Hallmarks are the small engravings on silver items that denote the maker, date or country of origin. These can take the form of simple letters and shapes or elaborate small images and faces. Hallmarks were first used in France in the mid-13th century. There are hundreds of different French hallmarks, some of them obscure and rare. However, you can identify many French hallmarks by looking for a few distinguishing features.
Turn the silver item round with your hands until you can find a hallmark.
Look for a diamond-shaped lozenge with letters inside. This is a French maker's mark, designating the original item manufacturer.
Search for what looks like a woman's head facing right, wearing a helmet. This is the Roman goddess Minerva. Minerva is the mark for French silver.
Check for a boar's head looking left or a crab mark. These are found on smaller items such as snuff boxes, vinaigrettes and card cases.
Search for other hallmarks that have a bearded man, duck, cockerel, wolf or a man with a winged helmet. These were all used as hallmarks during various eras in France, according to the website 925-1000. A decorative letter "A" with a crown on top means that an item was made in Paris.
View the list of hallmarks on the 925-1000 website (see Resources) or in a reputable French hallmark guide, such as "Tardy's International Hallmarks on Silver."
Beware of forgeries. If you're considering buying an expensive item, it's worth seeking a professional opinion.