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A Brief History

  

Since time immemorial silver has held a value above material and economic consideration. It is mentioned in the book of Genesis, and slag heaps found in Asia Minor and on the islands of the Aegean Sea indicate that silver was being separated from lead as early as the 4th millennium BC.

 

In Roman and Greek mythology, the first age was called Golden, the second Silver. Apollo, the god of truth and light, carried a silver bow. His twin sister Artemis lost a hand in battle and was given a silver replacement by the god of healing.

 

The word ‘silver’ appears in Anglo-Saxon in various spellings such as seolfor and siolfor. A similar form is seen amid the Teutonic languages - silabar and silbir. The chemical symbol Ag is from the Latin for silver, ‘argentum’ (compare Greek árgyros), from the root *arg- meaning ‘white’ or ‘shining’.

 

So from earliest times, silver and gold have been symbols of wealth. In Britain, the combination of great silversmiths and designers and the controlled legislation governing the quality of silver, or hallmarking, has meant that British silver has long been regarded as the best in the world. Today, traditional skills are aided by modern technology to produce high-quality pieces ensuring silver remains a fine, prestigious and lasting gift.

 

Sterling Silver

Pure silver is a too soft to be practical for making coins or domestic items. During the Saxon period in England the percentage of silver in coinage was fixed at 92.5%, the other 7.5% being copper. This alloy provided both good strength and colour while retaining a high intrinsic value.  It remains the composition of British sterling silver today.

As a consequence of its original role as an independent guarantee to the customer of the fineness of the metal, the hallmark has also evolved as a means of determining when, where and by whom a piece has been made; all adding to the fascination, romance and lore of silver.

  
  

NOTEWORTHY DATES

The use of hallmarks, at first on silver, has a long history dating back to the fourth century AD and represents the oldest known form of consumer protection. A series or system of five marks has been found on Byzantine silver dating from this period though their interpretation is still not completely resolved.* In the 4th century AD the Byzantines were marking silver with a series or system of five marks although their interpretation is not completely understood.

•  By 1238 the 925 standard (sterling) was imposed for coinage and domestic pieces in England. Wardens were appointed to assay (check) quality and search out law-breakers.

 Comparable marking systems were developed in other European countries over the same period. France in 1272 is the most historic, Scotland 1457, Ireland 1495, Holland 1503 and Belgium 1527.
 
 
From 1300  silverware and coinage in Britain were marked with a leopard’s head representative of being made in London.

• In 1355 individual maker marks were introduced in France, a concept that was made statute in 1363 in Britain.
 
 
In 1427 the date letter system was established in France, allowing the accurate dating of any hallmarked piece.

• In 1478 the Assay Office was established in Goldsmiths' Hall in London and the date letter system was introduced throughout England. To prevent fraud, makers were required to present pieces for testing at the assay “halls”, hence the introduction of “hallmarks”.

 
In Britain, a fourth mark, the sterling ‘lion passant’, was added in 1544.

 
In 1697, a higher standard of silver, known as the Britannia standard (95.8% silver) was made compulsory in England to protect the new coinage which was being melted down by silversmiths for the silver. The sterling standard was restored in 1720.