Hallmarks are used all over the world to give information about the item they are imprinted on. This includes marking an item as containing precious metals, such as platinum, gold, silver and palladium, and may also give other information, such as who made the item, and when. Identifying hallmarks can be difficult, but there are some ways to make identification easier.
Check for a number. This is usually ".925" or "925", which shows that the item is made of sterling silver. This is the same for both English and American items. Pure silver is very weak and malleable, so is rarely used without another metal added for durability.
Look for an icon. These can be varying sizes, and are usually on the bottom of items. There are several icons which frequently appear. For American items, a harp is the mark of an item manufactured by Worden Munnis, and Mauser use a flying unicorn. English items may have a leopard's head, which indicates the item was made in London, a crown or rose for Sheffield, an anchor for Birmingham and a castle for Edinburgh.
Search for initials. These may be close to an icon, or used on their own. Frequently, they are two letters printed quite small. An example of this is "AD", used to signify Amos Dolittle, a famous American silversmith.
Photograph the hallmark. Show it as fully as possible, using different photographs if necessary.
Match the hallmark online or using a book of hallmarks. Different companies may have differing icons, which can be confusing, but do give you a time range when your item was manufactured. Unusual hallmarks can heighten an item's value.
If you are unsure about a hallmark, take the item to an auctioneer. He will have a knowledge of hallmarks and is likely to be able to identify it and give you an approximate value for the item.