SMP Logo
SM Publications
Silver Salon Forums - The premier site for discussing Silver.
SMP | Silver Salon Forums | SSF - Guidelines | SSF - FAQ | Silver Sales

In this Forum we discuss the silver of the United Kingdom, as well as British Colonial silver and Old Sheffield Plate.

Past British - Irish Sterling topics/threads worth a look.

How to Post Photos

Want to be a Moderator?
customtitle open  SMP Silver Salon Forums
tlineopen  British / Irish Sterling
tline3open  Why a lion? Why a leopard?

Post New Topic  Post A Reply
profile | register | preferences | faq | search

ForumFriend SSFFriend: Email This Page to Someone! next newest topic | next oldest topic
Author Topic:   Why a lion? Why a leopard?
mdhavey

Posts: 164
Registered: Dec 2003

iconnumber posted 12-06-2005 12:13 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for mdhavey     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
A young friend who is interested in minutae asked me why the symbols for London silver are a lion and a leopard. How is it, she asked, that these tropical and far eastern animals came to symbolize the sterling of the realm, as early as the 14th century (anyone know because I don't)? I can't imagine that many, even educated, Londoners in the 1300s had even heard of lions or leopards, never mind seen one.

Even more peculiar, the crowned and fierce leopard suddenly, in 1821, was reduced to a small, hatless (and one might say hapless) cat face, bearing more than a casual resemblence to a chimp or George Bush in some date cycles. What a let down. What gives?

In skimming the usual sources I can't find any answers, or even any suggestions of answers, but I surmise that those more informed than I, which would be most of the other members of these Forums, likely have an informed opinion to share.

md

[This message has been edited by mdhavey (edited 12-06-2005).]

IP: Logged

tmockait

Posts: 963
Registered: Jul 2004

iconnumber posted 12-06-2005 10:41 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for tmockait     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
As I understand it the "leopard's" head is actually a lion, so we are talking about one question not two. The reason these symbols were chosen has little to do with silver and much to do with royalty. The lion as a symbol of royalty has roots as old as the book of Genesis. "Judah is a lion's whelp . . . the scepter shall not depart from Judah." Richard I, one of England's most famous warrior monarchs, was dubbed "lion hearted." The lion was the symbol of the English crown, so it became the logical mark for royal assayers to put on silver. The lion passant also graces the royal standard flown over Buckingham palace when the queen is in residence. Since Westminster was emerging as the capital, using a lion's head as the hallmark for London also made sense.

Because England was a unified monarchy long before its European counterparts, it had unifrom standard coinage and silver markings much earlier.

I know the silver books all point to the 14th century as the origin of hallmarks, but I did find a curious reference to an official called the Knight of the Sterling who attended the court of the Exchequer when taxes were collected in the 12th c.

Cheers,
Tom

IP: Logged

swarter
Moderator

Posts: 2920
Registered: May 2003

iconnumber posted 12-06-2005 12:29 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My interpretation, which may be at variance with established tradition, is that Lions were exterminated from England long ago and that it is possible that with the loss of familiarity, people did not realize that female and young male lions lack the mane; in fact, only adult males of some populations have the large, full manes depicted on the earlier lion punches. By the time the crown was eliminated from the lion's head, shortly before Victoria's reign, only the whiskers remained. People may have interpreted the maneless lion head as that of a leopard, which they knew has no mane.

IP: Logged

Dale

Posts: 2132
Registered: Nov 2002

iconnumber posted 12-06-2005 02:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dale     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Don;t these come from heraldry, which is iconographic not realistic? I feel we are looking at copies of copies of something. Not the product of someone who had actually seen a lion.

IP: Logged

tmockait

Posts: 963
Registered: Jul 2004

iconnumber posted 12-06-2005 02:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tmockait     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dale's right about the heraldic images, but we should not underestimate people's awareness of animals from stained glass windows in churches, manuscripts, and perhaps even traveling cirucses. A section of London contained the home of a Spanish princess named "L'Infanta de Castille." The commoners dubbed the neighborhood "Elephant adn Castle," which remains an underground stop to this day. I doubt any of these medieval people saw a real elephant.

IP: Logged

Clive E Taylor

Posts: 450
Registered: Jul 2000

iconnumber posted 12-06-2005 03:35 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Clive E Taylor     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
How a leopard got into the it one should be explained that a Leopart or Leopard is the heraldic term for a Lion (leo) passant .
The reason why he became uncrowned in 1821 (head) on the London town mark and merely passant, (looking forward to the left ) instead of passant guardant ,(looking over his left shoulder at you)on the London assay mark is ,as far as I know, still a total mystery.

