Hallmarks are an essential aspect of antiques and they are stamped on antique items to give important information regarding the metal used to make the item, among other things. The term ‘hallmark’ comes from the practice of Goldsmith’s Hall making marks on items before they were sold, hence the term hallmark. This was an old English tradition that quickly spread to the rest of the world, and this article explains what an old European hallmark actually means.
A hallmark has to be certified by a registered assay office, which is authorisation that the information given on the hallmark is factually correct. Assay office stamps came into effect in Europe in the 18th century and jewellery made before that might not have a hallmark, although an antique dealer would be able to tell you a lot about any antique that does not have a hallmark.
Three Compulsory Hallmarks In Europe
While there are 3 compulsory stamps on a European hallmark, there can be up to 5 stamps:
- Sponsor’s Mark – This is the person that sent the piece for hallmarking.
- Standard Mark – This shows the finesse of the metal used.
- Assay Office Mark – Made by the assay office.
- Traditional Finesse Mark – This indicates the material used. For gold, the karat was adopted, with 24k signifying pure gold (99.99), while jewellery was commonly fabricated using 18k gold, which is 18 parts out of 24 gold, with 6 parts comprising of other metals.
- Date Letters – These are time stamps, with a single letter representing a year. Introduced in London, England in the 15th century, where all gold items were taken to Goldsmith’s Hall to be stamped. A system developed whereby a new letter was used every year and the Assay Master was changed annually to prevent corruption.
Jewellers in the 18th century did not take kindly to the introduction of hallmarks, stating that it was sacrilege to tarnish their work with ugly stamps, yet there was a surge in fake pieces and the jewellery makers reluctantly accepted that hallmarks were necessary.
Knowing The Marks
There are many marks that represent assay offices and sponsors, but don’t worry. To help you to understand the hallmark, you can find clear images of all the marks from dealers’ websites offering information as well as the finest vintage jewellery online Australia or any other country prefers. Of course, taking a piece of antique jewellery to an antique dealer is an easy way to decipher the stamps. Many antique jewellery pieces do not have a hallmark and that’s where the knowledge of the antique dealer comes into play. He or she would be able to tell you the age, creator and probably the country of origin and maybe something about its history.
If you would like to view genuine antique jewellery from the comfort of your living room, search for a leading antique dealer and browse their extensive catalogue. You can search by period, piece, maker or price and when you do find what you are looking for, a secure online payment is all it takes for the piece to be packaged and sent by courier to your home address.