The first official marks on Scottish silver appeared in 1457. This was due to an enactment implemented requiring a minimum of 91.66% silver content for silver objects. These silver pieces were struck with both the maker’s mark and the deacon's mark. The deacon was the chief office bearer of the craft in the town and was often a silversmith himself. In 1485 another enactment was introduced requiring the town of origin to be stated, meaning that three marks were now struck.
Date letter and Assay Master's mark
The year 1681 proved to be an important year for striking Scottish silver as two key changes came into effect. Firstly, a date letter was added to denote the year of production. These chronological letters which went through alphabetical cycles are still used to the present day. Secondly, the Deacon's mark was replaced by the Assay Master's mark. The Assay Masters were working silversmiths and, rather like the Deacons before them, struck their initials into the silverware. Hence pieces were struck with what appeared to be two maker's marks along with both the town and date letter mark.
English sterling silver
In 1720 the Scottish silver content standard was raised to 92.5% to be in line with English sterling silver which had been reintroduced. However, this did not have any effect on Scottish silver marks. In 1759 the Assay Master's mark was replaced with a Thistle, which is perhaps the most familiar mark people associate with as being Scottish. These marks remained the same up until 1975 after which the Thistle was replaced with the Lion rampant.
Although the above is typical of Scottish silver primarily produced in Edinburgh, there are many variations with regards to Scottish provincial marks. For example, during the late 18th and early 19th century, makers often stamped their initials twice and would use their own town mark. Also, the town mark would be either an abbreviation of the town’s name, or alternatively a heraldic symbol synonymous with the town. Many of these marks were devised by the silversmiths themselves and hence there are no clear rules to follow in this respect.
If you have any silver that you would like to sell then please contact Robin Newcombe, silver specialist at Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent.
- Posted by Robin Newcombe