Dating gorham silver marks

With the adoption of the sterling standard after the Civil War, silversmiths continued to stamp their own names on the back, along with the word sterling or the number 92.5 or 925, all of which indicate sterling quality. The Gorham company's mark was a row of three emblems: a lion (for sterling), an anchor (for its base in Rhode Island), and a "G" (its initial).

Some American silversmiths mimicked British hallmarks to lend their wares prestige -- rather than to convey specific information.

By industry practice, AA has one-third again as much silver used in the plating as does A1.

Like faux hallmarks, the terms "sterling inlaid" and "silver soldered" attempt to improve their status by association, here, with sterling silver.

Symbols for the city of origin include an anchor for Birmingham and a crown for Sheffield (since 1975, a rose). A letter stamp provides the date of manufacture: Each year is assigned one letter of the alphabet; a new cycle starts with a different font.

Until the 1500s, the symbol for the silversmith was often a plant or an animal suggesting the family name. American marks weren't enforced as systematically and were therefore never as elaborate.

Laws dating to the 14th century established strict requirements for marking silver; the first emblem was a crowned lion's head to certify sterling.

The first step in deciphering these marks is to learn what kinds of silver are out there.

Some of the oldest American silver is coin, which contains an amount of the precious metal that was set by the U. Mint for coinage after the American Revolution: Coin made from 1792 to 1837 is composed of at least 89.2 percent silver and, thereafter, 90 percent.

Sterling, in contrast, must be at least 92.5 percent silver.

The next step is to learn the meaning of the most common silver marks.

England's system of hallmarks -- a variety of official emblems stamped on silver to attest to its purity -- is one of the oldest and most detailed.

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