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Author Topic:   Hallmarks, Makers Marks, Retailers Marks
Scott Martin
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iconnumber posted 12-08-1999 11:40 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Scott Martin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is a pet peeve ... Do you share it?

It drives me crazy when people, particularly "knowledgeable" dealers misuse silver terms. For example when a:

Retailers' mark (name stamp) is called a hallmark.
Makers' mark (name stamp) or pseudo hallmark is called a hallmark.
Retailers' mark (name stamp) is called the maker's mark.

Some examples from eBay:

Hallmarks include: "PALMER & BACHELDERS", "patent 1845", and a reversed R.
(ebay 213490246)

It is marked on the inside of the clamp: the MANCHESTER hallmark
(ebay 211701134)

coin silver spoon bearing a BRADBURY hallmark
(ebay 209407763)

It is marked with the Gorham hallmark
(ebay 212153331)

The back is hallmarked with the old Whiting two lion and W hallmark, Sterling.
(ebay 210285763)

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iconnumber posted 12-13-1999 10:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Brent     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Unfortunately, the term hallmark has fallen so far from its original meaning that it is not surprising that it is so misused. As for mixing up maker's and retailer's marks, I have found very few dealers who know or care that there is a difference. This can be both gratifying to the pocketbook and irritating to the intellect.

With the advent of on-line auctions, I think we are seeing a decline of the dealer as educator. Good dealers build a clientele by passing what they know on to their customers. On the other hand, on-line auction sellers may be knowledgeable dealers or they may know nothing, and one may be as successful as the other. All an on-line seller needs to do is take good photographs and be able to describe something accurately. The importance, desirability and ultimate value of the piece are determined by the bidders. In other words, the seller doesn't need to know whether something is worth $100 or $10,000, because he doesn't have to set the price. Certainly a knowledgeable dealer will be able to advertise a piece better than one who knows nothing, but all it takes is a few knowledgeable bidders to find a good piece up for bid and all the work of selling takes care of itself.

Personally, I would rather talk to a dealer in person and learn something than pick up an auction deal on "Gorman" sterling or "Meridien" silver plate.

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iconnumber posted 06-18-2006 05:14 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It is hard to frequent ebay regularly and not develop a cynical outlook. In the 7 1/2 years since this thread was first posted, not much has changed. Certainly there are more of the knowledgeable dealers on now then back then, but it doesn't seem to have helped the rest. Sellers do seem to learn from one another, but they cannot seem to distinguish the knowledgeable sellers from the knowledgeable ones -- some obvious error appears for the first time, and shortly thereafter it appears again elsewhere, and repeatedly. And the old canards never die:
    "It is hallmarked EPNS;"
    "This spoon is made in two parts;"
    "I can't find the maker listed anywhere, so it must be Southern;"
    "This is an American spoon made by _______ (the initials match), but I don't know what the "13" means."
A seller has a spoon with a maker's initial mark - it "was made c. xxxx by one of four possible makers" (the last of which died nearly a century before the spoon was made - never mind about the other 3, the seller's credibility is now 0).

An English auction house (whose staff you would think ought to know better) has three well photographed early style two-handled London porringers in a live auction: the first is dated 1703 (and is) with maker correctly identified, the second c.1700 (it is 1778) and the third 1790 (it is 1779).

I guess my favorite statement is "I don't know anything about this, so feel free to ask me any questions." Uh-huh.

You would not expect anyone to know everything, but you should reasonably expect everyone to know something, shouldn't you? Yeah, sure. You betcha!

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iconnumber posted 06-18-2006 05:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
One could make a career (albeit a non-paying one) correcting auction listings. While I let the vast majority pass, I do drop a note of correction to sellers I know and most take the information to heart. Occasionally they stick to their mis-drawn guns -- an attribution to a fictional female silversmith comes to mind -- and then they are on their own for the future.

I can say, in a burst of shameless self-promotion, that I know many dealers whose first stop when assessing a new batch of silver is now a certain genealogical web site. . .

