and marked. If the item is quite old the hallmark can be checked in the Bradbury’s Book of Hallmarks http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bradburys-Book-Hallmarks-Scottish-Platinum/dp/1872212050
What additional marks can be stamped onto precious metal alongside the hallmark?
Apart from the three marks we just mentioned, there are a number of optional marks that you might find particularly on antique silver.
Date mark – This mark was compulsory before 1999. It is always a single letter of the alphabet in a unique font. It is still used today in particular among independent jewellers. You can check a date letter here https://theassayoffice.co.uk/send-us-your-hallmarking/date-letters
Traditional purity mark – prior to 1999, silver and platinum finesses were indicated by symbols instead of numbers. An example is the Lion Rampant as seen below, it is the symbol which is used exclusively for Sterling Silver hallmarked in Scotland. We continue to use it on all of our silver.
Commemorative mark – these are special marks that can be added to a piece in honour of a significant national event for a dedicated period of time, usually a year. Examples of these are the Millennium Mark and the Queens Diamond Jubilee mark. Having this type of mark can make an item more collectible in the future.
Common control mark – also called a Convention mark. Given to ensure safe cross border trade of precious metals between the member countries of the International Convention as mentioned above. The UK has been a member since 1972. This means that an article intended for sale in the UK with an international common control mark from a member country doesn’t have to be remarked with an equivalent UK hallmark.
There are also a number of hallmarks that aren’t used anymore, such as duty marks, import marks and standard marks. These could again be checked in Bradbury’s Book of Hallmarks.