Silver Identification Guide
The marks on the bottom of a piece of silver can be an indication of the age, maker, and origin of the piece. A single mark usually indicates that the piece of silver was made in America, although there are some Irish and Scottish pieces with just the maker’s name. This is a list of American silver marks and solid American silver. Other lists include silver-plated wares and pewter. It will not help you to identify other silver. Four or five small pictorial marks usually indicate England as the country of origin. For example, the leopard’s head indicates England. Become familiar with the English king or queen’s head mark as an indication of age. If the king’s head faces right, it was made before 1850. Queen Victoria faces left. Queen Elizabeth faces left. Silver was stamped with a lion for London, a thistle for Edinburgh. The harp indicated the piece was made in Dublin. Glasgow silver-smiths used a fish or tree. Ornate capital letters or the fleur-de-lis were used in France. A hand indicates Antwerp, a spread eagle Germany or Russia. The word STERLING indicates Ireland as well as America. COIN, DOLLAR, and STANDARD were usually American terms, but some Irish makers also used them. The words quadruple, triple, double, EPNS, and EPWM indicate that the ware is silver plated. “800” is usually found on continental silver.
If a piece is not American, refer to the sources about English or Continental silver. If it seems to be American, this dictionary will help.
The earliest silversmiths in the colonies used their initials. Many makers used their last name, or first initial and last name. Pseudo-hallmarks were used about 1800. They were meant to mislead the public into believing that the silver was of English origin. Many unmarked pieces of American silver were made by 1825. The pieces were later marked with the store name. By 1830 the words COIN, PURE COIN, DOLLAR, STANDARD, PREMIUM, or the letters “C” or “D” were placed on silver to indicate that it was 900 out of 1000 parts silver. The word STERLING was frequently used by 1860. STERLING means that 925 out of 1000 parts are silver. This is still the standard for sterling silver. Gorham Silver Company used a special mark for their Martelé silver from 1899 to 1912. Martelé was made of silver of sterling or better quality, some with 950 parts silver to each 1000 parts.
Silversmiths in Baltimore, Maryland, had a maker-date system from 1814 to 1830. An assay office was legally established in 1814, and marks were placed on all silver sold. The head of liberty indicated quality; a date letter, the arms of the city of Baltimore, and the maker’s initials or name were included. The dating system was discontinued in 1830 when the silversmiths developed another system. Numbers like 10.15, 112, or 11/12 were stamped on the silver to indicate the percentage of pure silver in the metal.
When the American silversmiths were first “discovered” in the early 1900s, most collectors felt that only the eighteenth-century makers were important. Now, years later, collectors know that fine American silver was also made during the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
This is a guide to makers. Learn to know good work by its shape, feel, and construction. Look up its maker and determine its age and origin. This listing should make it easier to identify Grandma’s spoon or a dish in an antiques shop, but remember a mark can easily be copied.