Silver and silver plated pieces usually have a mark or name on the bottom. If nothing is written on the bottom, it may be in other areas. Use a magnifying glass to get a clear view of the markings. There may be small sets of pictures or a group of numbers hidden somewhere on the front of the item.
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A series of small pictures, called hallmarks, may be found on the bottom of the silver or silver-plated piece. Four or five separate pictures engraved or indented are typical of English silversmiths' work. A picture of a lion indicates solid silver or what is referred to in the United States as sterling. A king's or queen's head will indicate that it is English and was made during the reign of the king or queen who is pictured. The King George III and IV profile picture faces to the left; the Queen Victoria hallmark faces to the right. A letter indented in the silver represents the year it was made. Other letters are usually the maker's initials. A leopard's head indicates it was made in London, and other animal figures represent other cities. Pseudo hallmarks were used by some American silversmiths to show that the American piece was just as good as its foreign counterpart. An eagle, hand, star or some other small figure may be visible.
Initials and Names
Initials and names were used on silver and silver plate as early as 1688. For example, in 1688, the initials "RC" represented a silversmith named Richard Conyers, who was one of the first-known American silversmiths. A small crown on top of the initials indicated the piece came from Boston. From then until the late 1800s, names and initials were used. American silversmiths are the only ones who attempted to mark their work similar to the way the English did. In 1814, in Baltimore, Maryland, an essay office was established and marks were placed on silver pieces. After 1814, the head of liberty, a date letter and a small picture of the arms of Baltimore indicating the city along with the maker's initials or name was used. The date letter system consisted of an alphabetical letter assigned to the date the piece was created. This entire system was discontinued in 1830. Silversmiths then created their own system of identification. Numbers such as 10.15 or 11/12 indicated the amount of pure silver in the metal.
American Plated Silver
Insignias were favoured for American silver plate. The most often used one was a circle with the maker's name inside it. The words "A1," "plate," "quadruple" or "triple" indicated that it was plated silver. The words "England or "made in the USA" found on a piece indicate the silver or silver plate was made after 1891. Words such as "coin," "premium," "quality" and "standard" appeared on mid-19th century American coin silver. The word "sterling" appears on Irish silver that was made after 1720 or on work by American silversmiths after the mid-1800s. Numbers that are marked on pieces such as 800 or 900 indicate the quality of the silver and that it is solid silver. These numbers were used in Germany, Italy and Russia. American and English silver must be marked .925 to indicate solid or sterling silver.
The words "silver plate" on an English piece has the same meaning as "sterling" in the United States. When a thin layer of silver is placed on another metal in the United States, it is indicated by the words "silver plated." Note the addition of the letters "ed". It is also possible to invoke the process of elimination, or to eliminate time periods when a piece could not have been created. For example, a piece that contains a plastic insert or something similar tells you immediately that it was created after plastic was invented. Knowing what a piece was made for and how it was used will help determine the year it was made. For example, the 2-cup teapot was used before larger, fat teapots. A tea caddie spoon wasn't used until after the 18th century. To do research online or at a public library, make a drawing or a pencil rubbing of the impressions on the piece or keep a photo in your digital camera that you can refer to. There are many illustrated books at the library that show a complete listing of silversmith marks.
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