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]

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    

Superb English Antique 1910 Solid Sterling Silver & Faux Tortoiseshell Snuff BoxEnglish Sterling Silver Tea Set Barnards 1891 Griffin Crest1885 English Victorian Hm Sterling Silver Belt Buckle Bracelet Heavy Old BangleEnglish Sterling Candle Sticks Ram Heads 12" 1898Excellent Ferndown Bark 1/2 Bent Panel Bulldog English Estate Pipe W/ 925 SilverFine English Antique B1933 Art Deco Solid Sterling Silver Cigarette Jewel Box Solid Sterling Silver English Fusee Lever Pocket Watch 1869 Cleaned & WorkingSolid Sterling Silver English Fusee Lever Pocket Watch 1861 Cleaned & WorkingLarge Victorian 1860 Antique Dp Sterling Silver English Calling Card Box WalletLovely Clean Condition English Antique B1932 Solid Sterling Silver Egg CupFine Large Heavy Gauge English Antique L1918 Solid Sterling Silver Photo FrameFine English Antique Georgian B1802 Solid Sterling Silver Vinaigrette BoxEnglish Sterling Coffee Pot Griffin Family Crest 1897English Sterling Cup Horse Head Stirrup Mug 14oz1817 Antique Early 19hc English Georgian Sterling Silver Stuffing Spoon, NrStunning Large V Heavy English Antique L1932 Solid Sterling Silver Wine GobletAntique English Sterling Silver Hallmarked Pocket Watch Albert Chain & FobEnglish Sterling Candle Sticks Ram Heads 8" 1898Antique English Sheffield Glasgow Sterling Silver Tea Set Teapot Creamer Sugar Antique Early19thc English Sterling Silver Creamer John Allen Iv Joshua Butler IHandsome Large Heavy English Antique Ch1938 Solid Sterling Silver Cigarette BoxBeautiful English Antique Edwardian Ch1908 Solid Sterling Silver Pill Rouge Box Lrge Heavy English Antique 1955 Solid Sterling Silver Snuff Box Superb ConditionBeautiful English Antique L1916 Solid Sterling Silver Cigarette Case Gilt LinedUnusual Antique English Glass Thimble Shoe * 1892 Sterling Silver Thimble1746 Antique English Salver Tray Sterling Silver London Robinson Museum Heavy NrAntique English Blackberry Sterling Silver Thimble * Hallmarked 1913Sterling Silver English Desktop Postage Stamp Case Real Stamps In Glass Lid.William Comyns Crown Staffordshire Antique English Sterling Silver Tea Service1764 Crested Georgian English Sterling Silver Basting Stuffing Spoon T W ChawnerFantastic Antique English Sterling Silver Tea Set Massive 1044 Grams HallmarkedFine Quality Heavy English Antique L1949 Solid Sterling Silver Cigarette Box English Sterling Dish Cross Stand 1795 Robt & David HennellAntique English Sterling Silver Df & C Covered Pocket WatchFrench Sterling Silver Imported To England Footed Square Reticulated Bowl DishAntique Victorian Silver Fob Pocket Watch English Sterling Hallmarks C1880 WorksTiny Antique English Child's Sterling Silver Forget Me Not Thimble * Circa 1840Antique Barker Brothers Sterling Silver English Coronation Anointing Spoon, NrStunning Large Heavy English Antique B1922 Solid Sterling Silver Pint TankardAntique Steel Scissors & Sterling Silver Sheath * English * Circa 1800Lovely Antique Gilded Sterling Silver Floral Thimble * English * Circa 1850Fine Silver Japanese Showa Emperor Medal Coin After Ww2 Japan 999 Sterling VtgAntique English Sterling Silver Fish Server 1831 William Eley Reticulated BladeBeautiful English Antique Victorian B1898 Solid Sterling Silver Pill Box 6 -- Antique English Sterling Silver Demitasse Spoons Set With Fitted Case1955 Atkin Brothers 5 Piece Sterling Silver Tea Service Set --sheffield, EnglandCharles Stuart Harris Antique 1888 English Sterling Silver Tea Creamer PitcherLot Of 25 Sterling Silver Norway England Enamel Souvenir & Spoons 311.5 GrVintage Silver Charm Rare Nuvo English Sterling Opening Shell Pearl Fob Pendant Large Crichton Sterling Silver Lac English Master Salt Dish For Canadian MarketEnglish Sterling Silver Trinket BoxSterling Silver - Heavy British Braided Cuff 56g - Bracelet (6") Dt4641Vintage English Solid Sterling Silver Mirror Powder CompactFabulous Antique English Solid Sterling Silver Cigarette Case Of Curved Form!!!!Pretty Edwardian Bright Cut English Sterling Vesta Match Case Birmingham 1905 Fine Silver Japanese Ise Shrine Medal Coin Jingu Aft Ww2 Japan 999 Sterling Vtg1 Sterling English King Pattern Tea Spoons Tiffany & Co. 44.2 Grams Not ScrapVintage English Charm C1960 Sterling Silver Nuvo Chamber Pee Pot Enamel MouseVintage English Charm C1970 Sterling Silver Opening Pierced Heart Padlock Clasp1868 Queen Victoria Sterling Silver Shilling British Coin

