No one knows for sure, but some historians speculate that the word “sterling” is a corruption of “Easterlings,” the German silversmiths brought to England by Henry II to share their silversmithing knowledge with the British. What we do know is that the sterling standard of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 alloy, which tends to be mostly copper, originated around 1300 in England with Edward I.

Ever since, the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and Silversmiths has enforced this standard. The Worshipful Company derives its authority from the Goldsmiths’ Hall, whose name is the origin of the word “hallmark.”

Because England used silver money until 1921, the crown relied on strict enforcement and heavy punishments to ensure the quality of British silver. Without these standards, silversmiths could debase currency by melting down coins, reducing their silver content, and then passing them off as pure. Hallmarks guaranteed a standard of quality, and the force of the law gave weight to the standard. Indeed, in 1757, those found guilty of imitating hallmarks were sentenced to death.

Each piece of British silver had at least four marks that told its story: the standard mark, town mark, date letter, and maker’s mark. These marks were stamped on finished pieces when craftsmen brought their products to the local assay office, where officials tested the metal content of each product.

The sterling silver standard mark guaranteed that the silver content of a piece was at least 92.5 percent. In 1300, this mark was a leopard’s head. In 1478, the head was modified to include a crown. In 1544, during a time of coin debasement under Henry VIII, the mark was changed to a profile of a lion walking left, known as lion passant. This mark was changed again in 1820 to an uncrowned lion head.

For a short interim starting in 1697, the crown required silverware to be 95.8 percent pure silver, rather than 92.5 percent. This requirement was known as the Britannia standard, and the goal of its implementation was to prevent silversmiths after the Restoration from melting down coins (which were sterling standard) and using that to make their wares.

Britannia silver bore the profile of a lion’s head in place of the sterling mark. This higher-quality silver was softer and easier to work with, but the standard was phased out i...

The town mark indicated the origin of a piece; a large number of different town marks are known today. London used a leopard’s head, but marks elsewhere were often inconsistent. Thus, unique or rare marks often make a piece more collectible.

The date letter mark was first used in London in 1478 and is still enforced by the Worshipful Company today. The date mark indicates the year the piece was assayed—usually but not necessarily the same year as it was produced—with a letter of the alphabet, which changed every year. On special occasions, like the 25th wedding anniversary of George V and Queen Mary in 1934 and 1935, silversmiths would sometimes add an extra mark to commemorate the event.

The maker’s mark became mandatory in 1363 to ensure that a buyer could trace a bad or faulty good back to its maker. Because literacy rates were so low at the time, this mark started out as a sign or symbol, but this was changed to the first two letters of the maker’s surname in the late 16th century. In the 1720s, the mark changed again to the maker’s first and last initial.

Aside from these four marks, pieces from 1784 to 1890 also included a portrait of the current ruler. This mark proved to the government that the piece’s duty had been paid—a most important consideration given England’s massive debt following the American Revolution. This duty was repealed in 1890, and the sovereign mark disappeared along with it. Additionally, silver imported from 1867 onward had an “F” in a shield stamped on it to indicate its foreign origin.

Although marks tell a great deal of information about a piece, collectors should beware of fake marks. Whereas silversmiths used steel dies to punch their marks, forgers often used brass instead, resulting in a blurry mark. These forged marks are sometimes known as soft punches.

Stylistically, British silver followed the trends of the art world around it. In the 17th and early 18th centuries, Baroque was all the rage, with heavily ornamented and elaborate pieces. From 1702 to 1727, styles shifted to the much more restrained and austere Queen Anne and Early Georgian styles.

From then until 1837, the Rococo style took hold, with its organic, asymmetrical, and curved designs. The year 1837 marked the ascendancy of Queen Victoria and the rise of the Victorian silver, which was extravagant and heavily ornamented. In the 1890s, the whiplash curves and organic, asymmetrical shapes of Art Nouveau began to replace the Victorian style, with Tiffany & Co. producing high-quality vases, pitchers, and other types of hollowware.

