Heres an update on my mini seriese on hallmarking which covers how to read the hallmarks that you can find on silver, gold and platinum jewellery. These are important to all collectors of antique and vintage jewellery as they help us to identify, date and value a piece.
- What are the different hallmark symbols?
- British hallmarks from the Victorian era through to the 1970s
- Current British hallmarks
- European hallmarks
- Useful books and websites
OK – Part one of my mini series on reading gold and silver hallmarks. Before we learn how to read them I though it would be useful to look at what useful information they tell us.
As far as I am concerned it is wonderful to find a piece of antique or vintage jewellery with a full set of British hallmarks. From a full set of British hallmarks on vintage and antique jewellery you can tell:
- what metal the jewellery is made of ( gold, silver or platinum)
- what the quality of that metal is ( 9 carat or 22 carat gold?)
- the date the piece was hallmarked ( 1870 or 1970?)
- the town it was hallmarked in
- the sponsors mark of the company who had the piece hallmarked ( often the maker or artist but could be a retailer)
So from these tiny marks we can gain really accurate and guaranteed information. No wonder antique British jewellery is so popular to collect.More recently (since 1999) the British hallmarking system has changed and we can often get less information but that will affect vintage collectors of the future rather than those of today. At least we can tell that the piece is after 1999. Each European country has a different set of marks some useful, others very difficult. I will cover other European countries later on.
Before we go any further arm yourself with a loup ( a jewellers 10x magnifying glass) and carefully clean out the dirt from the hallmarks on the metal. They are often so clogged up you cant read them. Unless you are certain that all the gems set into your jewellery are safe to clean do take care and seek specialist advice before carrying out this step. I also find that pen and paper is handy – copy out the hallmarks the letters and shapes. This means that you can use the hallmark tables without needing to keep examining the piece.
You are going to find a huge variety of marks and also many of your pieces of jewellery will not have any hallmarks – I will cover how to identify jewellery without hallmarks at a later date
Since my previous post on vintage jewellery hallmarks I have received a couple of queries about loupes – where to get one, which one to choose and how to use one.
There are good loupes and bad ones, as with most things in life you pay a little more for quality. If you are going to be examining lots of hallmarks its best to go for a slightly better one. Above are two loupes both have the same 10 x magnification – the tatty black one is the one I use every day, the shiny silver one I would only use in an emergency – it hurts my eyes to spend much time using that. The larger loupe has a lens about 20mm diameter. The smaller one is about 14mm.
The black loupe is not only slightly larger but it has a better quality lens ( I dont understand the technical stuff here but its know as a Triplet lens) which allows me to read the hallmarks more clearly. I seem to remember paying about £5 for the silver one and about £25 for the black one. You can get better quality (and more expensive ) loupes than this but for the purpose of reading hallmarks this would be quite sufficient.
To use a loupe you hold it in your hand a bit like a fat pencil between the thumb and index finger and then use the middle finger to steady it. Your piece of hallmarked jewellery goes into the opposite hand. The loupe is used very close up to your eye – almost touching your eye lashes or reading glasses. The hallmarked piece of vintage jewellerygoes quite close to the loupe, just move it about until you can focus clearly. Can you see the hallmarks clearly now? Using a loupe does take a bit of practice but its worth putting in the effort.
Where to buy a loupe?
Its best if you can get the chance to try a few out – there are often stalls selling loupes at the larger antique fairs . Here you can try out a few different ones until you find something that suits. You could but a cheap one on eBay but personally I have used this website
What are the different hallmark symbols you find on vintage jewellery. Well there can be all sorts of different marks . This is part three of my guide to hallmarking on British vintage and antique jewellery and it covers the standard symbols.