Recent News: English Sterling Silver

Source: Google News

Weekly entertainment calendar
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 18th

24, 11300 W. Silver Spring Drive. Milwaukee Steakhouse: Eric Darnell, 7 p.m. Sept. 19, 6024 W. Blue Mound Road. Mo's Irish Pub: Blue Ribbon Band, 10 p.m. Sept. 19, Marc Ballini Trio, 10 p.m. Sept. 20, 142 W. Wisconsin Ave. Mo's Irish Pub West: 3rd Wish...Read more

Lexington's 4th Antique Show and Sale Happening This Weekend
Lexington Leader, September 18th

Bill Garrett with Garrett Antiques returns with his exquisite antique furniture, sterling silver coins, as well as vintage and antique stained glass. Jean Dowdy, owner of the Dowdy House in Lexington, will feature her fine American antique furniture...Read more

Bedford Hills shop holds inaugural auction Sept. 21
Lewisboro Ledger, September 16th

Included will be period antique and contemporary furniture, original artwork, carpets, lighting, decorative objects, and a large selection of sterling silver flatware and serving pieces and antique jewelry. All are invited to preview the items on...Read more

Rare, unusual fossils and minerals, antique advertising items, more will be ...
ArtfixDaily, September 15th

Lots will include a rare heart-shaped ice cream scoop, ice cream molds, two Eskimo Pie counter coolers, ice cream serving and spoon sets, ice cream sundae glasses with sterling silver bases and more. “Part 1 was a big hit. Part 2 will be just as good...Read more

El Paso Times, September 13th

Fine sterling and handmade silver jewelry and gifts. Hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday-Sunday. 487-6678, ... Tulip's Antiques & Consignment: Peppertree Square, 5411 N. Mesa. Works by Cristina Robbins, Bev Doolittle...Read more

Wynn's New Weddings Salons Have a Jewel Box Touch
Haute Living, September 13th

The redesigned Wedding Salons at Wynn Las Vegas offer guests the opportunity to wed in one of the most exquisite settings on the Strip. The newly renovated spaces found inspiration in an antique sterling silver jewel Buccelatti box. Roger Thomas, the ...Read more

Greenwich appraiser doing big business by word of mouth
Greenwich Time, September 7th

Stacey Cross, an antiques appraiser who often works with downsizing home owners, stands by her sterling silver tea set that once belonged to her parents, in the dining room at her home in Greenwich, Conn., Thursday, Sept. 4, 2014. Photo: Bob Luckey...Read more

Tennant: Ft. Churchill, Antique Link and Butterfly Bracelets
Reno Gazette Journal, August 29th

We like sauntering through antique shops. I bought a shimmering blue bracelet with tropical scenes, including six tiny palm trees painted on dime-sized pieces of reflective glass. The pieces are connected with sterling silver links with an original...Read more