Russian silver is enjoying a wave of increased value because of a renewed interest in the art and history of the country. It is commanding premium prices at auction houses and online auction sites across the country. To discover whether grandma's silver tea set is a Russian treasure, learn to identify the hallmarks of Russian silver.
Inspect the bottom of a silver item. You will be looking for small marks stamped into the silver. These are the hallmarks, and Russian silver has four of them. They will consist of numbers and symbols inside of a circle, oval or rectangular shape called a cartouche.
Identify the maker's mark. This will be a set of initials, usually two, within a cartouche. You can use this mark to look up the initials in a guidebook to learn who made the silver. Note the style of letters used. Russian makers used both Cyrillic letters from the Russian alphabet and the more familiar Latin letters. The shape of the cartouche can be a clue to help you find the right maker.
Locate the assayer's mark. You usually can find it near the maker's mark as a part of a cluster of government hallmarks (assayer, city and quality). The assayer is the government official who tests the quality of the silver. If it passed inspection, the assayer stamped his initials on it with the date immediately below as a part of the same mark. The assayer's mark is always in Russian Cyrillic letters.
Find the city mark, which is usually a coat of arms or other similar symbol. City marks change over time, so a guidebook for Russian hallmarks is essential for identifying the city. For instance, St. Petersburg used a double-headed eagle clutching a dagger from 1700 to 1740. After that, two anchors forming a cross over a vertical sceptre replaced it.
Inspect the quality mark to determine the amount of silver used in the item. It consists of a two-digit number that denotes the silver content in parts per thousand. The numbers are a part of a Russian system, called zolotniks, which does not correspond directly to other accepted silver quality systems. For instance, the zolotnik number 84 on Russian silver converts to 87.5 per cent silver, not 84 per cent silver. A guidebook will help you decipher the zolotniks, which range from 62 to 91. In late 1886, a head was added to the quality mark by edict of Tsar Nicholas II. This is called the Kokoshnik mark. The head has changed a number of times over the years, crowned or uncrowned, sometimes looking left, other times looking right, but from 1869 on all Russian silver will have a head in the quality mark.