Antique and vintage jewellery produced in Great Britain typically bears two types of markings. One is the maker's mark, which refers to a marking left behind by the designer to identify his work, but not all jewellery has this mark. The other is the hallmark and this refers to the metal used in the piece and the quality of that metal. When you find a piece of old jewellery, it's important to identify it properly to determine its value.
Check the back of the piece for a series of three pictures, each in its own small square. Pay attention to the first drawing or image, as this indicates where the piece was made. The symbol of an anchor for example, indicates that the piece was made in Birmingham, while a leopard's head indicates it was made in London.
Look at the second marking, which refers to the quality or type of silver used in the piece. If the piece has a small lion, this means it's made of sterling silver and made in England. Scotland had its own marking, which took the form of a thistle. Britannia silver, which was of a better quality than sterling silver, used a picture of Britannia.
Read the last image, which is actually a letter. Britain marked silver with a specific letter, which refers to its year of production. The background of the letter and the style changes each time silver production enters a new cycle. British hallmark books include images of each letter with its corresponding date.
Identify American reproductions by looking for three symbols lined up together and etched into the silver, rather than those created by a designer. The American Gorham Manufacturing Co. often used a lion, anchor and capital G on their pieces, to make it look more like British silver.
Compare the maker's mark against those found in the Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks and Makers' Marks. This website includes the same information found in books, but is easier to access and includes an entire section on English jewellery. Identify who created your piece by finding the mark on the site.
Hallmarking dates back to the 1300s in Great Britain, but as some designers didn't use a maker's mark, you may only discover when the piece was made and not who made it.
Tips and warnings
- Hallmarking dates back to the 1300s in Great Britain, but as some designers didn't use a maker's mark, you may only discover when the piece was made and not who made it.