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A Brief History of English Hallmarks.


A Brief History of English Hallmarks.

A Brief History of English Hallmarks.

In Medieval England, goldsmiths and silversmiths were masters of their craft, conjuring up precious metal treasures throughout the United Kingdom. But in a world of deceit, how could one tell real gold from mere fool's gold?


Edward I

As the whispers of fraud grew louder, King Edward I took action. In the year 1300, he decreed a statute to prevent fraudsters from running amuck. 'Guardians of the Craft' checked the silver and gold, stamping each piece with the leopard's head mark. In the year 1363, King Edward III issued an ordinance that introduced the maker's mark. This mark, alongside the leopard's head, became mandatory and served to identify the skilled goldsmith responsible.


Edward III

The Keeper of the Touch was responsible for ensuring purity marks were correct, and with the gold standard adjusted from 19.2 carats to 18 carats in 1478, the Goldsmiths’ Company were tasked with overseeing this. This change prompted the introduction of a new mark - a leopard’s head and a crown - to distinguish between old and new plate. This era also saw the birth of the date letter, changed annually to identify the responsible Touch Warden. With the introduction of these elements, Goldsmiths’ Hall became the permanent home of an assay office, likely giving rise to the term 'hallmark'.

It was a criminal offence, punishable by death, if metal was found to have fraudulent hallmarks, as of 1757!

In 1773, as manufacturing flourished and machines transformed silver production in Birmingham and Sheffield, there arose a demand for new assay offices in these bustling cities. Despite opposition from the Goldsmiths’ Company, a Special Committee of Inquiry convened by the House of Commons ruled in favour of this proposal. Consequently, an act passed in May 1773 officially established assay offices in Birmingham and Sheffield. Landlocked Birmingham’s assay mark became an anchor, and Sheffield’s was a crown, (later changing to a Tudor rose). These original assay symbols are said to have been chosen whilst staying at a tavern en route back home after their visit to Parliament, the tavern’s name? The Crown and Anchor!


The Current Assay Offices Marks

In 1854, a significant shift occurred with the introduction of 9, 12, and 15 carat gold, each marked to denote their precise fineness. The following year marked a historic moment as gold wedding rings were mandated to bear hallmarks for the very first time. These were changed in 1932, when 15 and 12 carat standards were cancelled and compressed to 14 carats, which stands to this day.

In 1973, after a decade-long deliberation by the Board of Trade, a significant milestone was reached. Royal Assent was granted to a measure aimed at modernising hallmarking legislation. This groundbreaking move saw the repeal of all existing hallmarking statutes, consolidating them into a unified Act. Before this, it was not a legal requirement to hallmark jewellery. By 1975, the impact of this legislative overhaul was palpable. On January 2nd, the new Hallmarking Act came into force, introducing notable changes such as the addition of distinct marks for platinum, featuring an elegant orb and cross motif.


UK Platinum Mark

Fast forward to today, and the legacy of hallmarks lives on. So, the next time you behold a piece of jewellery adorned with these marks prior to the year 1973, remember: you're holding not just gold, silver or platinum, but a rare piece of history, a tale of craftsmanship verses bureaucracy. Theses hallmarks have certainly left an impression on us here at Berganza!

Vintage diamond three stone ring, English, 1965.
Vintage diamond three stone ring, English, 1965.
Diamond coronet cluster ring, English, 1909.
Diamond coronet cluster ring, English, 1909.
Yellow gold wedding band, English, 1876.
Yellow gold wedding band, English, 1876.
Georgian pearl and black enamel memorial ring, English, circa 1824.
Georgian pearl and black enamel memorial ring, English, circa 1824.
Georgian black enamel mourning ring, English, circa 1822.
Georgian black enamel mourning ring, English, circa 1822.
Burmese ruby five stone ring, English, circa 1864.
Burmese ruby five stone ring, English, circa 1864.
Georgian gold wedding ring, English, circa 1798.
Georgian gold wedding ring, English, circa 1798.
Pearl and black enamel memorial ring, English, 1854
Pearl and black enamel memorial ring, English, 1854
Antique diamond snake ring, English, 1908.
Antique diamond snake ring, English, 1908.
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Updated 13/07/2024 at 12:45PM

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