Updated: May 23, 2020
If you are like me and fascinated with the history of things, you should enjoy this post. Further, if you wish your things could talk, tell the stories of where they've been, whom they belonged to and what they've seen, then you really do get me. However, if you believe your things are talking to you, seek immediate medical advice. Unless of course it's your old stuffed animals. Everyone knows they talk, but only talk to you.
Today, I want your fork to tell you a story. Your spoons, knives and other flatware may have things to say too. Okay, enough speaking in hyperbole, and yes, I did just google that word to make sure I was using it correctly. What I am talking about is Hallmarks and I don't mean greeting cards. I mean the "little symbol thingies" on your old flatware, silver sets and tableware. I can't tell you how many people have had these things in their houses for decades and never noticed. It’s almost like a magic or parlor trick when I look at someone' fork and say, this is 120 years old, made in Dublin and by Edmond Johnson. Did it speak to me? Yes...okay, no. I just knew the hallmarks.
Of course, I only learned this by researching someone else’s fork or flatware set, previously. It only takes a good loop, a little practice and a few websites to figure out just about anything with hallmarks. Here’s a quick crash course education, plus a few links and more. Let’s use English or British Silver and soon you too will amaze or bore your friends.
British Silver is some of the most common you'll find in a relative’s closet or drawers. It has always been well known for its quality and its legendary hallmark system. Their marks tell us a great deal. I am using their silver as an example due to the abundant output of their silversmiths. And also, the fact that British silver was just about the most collected silver in the world. So, you should find some in the family tree somewhere.
Here's how to read it and a few visual aids for you.
1st - You will generally have what's known as a standard mark and/or city mark (2nd). Most common I have found is the lion with his paw raised, denoting Sterling .925. Glasgow has a unicorn, Edinburgh a thistle and so on.
2nd - Maybe your city mark if that's specified. London had a Lion Head, Birmingham an Anchor, Sheffield a crown, Glasgow a tree, and so on.
3rd - The Duty mark or reign mark, as I like to call it. It was to indicate a tax paid to the crown and featured the reigning monarch at the time. Really helps with dating. 1786-1821 King George III, 1822-1833 George the 4th and so on. Here's a few examples, some are more stylized. Note facing right and left to help you.