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iconnumber posted 06-18-2006 07:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Now if only they all knew how to make proper use of all that very good information you have so generously made available. I am sure it has benefited some, but whose page of illustrated marks would you think the above mentioned four possible makers could have come from? eek There are two-edged swords everywhere. Heaven forbid that they should look up the names that go with the initial marks - you should have the dates during which each mark was used right there with the mark for their convenience! (as if you could -- I know, I know - 50 lashes with a wet noodle for even thinking that!) biggrin

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iconnumber posted 06-19-2006 12:35 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
One of the problems with the well known auction site is that buyers have a tendency to shy away from knowlegable dealers. The chance of finding a true bargain from someone who knows nothing motivates many buyers to search out offerings from the know nothing crowd. The bidders imagination fills in all the gaps, producing an illusionary item they proceed to bid on.

Sadly, this seems to be a Gresham's Law situation. Bad descriptions drive out good. From personal experience.

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iconnumber posted 06-19-2006 01:09 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for wev     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From a current auction by a dealer that specializes in estate silver:

"a beautiful coin silver spoon by Almer & Bachelde in very good ESTATE condition

I'm going to bed now. . .

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Clive E Taylor

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iconnumber posted 06-19-2006 02:59 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Clive E Taylor     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
At the risk of stating the obvious to most members I would like to give my definitions of the marks on silver. Members may not agree ! (their right !)

ASSAY MARKS. Any mark(s) indicating the purity etc of the piece of silver by a body independant of the maker or retailer.
Hallmark- as ASSAY MARK
Techically it should only be used if the independant body is a Guild. (i.e was marked at a Guild's Hall. Hence London will be a Hallmark and an ASSAY MARK , but Birmingham will be only an ASSAY MARK.
However I doubt if this subtle distinction will ever be widly used.

DATELETTER An indication of the date applied by the same independent body that did the assay.

SPONSORS MARK. The person or body taking responsibilty for the purity of the article both to the public and to the body who applied the ASSAY MARKS. The sponsor may or not have been the maker. The sponsor may be a retailer or the last person in a chain of makers or subcontracters.. The normal usage is Makers Mark but this became increasing misleading from 1700 onwards and in England is not the correct legal term. Again I doubt if we can ever wean people from the use of Makers Mark, particularly as the antique silver trade much prefers to sell Hester Batenman silver as having been made by one widow in her workshop, by her own (probably wizened and bleeding ) hands. The fact that a big factory produced the item, or quite likely a subcontractor dispels the myth and is not encouraged by the trade.

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iconnumber posted 06-19-2006 12:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for doc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To all those Ebay sellers who ignore such corrections, I offer the following. I was the recipient of one of wev's corrective emails(I had mislabled the maker as the elder of a father son combo), and was most appreciative of the correction. There was already a bidder for the item, so I felt obligated to contact them, note the correction and offer to not go through with the sale in the event that they were the winning bidder. Fortunately, the bidder already knew of my mistake, but was very grateful that I had notified her of the correction. She ended up purchasing the item and left very good feedback. She has also gone on to be a good customer of mine, having purchased additional items from me. It pays to be honest and accurate!

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iconnumber posted 06-19-2006 06:10 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
the antique silver trade much prefers to sell Hester Batenman silver as having been made by one widow in her workshop . . . . The fact that a big factory produced the item, or quite likely a subcontractor dispels the myth and is not encouraged by the trade.

The same is true in this country of the likes of Paul Revere (who subcontracted work to several of his contemporaries) and Joseph Richardson (who regularly imported silver from London).

Speaking of myths, Revere is revered in this country largely because the poet Longfellow could not find a rhyme for the name of the rider who actually completed that famous ride. Revere was an accomplished silversmith (but no more so than a number of his contemporaries), and a supporter of revolutionary causes, but he never completed that ride. He was one of four riders who were confronted by a British patrol; the other three escaped, but Revere alone surrendered and spent the night in a British lockup.

His military career in the Massachusetts Militia was no more stellar: he commanded the Massachusetts artillery during the ill-fated Battle of Penobscot Bay, a disaster ending in the complete destruction of the combined Colonial and Machachusetts Naval force that was so colossal that it was kept quiet for years afterwards (having been missed by contemporary historians it is no more than a footnote in most Naval texts today), and a defeat for which Revere shared responsibility by his actions with the Colonial Navy's disgraced Commodore Dudley Saltenstall.

