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    

Left Handed ! 1850-1890 Antique British Sheffield Bowie Knife 925 Silver Dagger Antique Walter Lampl Heart English Opening Sterling Charm Bracelet Nuvo 136 Gr.English Sterling Silver Tray Dragon Celtic 1936 Elkington ExcLovely English Antique B1905 Solid Sterling Silver Heart-shaped Pill Snuff BoxSuperb Large Heavy English Antique 1939 Solid Sterling Silver One Pint TankardHandsome Heavy 156g English Antique 1911 Solid Sterling Silver Tea Caddy Box Antique English Sterling Silver Verge Fusee Pocket Watch Rp Cramber London PartsLovely English Antique Late Victorian 1901 Solid Sterling Silver Pill Snuff Box18thc Antique Georgian 1771 London English Sterling Silver Open Salt CellarStunning Large Heavy English Antique 1966 Solid Sterling Silver One Pint Tankard1905 English Sterling Silver Pocket Watch Stand And Travel Case Robinson & CoEnglish Sterling Silver Bowl Oak Leaf & Acorn 1930 RareFine Quality English H/m Sterling Silver & Enamel Cigarette Case C1960Antique English Sterling Silver Tip Deep Cut Glass Claret Wine Pitcher Ewer JgaAttractive English Antique 1913 Solid Sterling Silver Jewel Or Table BoxVintage English 1848 Sterling Silver 3 Piece Decorative Knife Fork Tea Spoon SetEnglish Sterling Silver Bowl Compote 1934 ExcSterling Silver - Heavy British Hand Chased (opens!) 61g - Cigarette Case Bs5012Beautiful Large English Antique 1919 Solid Sterling Silver Ladies Handbag PurseVf 1889 Large Crown Sterling Silver British Coin Queen Victoria Old Victorian 1English Sterling Silver Tray Geo Iii Ellis Greenberg 1911 133 OzEnglish American Sterling Silver Four Boxes Card Case Early 20th CenturyLarge Antique Sterling Silver Rosary French Nouveau Medals British Box Vintage1910 Antique English Calabash Pipe W./ Hallmarked Sterling Crown Pipe * V. MintLovely Heavy Solid Lid English Antique 1902 Sterling Silver Cigarette Jewel Box English Sterling Silver Goblet Beaker Leaf & Diamond Hennell 1856English 8x Sterling Silver Ornate Tea Spoons 1943 A Laurence AllenAntique Victorian English Charles May Cameo Perfume Bottle Sterling WebbRare Sterling Silver Circa 1752 English Shaw & Priest Creamer 4.76 Ounces !Lot Of Two Antique Bowls German 800 Silver & English Sterling * Hunting Scene Small Sterling Silver Dove Brooch Georg Jensen Design English HallmarksEnglish Sterling Silver Golf Club Shaped Swizzle Stick C1930Antique 1908 London, England Levi & Salaman Sterling Silver Handled ScissorsSterling Silver - British Heart Pad Lock (opens!) 30.7g - Bracelet (8") Cg7962Magnificent Victorian 1800's Sterling W&co English Engraved Locket&chain-beauty!Sterling British S.e.5 Balsa Model Airplane KitQuality English Edwardian Sterling Silver Ornate Tea Spoons A J Bailey 1904Antique English Sterling Silver Thimble W/ Applied Scroll Band * Circa 1850Antique English Sterling Silver Albert Pocket Watch Chain Ref 1Huge Enamel Battle Of Britain Spitfires Pill Box 925 Sterling SilverVintage Sterling Silver Stein Beer Tankard Mappin Webb England 27ozEnglish Sterling Tray Cake Stand Grape & Leaf "hand Pierced" 1905 Chester England Sterling Silver Jeweley Box Repousse Womans Face Cover 4.5"Wwii British Theater Made Sterling Us Army Air Corps Jr Gaunt Glider Pilot WingsEnglish Sterling Compote Bowl Classical Mask & Shell 3-4British Dublin Chester Sterling Silver Hand-hammered Cream And SugarAntique English Late Victorian Sterling Silver Sewing Thimble & Case C1888 $1 NrVintage 1910 English Hallmarked Sterling Silver Engraved Match Safe Case Vesta2 Vintage English Sterling Silver Thimbles * Hallmarked 1926 & 1931Fine Heavy 407g English Antique 1954 Solid Sterling Silver Cigarette Box1887 Half Crown Sterling Silver British Coin Queen Victoria Old Victorian Antique Georgian English Sterling Silver Mounted Coconut Cup Dated 1808Stunning Large Heavy English Antique 1920 Solid Sterling Silver One Pint TankardAntique English Sterling Silver Albert Pocket Watch Chain No ReserveAntique Tiffany English King Sterling Silver Pie,pastry,cake Server,10"Antique English Sterling Silver Verge Fusee Pocket Watch Newman & Son LondonBoxed Set Of 6 Antique English Sterling Silver Coffee Spoons Sheffield 1913 Ref1Huge Enamel Margaret Thatcher British Military At Falklands Pill Box 925 SilverEnglish Sterling Silver 10 Inch Ruffled Flower VaseC1928, British Legion Military Interest, Solid Sterling Silver Cigarette Case