Here is a full set of silver hallmarks on a piece of vintage jewellery. Think these are difficult to read? To me these are about the average standard of readability you can expect on an older piece as hallmarks do tend to wear away at the edges. There are several things to note here reading from left to right:
- the initials ( this is the sponsor or markers mark)
- - the anchor ( This is the Town mark for Birmingham)
- - the lion passant ( The standard mark for English Sterling Silver)
- - the letter Z and the font this is written in ( This is the date letter)
- - the shape of the area the symbols are set into ( this helps with the dating)
The list of sponsors or makers marks is beyond the scope of this mini series although you will get to know the famous ones eg CH with a Chester town mark is Charles Horner.There are lots of town marks however it is highly unlikely you will come across any British ones outside of this list:Birmingham, Sheffield, London, Chester, Glasgow, Edinburgh.You now need a Hallmark book and learn the symbol for each town – but briefly for most purposed you are looking at:
- Anchor = Birmingham
- Crown = Sheffield ( changed to Rose in 1975)
- Leopards head = London
- 3 wheat sheaves = Chester
- Castle – Edinburgh
- Tree = Glasgow
- Harp = Dublin ( often included in British hallmark tables)
The Metal symbol
Lion passant ( faces left) = sterling silverGold has a crown and the carat number. The crown was omitted in lower carats before 1973. At this time the carat number was replaced with the fineness number:
- 9 carat .375
- 14 carat .585 ( from 1931)
- 15 carat .625 ( only until 1931)
- 18 carat .750
- 22 carat .916
Platinum was not always hallmarked before 1973 when it was given the shape of an orb with a cross stuck on the top.The Date Letter:You will need a set of hallmark tables to look these up. Basically you find the town first and go to the section in the table for that town. You then find the series of letters with the same font and shape of hallmark to determine the date.Part four of AntiquesAvenue’s guide to Hallmarks on Vintage Jewellery and Antique Jewellery:
Most of the Vintage and antique Jewellery we see today dates between the mid Victorian era and the 1970s so these are the most important Hallmarks to be able to read if we are looking at Vintage jewellery. The hallmarks during this time are complicated and often the jewellery has been worn and the hallmarks have become faint so they may be difficult to read. These hallmarks are for silver and gold only as Platinum was not hallmarked during this time. You can find the date letters, town marks and makers marks as well as the metal purity as hallmarks at this time.
There are a few rules which will help you to roughly date and identify your piece of jewellery without needing to look up the hallmarks in a set of complicated Hallmark tables:GOLD (1854 to 1973):
- From the Middle ages until 1853 there were only two standards of gold 18 and 22 carat
- In 1854 the lower carats of 9 (.375), 12 (.5) and 15 (.625) were introduced
- Between 1854 and 1974 articles made of the lower carats were marked with their carat mark and value.
- 18 and 22 carat golds would have the carat mark and a crown hallmark in England and a Thistle in Scotland
- In 1932 the 12 and 15 carat golds were replaced by 14 carat (.585)
Silver (Victorian times to 1973)
- There were just two standards of silver Britannia (.958) and Sterling ( .925) with sterling being by far the most common
- Britannia silver is denoted by the Britannia mark
- Sterling silver is hallmarked by the lion passant (England) and a Thistle ( Scotland)
There are all sorts of additional hallmarks and markings you can find on a piece of jewellery – Monarchs heads and special event commemorative marks for example. By the way if you see fine scratches in markings these are not hallmarks but identification marks made by various jewellers and pawnbrokers over the years.
If you find a piece of antique jewellery without hallmarks it may still be made of gold or silver but to be certain you need to get the metal tested and this is a skilled process which takes time to learn and care to carry out accurately.
The law changed in 1973 and is become quite a bit stricter and more uniform. I will discuss the hallmarks on more contemporary jewellery in the next part of my guide.
Sometimes we get lucky and the hallmarks are clear to read and easy to look up. This set of hallmarks if from a silver bangle. CPS is the markers mark, The anchor is the town mark for Birmingham , the lion passant means that is is sterling silver . The letter X is a date letter – I need to refer to my hallmark tables for Birmingham and look for a letter X in the same font and background shape. In this case 1972. The word sterling is not a hallmark as such just additional information to help the customer.