Revere's cannon, cast in his own foundry, could not hit the broad side of the British occupied Fort George overlooking Penobscot Bay from almost point blank range in barrages over several days, making a daylight assault impossible. After much disagreememt, Revere's battle plan was finally overruled by the Colonial infantry commander, who ordered a nighttime raid, which was delayed by Revere's absence while he dined aboard ship with Naval officers, allowing the outnumbered British defenders to escape under cover of darkness. The delays enabled the arrival of a British Naval squadron which could have been defeated by the superior positioning of the Americn ships. Revere refused to give "his" Militia ammunition to "them" (the Colonial forces), and would not allow his personal belongings to be offloaded from his personal barge so that it could be used to bring suppplies and crew ashore from a threatened supply ship. The ships under Saltenstall's command broke ranks and fled upriver (led by Saltenstall, whose ship had the only stern-mounted cannon, and who thus should have brought up the rear), to be pursued and destroyed one by one by the British or by the colonials themselves when they ran our of navigable water. After running aground, Revere deserted his own ship and men and fled back to Boston. All of which resulted in his being brought up on charges of cowardice and incompetence. There was such fear that the notariety of a trial would expose the magnitude of the disaster and be so damaging to morale and the resolve of the colonies, that the charges ultimately were withdrawn (not dropped -- they could have been reinstituted, but it was decided to keep the affair quiet), and Revere finished the war behind a desk, never again to be given promotion or combat command. Saltenstall was cashiered from the Navy, and went to sea as a privateer, financed by none other than Paul Revere.

An engaving popularizing the so-called "Boston Massacre" that galvanized the festering colonies into rebellion is credited to Revere, who did in fact popularize it, but it was not his - he copied it from someone else!

"Listen, my children, and you shall hear . . . ."

Such is the power of poets.

[This message has been edited by swarter (edited 06-19-2006).]

[This message has been edited by swarter (edited 06-20-2006).]

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iconnumber posted 06-20-2006 01:07 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for blakstone     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As this thread seems to include random musing - a favorite hobby of mine – I’ll throw in my two cents’ worth.

I get a kick out of bizarre auction descriptions – online and otherwise. (How fondly I remember a teapot advertised as “Period Biedermeier Art Deco.”) But as someone who does a lot of silver cataloguing (in print, for an upscale auction house), I do admire at least the effort, and I have a more than passing acquaintance with the cataloguer’s friends: “circa” “probably”, “perhaps”, etc. The sheer and utter breadth of information makes me pretty forgiving of lapses; no one knows everything. I can understand that a colleague – a well-respected museum director – could misidentify a Scottish provincial snuffbox, and I appreciate that he helped me catch a pair of fraudulent Tiffany candlesticks.

In my field of Continental marks, the sheer rapidity with which information changes can lead to traps. I know one online dealer whose research is diligent and dedication is sincere – truly one of the most learned people I know on German provincial silver. So I can’t really fault him for not having seen the same article I saw that revealed some new information on the silversmiths of Herrnhut; he was relying on new information of 10 years ago rather than the newer information of 5 years ago. Another example: In 1997 and effort was made in a German journal to identify the date letters of Posen, Poland; in a book published in 2001, the “date letters” were revealed to be assayer’s initials.

Which brings me to my next opinion (and I warn you, my usual anti-Goldsmith’s Hall rant is forthcoming): all this fuss about proper terminology is a little silly to me. For instance, take the term “date letter”. Although they are a handy tool for collectors, many “date letters” aren’t that at all; rather than identify the year per se, they served to identify the person responsible for the assay should any trouble with fraud arise later. (Which is why for centuries the London annual letter spanned over two calendar years - from May to May, the term of the wardens - rather than a single year, which they did not do until 1973). And what is to be made of the jumbled mess of Sheffield date letters 1773-1824, which run non-alphabetically? Or the many continental systems where assayer’s terms were more than one year, with a single “date letter” being used for decades? Or where more than one assayer worked simultaneously, like Hamburg or Brunswick, resulting in “date letters” which overlap? Or of cities like Danzig (and, we now know, Posen, above) where the “date letters” are in reality the assayer’s initials? In a very real sense, the “date letter” is far more appropriately called the “assayer’s mark”.

