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 Sterling Punch Bowl Manner Paul Storr Lion 54ozAntique Vintage English Sterling Silver Large Huge Photo Locket Pendant HallmarkFine Heavy English Antique Edwardian B1903 Solid Sterling Silver Table Snuff BoxEnglish Sterling Coffee Pot Period Decorated C1740 English Sterling Cruet Set Original 8 Bottles Thomas Death 1812 Lovely English Antique Victorian B1879 Solid Sterling Silver Calling Card CaseAntique Vintage English Sterling Silver Large Photo Locket Pendant 1974 HallmarkEnglish Sterling Basket Bowl Mappin & Webb 1895 English Sterling Silver Tea Caddy Hennell 1812 24 OzEnglish Sterling Silver Double Albert Pocket Watch Chain Or T Bar NecklaceFine English Antique B1951 Solid Sterling Silver Hip Spirit FlaskLrg 1803 Antique English Sterling Silver Vinaigrette British Flags Drums CannonNice English Antique B1911 Solid Sterling Silver Sewing Needle HolderLovely English Antique Edwardian B1909 Solid Sterling Silver Calling Card CaseEnglish Sterling Tea Tray George Iii Manner 167ozEnglish Sterling Candle Sticks Major Baron Blunt (1869-1949) PairNice Genuine English Antique 1918 Solid Sterling Silver Pocket Cigarette LighterEnglish Sterling Ewer 17th Century Style Trophy 93 OzEnglish Sterling Silver Scottish Cattle Horn Big Decanter Flask Bottle RareVintage 1975 Sterling Silver England Wedgwood Jasper Ware Cameo Ring Size M BoxEnglish Sterling Wine Cooler Ex Baron Henniker (1842-1902)Antique English Crested Sterling Silver Travelling Inkwell William Neal 1849Asprey Boxed English Sterling Silver Napkin Serviette Rings 2 Blank Wedding GiftEarly-19thc Antique Thomas George Hayter English Sterling Silver Stuffing SpoonEnglish Sterling Silver Cigarette~cigar Box By Albert Carter~birmingham 1921English Sterling Silver & Turned Mahogany Wine Bottle Coaster By Mappin & WebbAntique 18thc George Smith Iii Georgian English Sterling Silver Open-work BasketLarge English Antique C1915 Solid Sterling Silver Hip Spirit FlaskEnglish Sterling Caster 1784 William Cattell Queen Anne Scottish Cattle Horn Sterling Silver Big Flagon Or Cup Rare No Reserve EnglishUk Great Britain 1813 Bank Of England 3 Shilling Bank Token Sterling SilverAntique English Sterling Silver And Coral Baby Rattle Whistle Marked Gu * NrGeorge Unite Sterling Silver English Flask Bottle ~ Victorian AntiqueHandsome Large Heavy English Antique 1975 Solid Sterling Silver One Pint TankardAntique Georgian English Sterling Silver Salver / Tray W/ Amorial Crest, C.1745English Lever Key Wind Man's Sterling Silver Pocket Watch William Ehrhardt4 Vintage English Sterling Silver Ingot Pendants Sheffield 1976 & 1977 119gBig! Antique 1910 Edwardian Sterling English French Nouveau Puffy 3/d LocketAntique Blackberry Form English Sterling Silver Thimble * Hallmarked 1897Ooak Vintage English Sterling Silver 27 Charms Bracelet Nuvo Enamel Movers 5 X Early English Sterling Silver Serving Spoons X George M. Jackson2 - English Sterling Silver / Cut Crystal Glass 9.5" Liquor Decanter BottlesHuge Antique English Sterling Silver Stuffing Spoon Peter & Ann Bateman 1793 Lovely 1901 English Reticulated Sterling & Bone 7" Crochet Hook - Levi & SalamanAntique 925 Sterling Silver English Vesta Matchsafe Match SafeAntique Elegant Heavy English Sterling Silver Jug~pitcher By Syner Beddoes~1913Antique Georgian English 1766 Sterling Silver Gravy Sauce Boat * 174.8 Grams *6 X Early English Sterling Silver Forks X Jonathan HayneArt Nouveau English Sterling Silver Leaf Spoon By Joseph Gloster~1898~caddy6 X Early English Sterling Silver Tablespoons X George M. JacksonAntique Sterling Silver 925 Matchsafe Match Safe Vesta EnglishOoak 1976 Vintage English Sterling Charm Bracelet Chim Gf Nuvo Enamel Openers A Fine Quality English Hallmarked Solid Sterling Silver Hand Bell 99 Grams1996 £2 Piedfort .925 Silver Proof, England Hosts Euro Football, Cap - Top Grade1876 English Sterling 20 1/2" Dia. Footed Salver By Stephen Smith, 3,685 GramsAntique 1910 Hmark English Sterling Silver Albert Pocket Watch Chain Fob Medal1996 £2, "england Host Euro Football", .925 Silver Proof, Capsule - Top GradeBritish Virgin Is: 2005 $10, .925 Silver Proof + Capsule - Top GradeGlasgow English Sterling Silver Tongs Dated 1838 John Murray JrFine English Edwardian Sterling Silver Napkin Ring Chester 1909 Hallmark

Recent News: English Sterling Silver

Source: Google News

Donated antiques and collectibles raise funds for Government House
Regina Leader-Post, September 30th

Other “treasures” include a set of six sterling silver tea knives in their original box, which Zohner said are valued at $450 to $650. A wooden bowl by Regina artist Fergus Fladager is also expected to pique interest. It was turned using 167 pieces of...Read more

Antique Auction
Regina Leader-Post, September 30th

Other "treasures" include a set of six sterling silver tea knives in their original box, which Zohner said are valued at $450 to $650. A wooden bowl by Regina artist Fergus Fladager is also expected to pique interest. It was turned using 167 pieces of...Read more

Handcrafted Jewelry By Jenne Rayburn Joins Etsy Wholesale, Offering A ...
PR Web (press release), September 29th

Combining beautifully delicate antiques and bold vintage elements, Rayburn gives her jewelry pieces an edge with careful styling and use of high-quality materials. Unpretentious designs are transformed into trendsetting pieces, sacrificing nothing in...Read more

Closet Snoop: Priscilla Villanueva
Corpus Christi Caller Times, September 28th

I'm currently in search of: a coral and turquoise sterling silver ring to replace one from a set that I lost in a mosh pit in 1995; if anyone has found it, please return. Funniest dressing room story: happened when I was working in a department store...Read more

BCB Homes building model on Nelson's Walk in Port Royal
Naples Daily News, September 28th

The interior's living spaces will be kept light and friendly with sterling, pewter, silver blue, platinum, and cerulean colors and fabrics mixed with the light wood and soft natural French Hauteville antique limestone flooring. All of the bathrooms...Read more

Alexandria designer hooks alligators for jewelry and accessories
Alexandria Town Talk, September 27th

She particularly favors using slightly darkened, oxidized sterling silver with gold touches to give her creations an unexpected, artistic twist. ... Lee sometimes finds interesting stones at antique shows or gem and mineral shows in Las Vegas and Tucson...Read more

Miniature books, silver toilet stolen in Ramona
U-T San Diego, September 25th

The owner of an antiques shop in town said Tillery had sold a box of the homeowner's items, including a ring the victim found at the business March 1. Deputies are looking for Tillery, who is described as white, 5 feet 10 inches tall, 180 pounds, with...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