Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Family Silver...

Today I took the family silver (above and below) out of the cabinets to give it a good polish and decide what, if anything, we would pack up before the open homes (aside: Open homes are one of the most ghastly torments that One must endure in order to dispose of One's property. One has all and sundry invade One's inner most sanctum, passing all manner of ill-educated comments about One's taste and allowing the criminal 'fraternity' to size up your entire estate. Avoid them at all cost if you can).

Above and Below: Other bits of silver on display or locked away...

If one is in the market for investing in Silver then one need go no further than the London Silver Vaults...

The London Silver Vaults is a wonderful place to shop for antique silver.

World famous, the London Silver Vaults have long held a reputation as a must-see destination in London, attracting Collectors, dealers, and tourists from around the world for over 50 years. Situated in Chancery Lane amidst London's legal district, the Silver Vaults reflect a true part of traditional England, depicting the quintessential brilliance and superiority of English Craftsmanship in Silver, unsurpassed the world over.

Home to the largest collection of Antique Silver in the World, the Vaults, situated below ground, date back to 1882 when the nearby Chancery Lane Safe deposit was opened and used by London's wealthy and elite in order to safeguard their household silver, jewellery and personal documents. Merchants in nearby areas such as 'Hatton Gardens' (centre of the Diamond trade,) would use the vaults each night to put away their valuable pieces and collect them again in the morning ready for their daily trading. As the vaults became more reputable over time, trading transpired from the building itself with many of the original clientele being replaced by silver dealers who required secure premises for their valuable stock.

During the Second World War, the building above the Vaults was destroyed by bombing and almost a decade later a new building emerged in 1953, known today as Chancery House. Today the vaults consist of over 40 shops open to the public, and it is from whence my engagement set of cufflinks and signet ring (Silver, Gold, Diamonds and Caversham polished Sapphires) came ...


There has been a quality control of goods made of silver since the 14th century and the organisation that regulates the craft, Goldsmiths Hall, has given England and the world the term "hallmark".

Every piece of silver made must be sent to the Assay Office for testing to ensure that it is of the required standard of sterling silver and, provided it conforms to that standard, a series of symbols are stamped on to each separate part of each article which today, and for the last several centuries, can show the place and year of manufacture, as well as who made or sponsored the item. With the help of a pocket-sized hallmark book and a little bit of explanation from someone who knows how to "break the code," it is great fun and also a way of perhaps finding a piece that was made in a year or city that might hold particular relevance and provide the perfect gift or commemorative item.

The law imposed on silver hallmarking is very strict and if the standard does not comply the article will not be hallmarked and probably destroyed.

A false hallmark has always been treated with the utmost severity within the law. Historically, a silver smith was pilloried for their first offence and they would be pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables. If they offended again, a limb would be hacked off and, until the 1720's, the death penalty was the sentence meted out to persistent offenders. The reason for this seemingly Draconian behaviour was that the manufacture of silver and gold was allied to the minting of currency. Therefore, by debasing these metals one was, in effect, undermining the coin of the realm, which was a treasonable offence - the ultimate quality control!

The Hallmarks
The Britannia Standard Mark

From 1696 to 1720 the standard of silver was raised from 92.5% to 95.8% pure. It was denoted by the figure of Britannia and the ‘lion’s head erased’.

The Lion Passant
Sometimes called the Sterling Mark, the lion passant, the mark for ‘made in England’, first appeared on English silver and gold in 1544. For two years it was crowned, but has been struck ever since in its present form, with minor variations, by all English Assay Offices.
Assay Office Marks
The Sheffield Rose (formerly Crown)

Used from the inception of the Assay Office in 1773 , the Crown was the town mark of Sheffield. Because of possible confusion with the Crown mark used after 1798 as the hallmark for 18ct gold the mark was changed on January 1st 1975 for a rose which had incidentally, been used as the gold mark of Sheffield when the Assay Office there was entitled to test the mark gold after March 1st 1904. Between 1708 and 1853 the crown is often incorporated with the date letter struck on small objects.

The Birmingham Anchor

When the Birmingham Assay Office was established in 1773, largely due to the representations of the great Midlands industrialist, Matthew Boulton, the mark of an anchor was adopted as the town mark. By tradition, it is said that Birmingham and Sheffield tossed for the marks derived from the sign of the Crown and Anchor tavern in London - where the promoters of the two new offices met. On the occasion of the Assay Office’s bicentenary in 1973, Birmingham struck a special anchor with a ‘C’ on either side of the stock, to indicate two hundred years.

London Leopard’s Head

The first hallmark to be used was the leopard’s head, in the year 1300. In that year, a decree by Edward I laid down that silver or gold could not be made or sold unless it was marked by the leopard’s head or ‘The King’s Mark’ as it was then known. This mark became ‘crowned’ in 1478 and remained ‘crowned’ until 1821. Since 1821, the uncrowned leopard’s head has remained as the distinguishing mark of London.

Edinburgh Castle & Thistle
Scottish hallmarks have been regulated by statute since 1457 but the earliest known example dates only from 1556 – 7. The Incorporation of Goldsmiths of the City of Edinburgh was thought to be in the 1490’s and the earliest surviving records date from 1525.
Dublin -- Hibernia and Harp

The hallmarking of Irish silver began towards the middle of the 17th century. The mark of origin is the Harp Crowned and it appears with a date letter and maker’s mark. In 1731, the figure of Hibernia was added.

The one piece I would like to add to our collection of (mainly Georgian) silver is a cow creamer...

I have coveted one ever since I saw this episode of Jeeves and Wooster...

Aunt Dahlia is determined to get a silver cow creamer for Uncle Tom, but Sir Watkin Bassett beats her to it. So Dahlia enlists Bertie to steal the creamer for her. Bertie is reluctant to get involved in the matter, having had some past experience with Sir Watkin, but it seems he has no choice in the matter.

Arriving at Tottleigh Towers (actually Highclere Castle in Hampshire), Bertie finds Gussie once again on the outs with Madeline Bassett, and himself blackmailed by Stiffy Bing, who also wants him to steal the cow creamer so that her fiance, "Stinker" Pinker, can seemingly find it and impress her uncle, Sir Watkin. Roderick Spode has different ideas, and warns Bertie off, threatening bodily harm if anything happens to the cow creamer. All seems lost until Jeeves puts his mind to the matter, discovers some evidence to get rid of Spode, and manages to settle the matter of the cow creamer to the satisfaction of Aunt Dahlia...


  1. I collected silver for ages (until the market skyrocked out of my reach) and know the Silver Vaults very well indeed. But since most families aren't mega wealthy, they really only want a few silver pieces to be exquisitely beautiful, stand out and shine. Preferably on a polished mahogany table top.

    Good luck with the entire house selling process.

  2. You certainly have an impressive collection of silverware.
    I can remember polishing my mothers silver as a child, (not nearly the collection you have mind you!), and I remember feeling that it was an important task, although I enjoyed it so much it was hardly work to me.

  3. Nice post. And lovely collection of silver. In Baltimore, Maryland there is a consignment shop that gets in English Georgian and Victorian sterling silver all the time. I have bought many a piece over the years for little of nothing because the owners don't know English hallmarks. To them if a piece is not marked sterling spelled out on the bottom it's not silver.

  4. I used to collect and had a few books on the Marks. This was very interesting. You have some lovely items. The movie had so sound.
    I hate to polish silver.
    Have a merry Christmas


  5. Wow! That’s great collection of sterling silver Vermeil Sets. This is truly fantastic family heirloom for generation. One can definitely add this astonishing flatware to family’s dinnerware pattern. Thanks for sharing with us.


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