But “date letters” they remain . . . and why not? They do serve to narrow down the date, even though technically and historically, that’s not their function. And what else should they be called? “Assayer’s mark” would probably be more accurate, but it belies the fact that the mark represented only the assayer’s aegis; in most cases the actual assay would be performed by a subordinate – the same argument against “maker’s mark”. “Assay mark” solves this problem, but not only could this term be confused with the diet mark produced by the assayer’s test, but it also inadequately comprises the many other official marks applied by a civil authority which had nothing to do with assay or purity: import marks, export marks, return marks, charge marks, discharge marks, census marks, weight marks, garniture marks, resale marks, etc.

Personally, I can’t abide the term “sponsor’s mark”. To my ear, it removes the manufacturer’s status to that of some sort of benign patron. (Worse still is the Netherlands’ officious and vaguely ominous “responsibility mark.”) What’s wrong with “maker’s mark”? Does anyone who pays for the prestige of “Tiffany” on his keychain harbor the illusion that Mr. Tiffany is in the backroom hammering away at his bench? Yet who would not call it a Tiffany keychain? Likewise, I have no problem whatever with a teaspoon “made” by Hester Bateman. (Well, semantically, anyway. Otherwise, see the Compact Jackson; I agree completely.) The famous French maker Biennais very probably wasn’t a silversmith at all, but then what to call him? Famed sponsor Biennais? Great businessman Biennais? Master retailer Biennais? The unparalleled responsible Biennais? “Silversmith” and “maker” serve him far better.

Just recently, in trying to define “pseudo-mark” for a project, I started thinking. Are the provincial marks used by Scottish silversmiths really pseudo-marks? After all, they seem more a legitimate attempt to reveal the city of origin than some marks which very much tried to conceal it (i.e., colonial China or Hanau, Germany.) What about the many continental provincial “city” marks applied by the maker? They had no legal significance but, faithfully representing the municipal arms, weren’t in imitation of anything at all. We now know that many American pseudo-marks are really trademarks, but how many of them were legally registered as such? Should a distinction be made on this basis? What about imitative silver plate marks? Are those pseudo-marks, or is the term restricted to silver? And what of the German “crown and moon” reichsmark? Its use and form are legally mandated, so it can’t be called a pesudo-mark, but it is applied by the manufacturer from a stamp made by him, which means it isn’t a true hallmark either. So what is it?

Frankly, for me, a “pseudo-mark” (and hallmark, for that matter) is best defined by Justice Potter Stewart’s infamous obscenity test: “I know it when I see it.” This took years and years of study, and I don’t expect a similar passion for nuance from someone who buys things at garage sales and turns them over online to make a buck. So it doesn’t really bother me to read that a piece of silverplate is “hallmarked”. The term is in perfectly common parlance and the definition is not so clear-cut, particularly when seen outside of anglophile myopia. And I have no objection to old Hester’s “maker’s mark.” Terminology – jargon in particular – is protean and therefore will always be open to debate and subject to change. There probably isn’t a silver dealer in the U.K. alive today who would use the term “silver plate” to describe anything other than a base metal item plated with silver, but even into the 20th century “silver plate” referred almost exclusively to sterling silver, “plate” being a collective term for flatware, hollow ware and tableware, as distinct from “ smallware”: sewing, smoking, toilet & writing accessories and the like. (Hence the title: “Bradbury’s Guide to Marks of Origin of British and Irish Silver Plate”.)

On a more philosophical level, I have an innate problem with semantic arguments. (One of my pet peeves is the pointless and endless discussion over the proper terminology and/or use for fanciful Victorian flatware . . . it’s a fork, OK?) Ambiguity has its place, and not just among poets. (Ah, Milton!) As noted here, “maker’s mark” is not the correct legal term, but the last thing I would want is for art (which silversmithy is) and language to become the purvey of lawyers. I am reminded of the comment of a portraitist friend of mine upon seeing the face of Jackson on the first attempt at revising the $20 bill: “This is what happens when you let technicians design things instead of artists.”

