There are many types of marks on silver and silver plated objects. Only marks applied to solid silver objects by Government sanctioned Guild Halls and/or assayers can be considered true hallmarks. Hallmarks usually consist of marks indicating geographical origin ("town marks"), purity of the silver (assay or quality marks), and sometimes those indicating payment of fees (tax or duty marks). Occasionally there may be other marks like those indicating importation of foreign silver. These are usually accompanied by a mark of the maker, which may be registered at a Guild Hall.
Hallmarks were sanctioned in Great Britain (England and Scotland), Ireland, in most European countries, and in a few other locations. In North America, the only sanctioned assay office operated in Baltimore, Maryland for a short time early in the 19th Century. The ability of hallmarks and/or maker's marks to be identified depends upon the completeness and availability of surviving records, as well as on access to appropriate literature.
Pseudohallmarks are false or imitation hallmarks applied to silver objects as
- the maker's personal guarantees of quality
- simple trademarks, or
- an attempt to deceive buyers into thinking they are getting something they are not.
Pseudohallmarks are often illegal in places where true hallmarks are used. Otherwise there was little or no regulation, and the meaning, if any, of many has not been determined.
Marks applied to silver plated objects are not hallmarks, but are usually manufacturers' trademarks. They may be accompanied by marks which convey other information (materials used, etc.) They are unregulated, although there was some regulation of marks applied to "Old Sheffield Plate" in England; there are no "official" records other than trademark registries.
In most cases, a photograph is necessary for positive identification of hallmarks, as many subtle variations exist; verbal descriptions are subject to interpretation, and may not contain necessary details. If a photograph is not possible, the next best thing is a detailed drawing of all the marks, whether or not the poster believes them all to be necessary.