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Silver hallmarks date letters


Birmingham silver hallmark

Pure precious metals, such as silver and gold, are generally too soft and malleable for practical use. They are therefore mixed or alloyed with other harder metals. Hallmarks provide impartial proof of an article's precious metal content.

British hallmarks date back to medieval times. In 1757, counterfeiting hallmarks was made a felony, punishable by death. Traditionally common control marks consisted of four punches. These were:

  • Maker or sponsor mark
  • Proportion of precious metal or fineness
  • Assay office, and
  • The year of testing.

The 1973 Act removed the date from being a compulsory mark. This left just the fineness, assay office, and maker as standard marks. Despite this, the year punch is still often included for tradition's sake.

The UK Hallmarking Act (1973) requires all silver items over 7.78 grams to be hallmarked. Hallmarking must be administered by recognised assay offices.
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Assay offices

Today there are four UK assay offices: Birmingham, Edinburgh, London and Sheffield. In addition to these current locations, there were also previously offices in:

● Chester - closed 1962
● Exeter - closed 1883
● Glasgow - closed 1964
● Newcastle - closed 1884
● Norwich - closed 1702
● York - closed 1858

There was also an office in Dublin - formerly part of the UK system - that is now an independent Irish Republic office.
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How to date silver hallmark letters?

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Silver Hallmark date letters 2000 2024

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To save space in the tiny British hallmarkings, the year is indicted by a letter of the alphabet. In order to avoid any confusion, at various times either one of the letters i , J and L have been omitted. Therefore, each period of alphabetic sequences consists of 25 letters - not 26. The alphabetic sequences are also differentiated by changes in typeface, punch shape, and changes from upper to lower case characters.

The system of letters has changed over time and there have even been local variations between the various assay offices. The hallmark years have also not always been calendar-years (January to December). Confusingly, hallmark years have changed at dates such as the month of a monarch's crowning or assay officers' terms of service.

The Birmingham Office, for example, which opened on 31 August 1773, traditionally changed letter in July each year. The London office, with its iconic leopard’s head punch, used to change years in May. Under the 1973 Act, these variations have been abolished and standardised across the UK. From 1975, all Assay offices have the same date letter which changes in January.

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Silver Hallmark date letters 1900 2019