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iconnumber posted 06-20-2006 02:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
At the risk of incurring wrath, my understanding is that the silver year begins on St Dunstan's day, the patron of silversmiths, in May. And runs until the next St Dunston's day. Which gives us the odd May to May 'year date'.

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iconnumber posted 06-20-2006 08:34 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for akgdc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Swarter, I enjoyed your post, but as a proud Philadelphian, I need to note that Revere never got his grubby Bostonian hands on our Liberty Bell. The bell was originally cast in London in 1752 at the Whitechapel Foundry, and it cracked immediately after being hung in Philadelphia. It was then recast by two Philadelphians, John Pass and John Stow, whose names are on the bell to this day. At this point, it lasted almost another century before cracking to the point where it was (and remains) unringable.

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iconnumber posted 06-20-2006 01:46 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks for the heads up - I stand corrected. I suppose I should have known that (I have rechecked the other information), but must have relied on an increasingly unreliable memory for this one, and have deleted that scurrilous aspersion. redface

[This message has been edited by swarter (edited 06-20-2006).]

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iconnumber posted 06-20-2006 07:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for argentum1     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hey Blakstone, if you ever need an appendectomy I know a good doctor. So what if he is a Doctor of Anthropology after all it is just a title.

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iconnumber posted 06-20-2006 10:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ozfred     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Please add St Eloi's name as he is the patron of goldsmiths, blacksmiths, and all workers in metal. He was trained by the goldsmith Abbo, master of the mint at Limoge and became the maint master there. He is also known as Eligius or Eloy and usually depicted as a bishop with a crosier in his right hand and on the open palm of his left is a miniature church of chased gold. 1st December is his day.

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iconnumber posted 11-18-2006 10:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for feniangirl     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Aw, come on guys, these EBay sellers are really learning a lot. Here's a prime example:
"This elegant stuffing spoon was made in London during the reign of King George III by I believe John Piercy of what I could find on London silver marks (in Wyler?) he was the only one that showed up using IP as the assay mark.(HUH?) He worked from 1773 to 1801 and the date letter matches this time frame. It has an oval bowl with a rounded flaring handle (old English pattern to the rest of the world). This huge spoon measures 12" long. Hallmarked by the maker as you can see in the photo." (That would ensure the silver content -not.)

It is interesting to see how inaccurate information regarding hallmarks and descriptions tends to spread like wildfire.

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iconnumber posted 11-18-2006 07:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for IJP     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I hadn't seen blakstone's brilliant commentary until just now, since more recent posts have pulled this thread out from the deep. I love the way you write!

It is both unfortunate and wonderful that language evolves the way it does. "Hallmark", and other distinctions, are among many thousands of words and phrases which are no longer used in the way they were intended, and are frequently "wrongly" used. With time, usage may bring about an amendment of the definitions of such words, and perhaps one day such usages will be considered no more "right" or "wrong" than the originals. Often these changes tend to corrupt the language (in my opinion), though sometimes (and not necessarily in the case of "hallmark", etc.) they serve to embellish and enrich. It's simply the nature of language to do that. It may not be possible to ensure that everyone is watchful of correct usage, but I like to think that those who concern themselves with the particulars of any field, be it silver, or medicine, or specialties of any kind, will continue to uphold the standards of their vocabular and language.

In addition to silver, I am keenly interested in language (both my native tongue, and those foreign to me), so perhaps I'm a little sensitive about this. Do pardon me.

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iconnumber posted 11-19-2006 01:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I like to think that those who concern themselves with the particulars of any field, be it silver, or medicine, or specialties of any kind, will continue to uphold the standards of their vocabular and language.

We try, but it is a never ending battle. The essence of accurate communication is precision in the use of language. You only have to watch any local news channel to know it is a losing battle. The cynic in me is reminded of Will Cuppy's "The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody."

[This message has been edited by swarter (edited 11-19-2006).]

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iconnumber posted 11-20-2006 06:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for t-man-nc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have gotten more laughs from these forums, than any comedy show on television ....

I think I'll call them "Suspect Indicators" from now on... LOL


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