Recent News: English Sterling Silver

Source: Google News

Marshall Square Couple Asking for Stolen Items to be Returned
WJBF-TV, September 4th

She told officials she had antique family heirlooms, $300 in the a top drawer and a four- place setting of sterling silver flatware taken from her apartment. The Leggett's would like their items returned as most belonged to Mrs. Leggett's deceased mother...Read more

Reality checks you can do at home
Florida Weekly, September 2nd

So, if I see a “.925” or “925,” I have a good idea it is sterling silver. Similarly, gold will be marked “14k” or “10k.” However, finding these marks may be difficult. On a ring, the mark is usually on the inside of the shank, but it could be very...Read more

Auction Calendar
Bureau County Republican, September 2nd

6-7 — Two-day Labor Day estate auction, automobiles, firearms, ammo, coins, advertising, knives, train collection, NASCAR, toys, furniture, jukebox, collection of goat-related items, lamps, Sterling silver, glassware, 10 a.m., 1635 N. Main St...Read more

Successories owner designs for de Young 1915 exhibit
Chico Enterprise-Record, September 1st

For this upcoming exhibit, she designed many pieces of jewelry using antique buttons from 1915. Wiston is ... "The pieces are made with sterling silver, rose gold plates or 24-karat gold in keeping with the year 1915," she said. "I had to think back...Read more

The Faithful Shopper: Services I Swear By
Huffington Post, September 1st

Bring in a piece or two of flatware from your incomplete dining set of sterling silver cutlery to find matching partners, and, while you're there, shop the business' broad selection of antique sterling silver goods, including trays, cups, candlesticks...Read more

Boston area is host to a cluster of high-end flute makers
Boston Globe, August 27th

A piccolo with sterling silver key work sells for $7,000. The Burkart factory is a quiet, clean space. A huge American flag ... One, for example, repaired antique watches before joining the company. Another was a quilter and furniture maker. Others...Read more

Masterpieces! 8 Winning Works From 2015 Santa Fe Indian Market
Indian Country Today Media Network, August 26th

Class I: Jewelry winner, Ernest Benally (Navajo), 'Bolo on Handmade Leather', 26” Bolo with handmade Sterling Silver and inlaid gemstones and shells. Photo: Daniel Nadelbach. Source: facebook.com/ ... Class VIII: Beadwork & Quillwork winner, Jackie...Read more

Pasadena Antique Mall
Hometown Pasadena, August 25th

11107164_909588069084195_3374413876331368948_n The most important tenet to remember before heading into the Pasadena Antique Mall at Paseo Colorado is that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. One, because it's imperative to be ...Read more