How to Identify Foreign Silver Hallmarks

By Peter Mitchell
hallmarks, a silver item
luxury silver tray with elegant silver tea pot image by araraadt from Fotolia.com

A hallmark is a small impression stamped into the silver itself. Hallmarks can help identify the maker, the date, and the original location of foreign silver. There are thousands of different hallmarks on pieces of silver from around the world. However, by understanding a few common marks, it's possible to get a general idea of the country of origin. Using a hallmark guide to back up some basic knowledge, it's possible to identify foreign silver hallmarks.

Flip the silver item over and search for a hallmark or any kind of imprint. Use a magnifying glass or jeweler's loupe to get a clear image of the mark. Older silver can often have indistinct hallmarks.

Search for a crescent moon mark and a crown next to a stamp with the digits "800." This is a German mark, usually from around late 19th century to the present day.

Find a mark that looks like a lion facing left, surrounded by a rectangular border. This is the Lion Passant--a mark of English silver from the early 18th century to the modern era.

Check for what appears to be a soldier's head looking to the right. This is Minerva, the mark of French silver, from the late 18th century to the current period. Another French mark to look out for is the eagle's head--though if this appears above a number, the item may be from Portugal.

Locate another lion hallmark. Unlike English silver, in which the lion walks to the left, Dutch silver is marked by a lion that faces right. Dutch lion hallmarks are bordered by a rectangular shape with pointed top and bottom edges.

Check for a cloverleaf shape. This is a "trefoil." If it contains three crowns, the item is most likely from Sweden.

Look out for Irish hallmarks by finding the mark of Hibernia. This is a female figure holding a harp and a staff. If the item has a harp with a crown on top as an additional mark, then it is from Dublin.

Look for a Japanese hallmark. Japanese silver is stamped "950 Sterling" or "950 Silver." It will be one mark or the other, not both.

The stamp "TAXCO" refers to a silver producing town in Mexico, according to ModernSilver.com.

Consult a hallmark guide, such as "Tardy's International Hallmarks on Silver and Poincons d'Or et de Platine" or "Miller's Silver & Plate Antiques Checklist." You can also find an online catalog of international hallmarks from 925-1000 (see References below).