Whether antique or contemporary, pieces of sterling bear a hallmark as a sign of authenticity stamped into the silver. The word "hallmark" comes from Goldsmiths’ Hall of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths in London, which, to this day, preserves all British hallmark records. Before imposed laws, these markings were at the discretion of the manufacturer.
Early silversmiths acted as bankers as well as tradesmen. These skilled artisans made wares such as jewelry, decorative metal work, candlesticks, teapots, hollowware, flatware, tankards and much more. In 1369, the crown ruled that all silversmiths must imprint an identifying mark to stop the melting of coinage to make sterling items. At the beginning of the 17th century, monograms replaced pictograms as common practice. In 1905, the United States government passed the National Gold and Silver Stamping Act, which required that manufactures utilize proper markings.
Today, most countries require a sterling hallmark, which is a sequence of markings. The first stamp indicates the silver content or purity. The lion passant, or walking lion, is the symbol for British sterling silver. Each country has its own purity standard. The British standard is 925 of 1000 parts pure silver; therefore, the number ‘925’ appears as the first insignia. Other markings signify the city of assay or purity test, date manufactured, and lastly, the maker’s mark, which may or may not be included. Duty marks, signifying payment of a tax, and tally maker, or journeyman’s marks, are no longer used.
In addition to maker’s marks, companies sometimes add the designer’s mark identifying the artist commissioned for a specific item. In 1870, Tiffany & Company began production of silverware, and until the mid-1960s marked each piece with the initial of the artistic director or president of the corporation. An anchor and the letter "G" symbolize the long-lasting Providence, Rhode Island silver maker Gorham Manufacturing Company. After many incarnations, the mark of Georg Jensen’s name in capital letters within a dotted oval is that company's current symbol of authenticity. A crown and capital "G" make up the logo of Garrard & Company, founded by George Wickes, whose mark entered the Goldsmith’s Hall in 1722. Since the early 1900s, the David-Andersen company has incorporated a simple ‘D-A’ as its maker’s mark.
Famous patriot Paul Revere worked as a silversmith and engraver in his own Boston shop before the Revolutionary War. Dane Georg Jensen brought back the art of the silversmith with his Art Nouveau jewelry designs and sculptured hollowware. Contemporary designer and metalworker Jocelyn Burton won the United Kingdom Jeweler Award for best design in silver in 1995. Irish metallurgist, Kevin O’Dwyer primarily works in silver and is recognized internationally for his unique, functional designs.
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