What is a Hallmark

A hallmark is one or more marks that are stamped on items made of precious metals such as silver, gold, platinum, and palladium in some countries to officially designate the purity of the metal that the items is made of.  Some countries do not recognize palladium as a precious metal.

The modern practice was instituted originally in England by the Guild of Goldsmiths at one of its assay offices in 1300, enacted as a statute by King Edward I, and subsequently modified.  It would identify purity, date of manufacture, and sometimes the creator of the item.  However, historically, the practice of control and inspection of precious metals and respective marking with identification hallmarks dates back as far as the 4th century A.D., where a series of 5 marks have been identified to be used in Byzantine silver from that period.

To be a complete hallmark, the item needs to have an identifier of fineness, along with a stamping identifying an official authority that guarantees the fineness of the metal.  The guaranteeing body is called a responsibility mark, or sponsor’s mark.  An international convention exists for this, called the Vienna Convention on the Control of the Fineness and the Hallmarking of Precious Metal Objects.

Silver jewelry and silverware should always be hallmarked.  Some of the jewelry is marked on the inside of the item (such as on a ring), while others are marked on the clasps or findings.  The markings are usually tiny, requiring a magnifying glass for proper viewing.  Sterling silver items should be hallmarked as 925 or with the word sterling, which can be on its own or embedded as part of the manufacturer’s emblem or sponsor's mark, or the silhouette of a lion (known as the lion passant).

If your silver item stamped with the letters EP, EPNS, EPC, EPBM, A1, or quadruple plate, then it is not made of silver.  It is made of another metal alloy (usually composed primarily of copper), and then a thin layer of silver is electroplated through an electro-chemical process that deposits the silver metal onto the surface of the base metal.  The quality of the electroplating can vary from just a few atoms thick to about one millimeter in thickness of silver.

If you wish to consult further information on hallmarks of the world, you may wish to consult two excellent reference websites.  The first is the Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, a site offering a pictorial reference of more than 10,000 marks.  The second is Silver Mine, which contains a wealth of information on silver hallmarks, including British hallmarks and world silver standards. The official Birmingham Assay Office can also be referenced with a complete reference of current and historical British hallmark symbols.

 


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