In 1697 a new high standard rate of silver was introduced known as the Britannia Standard. Britannia silver was an increase from the sterling standard rate of 92.5% to 95.84%. The reason for its introduction was actually a consequence of the English Civil War (1642 - 1651) during which massive amounts of silver had been melted down and converted into money to pay the troops.
Creation of the Brittania mark
After the civil war ended and Charles II was restored to the throne in 1660, the demand for domestic silver rose astronomically and hence coins were being melted down to fulfill the demand. To effectively halt the destruction of the coinage the practice was deemed illegal in 1697 and the creation of the higher Britannia 95.84% rate prevented silversmiths from using the sterling standard coins. This drove them to find other alternative sources with higher silver content.
Sterling marks changed
Between the dates 1697 and 1720, in order to emphasize that this new standard was in force, the usual sterling marks were all changed. For example, the sterling lion was replaced by the figure of Britannia, the leopard's head was replaced with a head of a lion and there was an entirely new alphabetical cycle of date letters starting a year earlier than normal. As well as this, all makers were ordered to re-register their marks using the first two letters of their surname. Prior to this their first and last name initials were used.
19th century revival
In 1720 Sterling silver along with its original form of marking was reinstated. From 1720 up to the present day both Sterling and Britannia standards have been in operation side by side together. Although this is the case, the Britannia standard was rarely used until its revival in the late 19th century.
If you have any silver that you wish to have valued, please contact Robin Newcombe at Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent.
- Posted by Robin Newcombe