History of Hallmarks

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A hallmark, sometimes called a standard, hall, or assay mark, is an impressed symbol indicating the quality of a silver, gold or platinum item. The first hallmarks were used in 1300 A.D. for gold objects. Major differences arose between different countries' markings in Europe, but these have decreased with the growth in membership of the European Common Market, the passage of the European Economic Area Hallmark laws in the late 1990s and 2000s, and adherence to regulations outlined by the International Hallmarking Convention.

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Assay Testing Offices

Modern hallmarks include a maker's mark, an assay office mark and a mark for the purity of the metal. U.K. assay offices are located in the cities of Edinburgh, Birmingham, London and Sheffield, which are historic centres for gold, silver and platinum production. Testing and hallmarking of platinum was instituted in 1976. Other European countries have testing offices as well.

Beginnings

Early hallmarks, called carats, were used on gold to indicate the quality of 9 through 22 carats, with 19 1/5 established in 1477 as a standard. Hallmarks indicating the town of origin also began to be used in 1378.

Town Marks

The use of town marks expanded in the 1700s, as additional towns and cities began making goods and expanding banking operations. These marks included the introduction of a castle mark for Exeter in 1701, a Hibernia mark for Dublin in 1731, the thistle for Edinburgh in 1759, and a lion rampant mark in 1819 representing the city of Glasgow.

Symbols

Date letter hallmarks, which assist in identification of antique goods, were introduced in 1478. Some date letters incorporate the city mark, such as Edinburgh, and are still in use today. Impressed symbols are another key to reading and dating hallmarks. A lion mark indicates an item made from sterling silver beginning in 1544. The Britannia mark was mandated for silver made after 1697. All imported silver was required to carry a duty mark starting in 1774, and a special mark for imported goods was introduced in 1867. During the Silver Jubilees of 1934, 1952 and 1977, special hallmarks were used on goods. A Millennium Mark was used on goods manufactured during 1999 through 2000. These symbols are no longer required, due to the new international hallmarking.

Modern Hallmarks

Modern markings are a guarantee to partner countries ratifying the Acts that imported items need not be retested for quality. They indicate that the country of origin has done testing that meets guidelines set forth under laws. This regulation includes the phrase "no negative tolerances," meaning that an item marked 750 gold has at least 750 parts per thousand (or 75 per cent), the minimum standard. The new hallmark standards include gold, silver and platinum, with gold markings at 375, 585, 750, 916, 990 and 999. Silver hallmarks include 800, 925 (formerly called "Sterling" weight in the UK), 958 (formerly called "Britannia" weight in the UK) and 999. Platinum standards include marks for 850, 900, 950 and 999 parts per thousand.

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