Silver Hallmarks: Part I
Pure silver is a very soft and malleable metal. However, by adding a small quantity of copper, it can become much harder and more durable. The combination of silver and copper was first used by the Greeks and Romans and has since become a very practical material for coinage as well as for domestic and ceremonial use.
For centuries in England, the connection between coinage and domestic silver was of considerable importance. The reason was that a person could store their wealth in objects of silver. During times of prosperity, objects would be commissioned from goldsmiths and then when financially difficult times occurred, these objects would be sent to the mint to be converted in to coinage.
It was this perpetual conversion of silver from domestic use to currency and vice versa which could create problems, especially if ecclesiastical silver was of another standard as well. Hence, in 1238, a ruling was made in England stating that no goldsmiths should use any silver lower in purity than the silver coin standard rate of 92.5%. With this ruling, enforcement was vital and hence wardens were appointed to seek out offenders and bring them to justice.
Pollards and Crockards
Due to the revisions of the silver standard in England, new problems began to arise. Substandard continental coins such as Pollards and Crockards as well as goldsmiths' work were being exchanged weight for weight with English sterling silver. The only way to curb this was for King Edward I to ban the import and circulation of foreign coins in 1300. Additionally, any person wishing to take any piece of silver out of the realm would have to gain a license from the King.
However, licenses were very difficult to obtain. Proof of this is evident when in 1306 the Archbishop of Canterbury when going abroad was reminded of the King's ordinance and commanded not to take money in mass out of England.1300 AD is a very important year in the history of English silver for another reason. This was the first year when the leopard's head was required to be stamped on all English silver and gold which had been assayed and passed by the wardens in authority at the time. Therefore this was in fact most likely the first form of consumer protection ever to be imposed. i.e. the hallmark.
If you have any silver that you wish to have valued, please contact Robin Newcombe, silver specialist at Grand Auctions, Folkestone, Kent.