How to Read a Hallmark

Before Christmas I wrote a post on the process of hallmarking and how and why you would send your work for hallmarking. To read this post click here.

My Silver Spoon
My Silver Spoon
Silver Spoon, showing hallmark
Silver Spoon, showing hallmark

I borrowed a silver spoon that my dad bought recently so I could write a post on how you go about reading a hallmark. You can see from the photo above this spoon has a clearly stamped hallmark. Although the makers mark is more faint as harder to read.

Hallmark, close up
Hallmark, close up

The first thing to do when reading a hallmark is to find out at which assay office it was hallmarked. I know from looking at this that it was hallmarked in Dublin because of the mark with the harp and crown. This mark is known as the mark of origin and is different for every assay office. While Dublin has the symbol of the harp and crown, Birmingham uses an anchor symbol and Edinburgh a castle. The Irish assay office no longer uses this, now we’re gone all European and just use the Hibernia mark and a metal fineness mark.

Irish Hallmarks
Irish Hallmarks

The second mark on this spoon is the mark of Hibernia. This mark was introduced by the Dublin assay office in 1731 so at least I know from this that the spoon was made after that year. This mark is still stamped on all silver hallmarked in Ireland.

There can also be a fourth mark which is the date letter. This letter changes every year and has a different font and shape every cycle. For example the shape of the date letter can change from a shield (1871-1895) to a rectangle (1896-1915)  The cycle can run from twenty four to twenty six years, from A to Z but sometimes they leave out letters. I have no idea why, but let me know if you do!

This spoon doesn’t have a date letter so I will have to use the other marks to give me a rough idea as to when it was hallmarked. One of the ways to do this is through the makers mark. If I can find out who ‘B.T’ is and when he/she was registered with the Dublin assay office I can find out in what period the spoon was made.

I found a great website that lists some makers registered to the Dublin assay office. Click here to see it. From this website I found out the ‘B.T.’ that made my spoon was Benjamin Tait. They list the year 1790 beside his name but it doesn’t give the date range when he was registered. So off I went on a google ing frenzy to find out all I could about Benjamin Tait. Unfortunately I couldn’t find out much about Mr Tait so back I went to my book of hallmarks to see the Dublin marks for that period.

Dublin Hallmarks
Dublin Hallmarks

It turns out that the 1790 harp and hibernia marks were in ovals unlike in my spoon where they are rectangular. They remained rectangular from 1793 to 1809  so I can deduce from this that my spoon was hallmarked during this period.

So that’s my guide to reading a hallmark. From those three little stamps I found out that the spoon was made by Benjamin Tait between 1793 and 1809 and was hallmarked in Dublin Castle.

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