Back in the dark days we had no way to ensure the quality of our metals. Thanks to the establishment of the first laws of consumer protection, and subsequent developments, the purity of our precious silvers are standardised and verified, with consumer rights protected with hallmarks.
The variety and scope of hallmarks can make things complicated. So, see our short, handy guide to today's mandatory Scottish Hallmarks silverware:
What are Hallmarks?
Hallmarks tell stories – they are a sure way to verify the maker, origins, and quality of your commission, whether it be of gold, silver, palladium or platinum. They can be found on any surface of your piece – personally I love when they’re on the outside face for all to see.
How can I trust Hallmarks?
Hallmarks are legally binding in accordance with the Hallmarking Act of 1973 guarantying that the piece meets the minimal purity of precious metals.
Expert testing is conducted by Assay Offices, who have the first and final say on the purity of your piece. Of the four remaining UK Offices, only one remains in Scotland.
What types of Hallmarks are there? What do they mean?
A plethora of hallmarks can be found on silverwares. Today three are mandatory:
Since 1998, a trio of numbers are stamped in order to verify the quantity of silver in your piece. For example, Maciek and Colins’ pieces are made from sterling silver, which has been standardised as 925/1000 - meaning 92.5% of your piece will be silver. 100% silver is too soft for practical use, so they are almost always alloyed with an approved metal. This tiny percentage of copper, zinc, or other stable metal will strengthen, alter for desired colour or effect, or increase durability to ensure its longevity.
ASSAY OFFICE TOWN MARK
These indicate the city or town of the Assay Office which has verified your piece. Often these symbols have roots in local lore. Edinburgh’s is a castle with three towers. The former Glasgow Office utilised the city emblem of tree, fish and bell, which can be seen throughout the city.
SPONSOR OR MAKER’S MARK
Like the signature on the corner of a painting, this Mark is the signature of the silversmith who created your piece, or the body who sent it to the Assay Office. Often this is their initials, or the first two letters of the family name.
Hallmarks on Maciek’s small keepsake box from top to bottom: his signature, sterling silver, rampant lion stating it’s been created in Scotland, quality assured by Edinburgh Assay office, and ‘u’ representing year of creation.
What If my piece does not have any hallmarks?
In this case it is either under the required weight for hallmarking, not formed from high percentage silver, nor verified by an Assay Office. For many, sentimental value of a piece supersedes quality, but due to its fragility take extra care. If you find your piece scratched, flaking or rusting beyond repair you can always consult with one of our silversmiths to have a lifelong piece commissioned.
Mandatory Hallmarks have changed drastically over time, and more people are curious about the stories carried by their antique. Many of today’s makers use optional marks to add character and information. Antique hallmarks are a fascinating rabbit-hole, which requires a blog or two of its own.
Along with creating new fine wares, our Silversmiths love to repair historic pieces, and investigating the history of newfound. If you’re struggling to identify the hallmarks of your metalware, you can comment below, or send pictures to email@example.com or tag us on social media @lost_artisans where we’ll set our ‘smiths on the case.