IP: Logged

asheland

Posts: 925
Registered: Nov 2003

iconnumber posted 12-06-2005 08:57 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for asheland     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The Leopard losing the crown was probably necessary to continue the Hallmark cycles without duplicates, but that is just my guess.

IP: Logged

mdhavey

Posts: 164
Registered: Dec 2003

iconnumber posted 12-07-2005 10:04 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for mdhavey     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Tom, you say,

"I did find a curious reference to an official called the Knight of the Sterling who attended the court of the Exchequer when taxes were collected in the 12th c."

Would you share the reference, this sounds fascinating--this is the oldest reference to sterling in England that I've heard...

md

IP: Logged

tmockait

Posts: 963
Registered: Jul 2004

iconnumber posted 12-07-2005 11:48 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for tmockait     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am away from my office at the Universtiy, so I am going from memory and will send the exact citation later. It comes from a fragment of the Exchequer Rolls. Sheriffs would bring tax revenues from their shires to a meeting of the Curia Regis or small crown council convened for the purpose. A checkered cloth spread on the table turned the meeting into a "court of the exchequer." Out of this gathering the later office of the Exchequer developed.

Anyway, the document from the late 12th c. contains a reference to a "knight of the sterling" but does not define his funciton. Since knight ranked lowest in the aristorcratic hierarchy, they would not normally have been attendant at court. Like the sheriff, this man must have had a specific function. It makes sense that assaying or quality control could have been his job.

I hasten to add, though, that records from this period are so fragmentary that one reference hardly proves anything. I am not even sure enough documents exist to answer this question. The reference is, however, intriquing.

Tom

IP: Logged

tmockait

Posts: 963
Registered: Jul 2004

iconnumber posted 12-07-2005 04:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tmockait     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just finished grading for the quarter and had a few minutes to do some quick research. As I suspected Richard the Lionhearted (1189-99) introduced the lion passant to the Royal coat of arms during the Third Cursade. His shield contained three lions passant, which were latter incorporated into the royal standard. Quadrants one and four of the standard contain the three lions each for England, quadrant two the lion rampant for Scotland and quadrant three the Irish harp. Wales was governed like a royal fiefdom rather than a separate kingdom, so I guess they got left out. Since the crown regulated silver, use of the lion rampand ast the mark for sterling must have made perfect sense. Here is a really good website on the royal coat of arms:
Motto and Royal Coat of Arms

Tom


IP: Logged

mdhavey

Posts: 164
Registered: Dec 2003

iconnumber posted 12-07-2005 06:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mdhavey     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Jackson quotes Act 28 Edward I c.20, which became law in 1300:

quote:
It is ordained, that no goldsmith of England, nor none otherwhere within the King's dominion, shall from henceforth make or cause to be made any manner of vessel, jewel, or any other thing of gold or silver, except it be good and true allay, that is to say, gold of a certain touch, and silver of the esterling allay or of better, at the pleasure of him to whom the work belongeth; and that none work worse silver than money; and that no manner of vessel of silver depart out of the hands of the workers until it be essayed by the Gardiens of the craft, and further that it be marked with a Leopard's Head...

The aforegoing seems to indicate that they actually meant a leopard, no?

While on the subject of leopards that may have become lions but suddenly, and for no good reason, lost their crowns, does anyone have any idea why the Soverign Head sometims looks right and other times looks left? I think the first King's head appears in 1784-5, facing to (our) left. Just two years later he is facing to the right. Given that Geo. III was king from 1760 - 1820, isn't it peculiar that he went both ways (so to speak)?

Then there's the small matter of unicorns, two of which embellish the Coat of Arms of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths of London and one appears on the British Coat of Arms (if memory serves me).

Inquiring minds and all that...

md

IP: Logged

tmockait

Posts: 963
Registered: Jul 2004

iconnumber posted 12-08-2005 11:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for tmockait     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I am not sure that the quote proves they meant a real leopard. The language of law at that time would still have been Latin, and the heraldic term "leopard" would have been widely understood. Clive's observation that leopard (Leo pasant) meant lion in this case probably holds. I suspect that either the statue used the term "leopard's head" as it would have been understood at the time or that Jackson or whatever source he used just translated the orignal statute using the understood term leopard's head.

By the way, Tardy notes that the London Gold and Silversmiths Guild used the leopard's head as early as 1180. This date corresponds with "knight of the sterling" reference I found.

Tom

IP: Logged

swarter
Moderator

Posts: 2920
Registered: May 2003

iconnumber posted 12-08-2005 12:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for swarter     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Re my earlier comments, remember that the Heralds, Wardens, translators, historians, etc. who might have had a say in both the original and the continueed use or application of these terms could have been subject to the same misconceptions as the lay public.