Art Nouveau itself gave way in the mid-1910s to Art Deco, with its more geometric, stylized designs. Since 1945, the design of decorative and functional silver objects has been mostly modern, incorporating sculptural, organic, and abstract shapes.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Chicago Silver

Chicago Silver

Paul Somerson's incredible reference on handwrought metalwork from the American Arts and Crafts movement of the ear… [read review or visit site]

Silver Marks Encyclopedia

Silver Marks Encyclopedia

An extensive reference guide to silver marks, hallmarks, trademarks and maker's marks found on antique and vintage … [read review or visit site]

Silver at the Victoria and Albert

Silver at the Victoria and Albert

This is a great reference site on silver, courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum. You can view silver items acc… [read review or visit site]

The Gilbert Collection

The Gilbert Collection

The late Sir Arthur Gilbert's collection of European silver, gold, enamel, and other items is now housed at the Vic… [read review or visit site]

Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj

Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj

“Delight in Design: Indian Silver for the Raj” was the title of a 2008 exhibition at Columbia University’s Mi… [read review or visit site]

TheStieffCompany.com

TheStieffCompany.com

Scott Perkins is an enthusiastic evangelist for The Stieff Company, a significant Baltimore silversmith and maker o… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

English Antique Georgian Sterling Silver Reading Glasses Spectacles Folding 1810Beautiful Large English Antique 1917 Solid Sterling Silver Ladies Handbag PurseLovely Genuine English Antique C1910 Solid Sterling Silver Ring BoxSuperb English Edwardian Solid Sterling Silver Calling Card Case Birmingham 1904Solid Sterling Silver English Fusee Lever Pocket Watch 1873 Cleaned & Working1909 English Hallmarked Sterling Silver Vesta Case.Stunning Early English Hallmarked Sterling Silver Key Wind Fusee Pocket WatchEnglish Sterling Tea Set Emes & Barnard London 1816 Gorham Sterling Silver English Gadroon Dinner Flatware Set Service 82 PiecesEnglish Sterling Silver Tea Set Josiah Williams 1907 English Solid Sterling Silver Wine Goblet London 1878 Chawner & Co 184gLarge Sized Heavy 670g English Antique 1960 Solid Sterling Silver Cigarette BoxEnglish Sterling Pitcher Beer Jug Queen Anne C1705 BritanniaFine Early English Antique Georgian L1812 Solid Sterling Silver & Gilded BeakerAntique English Sterling Silver Mechanical Pencil / Seal * Circa 1900English Sterling Pitcher Cellini Ewer Sea Serpent Crest 1889English Sterling Argyle Teapot Sauceboat 1810 Bull & Crowne Early Victorian Antique English Sterling Silver Floral Repousse Cup Mug 110 GramFabulous English Sterling Silver Art Nouveau Pen Tray 1904 Antique Card Dish1937 Sterling Silver Forget-me-not Bracelet Old Vintage English Hm Slave BangleVf 1889 Large Crown Sterling Silver British Coin Queen Victoria Old Victorian Superb Large Heavy English Antique 1923 Solid Sterling Silver 1 Pint Wine GobletUnusual 16 Size English Sterling Silver American Waltham "traveler" Pocket WatchEnglish Solid Sterling Silver Art Deco Half Pint Tankard Mug Sheffield 1970 228gStunning Antique English Sheffield Sterling Silver Photo Frame Fully Hallmarked1887 Unc Florin Sterling Silver British Coin Queen Victoria Old Victorian Coin**vintage English Sterling Silver Charm Bracelet & 27 Charms 97.6g**English Sterling Bowl Lion Handles Shell Feet 1919Large 1819 English London Sterling Silver Very Ornate Tea Pot 798 GramsHandsome Quality Heavy English Antique B1928 Solid Sterling Silver Cigarette BoxPair Of Hallmarked 1940s Birmingham British Sterling Silver Bamboo BraceletsSuperb Large Heavy 620g English Antique 1925 Solid Sterling Silver Cigarette BoxEnglish Sterling Teapot & Stand Lion Atop Castle Turret Crest 1784Handsome English Antique Art Deco 1961 Solid Sterling Silver Cigarette Box1948-52 British General Service Medal Malaya Bar Sterling Named Pte CooksonSterling Silver Ingot English Hallmark 1977 With Ram Paperweight 29.5gsHandsome English Antique 1927 Solid Sterling Silver Cigarette Box Walker & HallAntique Sterling Silver.925-england 3 Pc Tea Set-hallmark Lion-anchor-h.matthewsAntique British Sterling Silver Demitasse Tea Set Sugar Tongs Spoons Ww2 D-day? 10 Sterling Silver English Hallmark Enamelled Spoons Scrap 122gsRare Antique British Sterling Handled Tea Tree Cane Darjeeling India Dated 1897English Sterling Silver Plates 2 Hunt & Roskell Ex Firm Of Paul StorrEnglish Sterling Entree Dish Hope-scott Family Arms 1858 49ozAntique English Sterling Silver Hot Chocolate Pot London 1890 366g 11.78 Troy OzGood Sterling Silver 18th Century Provincial ,old English Soup,serving Spoon, .Fab Collection Of 9 English Antique Solid Sterling Silver Albert Fob Medals 72gVintage Original Named 1852 British India General Svc Medal Pegu Bar Sterling 1890 Large Crown Sterling Silver British Coin Queen Victoria Old Victorian Theater Made (english?) Parachute Badge (sterling Silver) Full Size1889 Large Crown Sterling Silver British Coin Queen Victoria Old Victorian Hilliard Thomason England Sterling Silver & Bone Fish Server Set Neptune HorsesSterling Silver English Hallmark 1912 Military Sgt Goodacre Shooting Spoon 21gsAntique Victorian English Sterling Silver Pepper Pot Birmingham 1901English Sterling Bowl Lions Sir Charles Santley Opera Star 1919English Sterling Cruet Set Mustard Pot Pepper Spoon Dragon 1892Original! Wwii Wwii Ww2 U.s. (british Made) Combined Para/glider Wing Sterling2000 ''e'' Sheffield England Sterling Silver Salver/tray 10'' Footed Not ScrapAntique Full English Hallmark 1908 Sterling Silver Pocket Watch Chain Fob MedalVintage 1895 Victorian Sterling Silver Miniature Tea Coffee Pot England HallmarkEnglish Sterling Tankard Bacchus Spout Henry Wilkinson 1893 24oz

