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These five nations have, historically, provided a wealth of information about a piece through their series of applied punches.
It should be noted that since 2015 visually identical UK Hallmarks are being struck in India and Italy by sub-offices of Birmingham & Sheffield Assay Offices respectively: London assay office hallmarks on the back of a waiter, or small square salver.
Hallmarks are authenticating marks struck on most silver items produced or offered for sale in Ireland. Though technically they were breaking the law, this interesting quirk of history gives pieces from these locations their own unique history and charm.
Since 1637 the Assay Office in Dublin Castle has been the only body with the authority to perform this task. The photo below shows typical Cork marks; JN, for John Nicholson, stamped twice, either side of the word “Sterling”.
It has always been difficult to determine the purity of silver in an object by visual means and many countries have tried to establish a system of ensuring that certain standards are kept to protect customers who buy silver objects.
Therefore, hallmarking is generally done before the piece goes for its final polishing.The photo below shows a typical set of antique Irish silver hallmarks. However, sometimes it can be a challenge to identify which year a piece of Irish silver was made – the differences between some of the cycles can require a trained eye. Provincial silver marks Although Dublin was the only official assay office in Ireland, in the 18th century several exceptions occured; at the time the risk of highwaymen stealing the silver was ever present, so silversmiths in certain cities, notably Cork, Galway, Kinsale, Youghal and Waterford, didn’t send their wares to Dublin but instead stamped them themselves.The hallmark for sterling silver varies from nation to nation, often using distinctive historic symbols, although Dutch and UK Assay offices no longer strike their traditional hallmarks exclusively in their own territories and undertake assay in other countries using marks that are the same as those used domestically.One of the most highly structured hallmarking systems in the world is that of the United Kingdom, (Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland), and Ireland.
Fortunately, with the use of a single reference book, it is possible for even a complete novice to decipher the vast majority.