Many of the early conceptions of exotic animals people had never seen were influenced by early beastiaries written and illustrated based on hearsay by people who had never seen the animals themselves either. They contained both inaccurately portrayed real creatures, as well as fanciful ones, many of which found their way into the heraldic symbolism that has been maintained over the centuries by tradition.

IP: Logged

Clive E Taylor

Posts: 450
Registered: Jul 2000

iconnumber posted 12-08-2005 02:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Clive E Taylor     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Our friend George III was probably two faced for technical reasons. When the Plate Duty was imposed in 1784 collection was to be made by the Assay Offices. To signify that duty had been paid the Commissioners of Stamps (Inland Revenue) issued a punch of Georges Head in an intaglio rectangular cut cornered punch to them to be marked on all silver to receipt that the duty had been paid. I suspect the idea was that the faking of such a punch was a worse misdemeanor than the usual offense of forging assay marks. You were probably hung twice instead of once - both offenses were technically treason.

Unfortunately this was the time that Goldsmith Hall in London were trying to introduce the flypress for adding assay marks in a block (or "stub") i.e. two or more assay punches at a time - usually Lion Passant, Date letter and the Town mark. All were cameo marks and did not mix well with an intaglio mark.

So a cameo mark for George was needed. I suspect that the cameo mark duty punch was originally cut from a stamp made from the old intaglio punch, thus neatly giving George his turn.

Poor old guy, first the American colonists, then the French, his son then having his face pulled inside out.

Was he mad? Furious!

IP: Logged

mdhavey

Posts: 164
Registered: Dec 2003

iconnumber posted 12-08-2005 02:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mdhavey     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The early Beastiaries make sense as playing a role in the choice of symbolic animals for coats of arms, to an extent. Who wouldn't want a strong lion, king of beasts, representing their country on flags and flatware? My point was that taking away the lion's (or leopard's) crown in 1821 must have been purposeful, but I am (so far) persuaded that the reason is buried in the shifting sands of time.

The point of Unicorns, as representing the Goldsmiths, appears a bit more problematic unless there is some connection to working precious metals and virility. Perhaps there is another referential meaning to their appearance--are there any experts on myth and symbol reading this Forum?

md

IP: Logged

akgdc

Posts: 289
Registered: Sep 2001

iconnumber posted 12-09-2005 07:09 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for akgdc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is one of the more interesting questions to be raised in these forums lately - thanks for starting the thread.

In medieval European law, I believe, the king was considered (or at least presented himself) as the font and guarantor of all his subjects' rights (such as they may have been) and as their defender against threats and injuries, both foreign and domestic (such as abuses by the nobles, lesser barons, and mere commoners). This is why criminal cases in England were referred to - and I believe still are - as "The Queen v. ...." etc.

So it is logical that the king himself (through the proxy of the royally chartered Goldsmiths' Company) would have stood as the guarantor against fraud of all objects sold as sterling silver, especially given silver's critical role in the national economy. There was also a European legal tradition by which the monarch had a special claim to all the precious metal in his dominions, by natural right. Thus, e.g., Charkes V of Spain and Charles I of England both claimed a share of any gold and silver found in their American dominions, and Louis XIV of France confiscated privately-owned silverware in the kingdom to pay for his wars.

Thus it makes sense that the king's own symbol - the lion passant or crowned leopard - would have been used to guarantee silver.

As for the "discoronation" of the leopard in 1821, this part of my theory is more speculative, but I would bet it had to do with the rapid erosion of royal authority - and concomitant growth of the power of Parliament - that was happening in England at that very moment.

1821, as many historians have pointed out, was just about the alltime nadir of royal prestige in Britain. Mad King George had just died and been succeeded by his dissolute, spendthrift, alcoholic and drug-addicted son, who had tried unsuccessfully to have Parliament annul his marriage to Queen Caroline, and turned her away from his coronation. When she died suddenly that summer, it was openly rumored that George IV had killed her. (The ongoing scandal makes Charles and Di's divorce, etc. look penny-ante.) Parliament itself was unabashed in its defiance and scorn of the monarch.

This may be a stretch, but it seems logical that at that moment - with many of the Crown's other hereditary privileges slipping inexorably away - the King would no longer be seen as a reliable guarantor of silver, and the crown would be removed from the leopard, thus turning it from a royal symbol into more of a simply national one.

I wonder if there would be any records at the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths that would bear on this question. Surely, the change did not occur without discussion.

As for the hallmark's occasional unfortunate resemblance to our sitting president - aptly pointed out in a previous post - that is a matter for subtler minds than mine to address.

