The hallmark of a good Dowse Christmas is a healthy discussion over the choosing, placement and decoration of the Christmas tree, which in over forty years I have never won and an increase in trouser size for my return to work.
Also at Christmas we think of gifts and often those gifts are made from Sterling silver, which is another time when we come across hallmarks.
Pure silver is too soft to be practical and is therefore combined with small amounts of copper. Ideal proportions of 925 parts silver to 75 parts copper have been used in Britain since the 13th century and this is Sterling silver. The use of Sterling silver is enforced by The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths and Silversmiths and the proof of the purity of the metal is punched into items, making hallmarks.
In Britain, a hallmark generally consists of the Sterling mark (the lion passant) together with symbols to denote place of assay, date and maker. Full hallmarks are present on the main body of an item and detachable parts such as lids, but part hallmarks are used for other areas such as handles, which could be separated by removing a screw or pin.
By 1300 the hallmark was made compulsory and in 1363 every Silversmith had to have their own mark. Originally the first two letters of a Silversmiths surname were used and then from around 1720, the initials of the first name and surname became more common and are still used today.
Senior Valuer Michael Dowse
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