Recent News: English Sterling Silver

Source: Google News

Kelly Wearstler's Lighting Collab; Hammer and Spear Gets a Refresh
Los Angeles Confidential, July 1st

silver, and gunmetal juxtaposed with unexpected materials such as alabaster, marble, and other natural stones. Ranging from $275 for a glass sconce to $7,350 for an antique brass chandelier, the collection's subtly chic color palette is...Read more

Senior center calendars, July, August 2015
West Hartford News, July 1st

July 10: How to…. Make Natural Home Cleaning Products, 10 a.m. Learn how to clean your home with ingredients that are not harmful to you and the environment. Using ingredients from your pantry and recycled items from around the house, you can make ...Read more

Reshoring in the Real World
Assembly Magazine, July 1st

The company began as an importer of Ming-dynasty replica antiques in 1997, before expanding into manufacturing of antique replica furniture two years later by contracting with two shops in China. As business increased, red egg also contracted with...Read more

Americana, Paintings, and Sporting Art Sold on the Cape
Maine Antique Digest, June 29th

A stylish silver-plated cocktail shaker by Napier in a penguin form, 12½" high, sold for $1440. A sterling silver puzzle game by Tiffany & Company was made for Thomas W. Lawson of Scituate, Massachusetts, known as the Copper King, for his 175' yacht ...Read more

Cutler Bay thrift shop is a gold mine for treasure hunters
Miami Herald, June 26th

The thrift store attracts collectors and dealers, as well. Denise Batura, an antiques dealer, has shopped here almost every Tuesday for the past dozen years. She has found sterling silver and Roseville pottery for a song. One time, she bought a...Read more

The Bedford Spring Antiques Show
Maine Antique Digest, June 25th

“There was a rush at the end of the day,” said Debbie Turi, an antiques dealer and show promoter from Roseland, New Jersey. “I made my booth more decorative this year and sold case and wall stuff and small furniture.” Items sold included “sterling...Read more

Shop Local: Delphine Gallery marks its sweet 16
Chestnut Hill Local, June 24th

A few years ago, Spangler and Weiner attended “jewelry camp” at the University of Maine, a five-day antique jewelry seminar taught by experts from around the world, including author and world renowned lecturer Gloria Lieberman, “Antiques Roadshow...Read more

Purses are her bag: 1 tiny gift started AC woman's impressive antique collection
TriValley Central, June 15th

Nunn has a sterling silver chatelaine shaped like an octopus with a tiny perfume bottle shaped like a dolphin, a coin purse covered with starfish, a compact with a rope and anchor, a celluloid note pad with human figures and a pencil in a silver case...Read more