IP: Logged

tmockait

Posts: 963
Registered: Jul 2004

iconnumber posted 12-09-2005 08:42 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tmockait     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Actually, this question has so fascinated and frustrated me that I fired off an e-mail to the London assay office to see if they had an answer.

I think we all agree that the lion passant is a sybmol of gurantee taken from the royal crest. The leopard's head is the real issue.

From my teaching of British Constitutional history though, I must disagree with akgdc. The year 1821 was a period of deep reaction, coming two years after the Peterloo massacre and more than a decade before the Great Reform Bill. The Tories, who were in power, would have done anything to bolster the monarchy no matter how dissolute its regnate member happened to be. They would not have weakened it. The 1820s was a decade of European-wide reaction against the ideas of the French Revolution. Monarchy was seen as rock of stability in an rip-tide of change.

I suspect the poor leopard lost his crown over some change in the status (or whatever) of the London Assay office. Perhaps the crown indicated a position of pre-eminence it may have had as first among equals.

Cheers,
Tom

IP: Logged

tmockait

Posts: 963
Registered: Jul 2004

iconnumber posted 12-09-2005 11:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tmockait     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Never attribute to design what may be do merely to chance. I found this reference in Wyler, The Book of Old Silver:

"Through an error in translation from the French, the name leopard was applied to the head as depcited in the hallmark, but actually the figure used was that of the head of a lion. From 1478 to the George II era there was a crown on the leopard's head. After this time, however, the size of the head was diminished and again through an error in reading the original laws of the guild, the crown was omitted."

I know Wyler is not the most reputable source, and the fact that he notes George II instead of George III (who died in 1820)does not add to his credability. However, I find this argument quite plausible. The first quarter of the 18th century saw a Gothic revival and interest in medieval manuscripts, spurred on by the modern "scientific" historicism of von Ranke in Germany. Some one could easily have reviewed the original charter or other surviving record and decided that the guild was entitled only to the leopard's head, not the crown.

Tom

IP: Logged

mdhavey

Posts: 164
Registered: Dec 2003

iconnumber posted 12-10-2005 01:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for mdhavey     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Tom, I'm sure we're all dying to know what the London Assay Office has to say about all this-you'll keep us posted?

Another question that begs is why the lion waited until the 1544 date cycle to make his appearance, whilst the crowned leopard seems to have existed well before--Jackson suggests as early as 1470. Astonishingly, before 1470 the leopard appeared uncrowned! At least for a few years.

Meanwhile, no word on the unicorns? As a chartered weorganization, the London Goldsmiths Company was quasi-governmental, going back at least to Richard II, so their coat-of-arms must have some ancient symbolic meaning pertaining to their work.

Well, I do seem to have opened a can of something here. This thread is fascinating and fun and exactly why I love the Forums.

md

IP: Logged

tmockait

Posts: 963
Registered: Jul 2004

iconnumber posted 12-10-2005 12:44 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tmockait     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
md,

This thread is becoming an article! Of course, I will let you know if I hear from London.

I believe that originally the leopard's head was both the hallmark of the London Goldsmiths and a royal gurantee mark. In 1545 it became just the mark of the London Guild, so a new national guarantee mark was introduced for sterling. Interestingly enough 1545 marked the beginning of a massive influx of silver from Spains Latin American empire. This flood of new metal had a huge economic impact and probably raised concerns over purity to new levels.

Tom

IP: Logged

asheland

Posts: 925
Registered: Nov 2003

iconnumber posted 12-11-2005 02:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for asheland     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I seem to remember reading that the Lion Passant introduced in 1544 had something to do with the king taking control of the Assay Office. I can try to look it up if anyone wants further information.

[This message has been edited by asheland (edited 12-11-2005).]

IP: Logged

mdhavey

Posts: 164
Registered: Dec 2003

iconnumber posted 12-12-2005 06:33 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mdhavey     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
T'would be helpful, Asheland!
md

IP: Logged

asheland

Posts: 925
Registered: Nov 2003

iconnumber posted 12-12-2005 09:05 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for asheland     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Yes, this is correct. In short, the King, having financial problems due to a war, got involved with the company, and at that time, they introduced the Lion Passant mark. You can read all the details in "Hallmark- A History of the London Assay Office" by J.S. Forbes. This book goes into great detail about their history. I highly recommend this book!

asheland

IP: Logged

asheland

Posts: 925
Registered: Nov 2003

iconnumber posted 12-12-2005 11:48 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for asheland     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
While on the subject, does anyone have any early London Hallmarks to share?

From a Hanoverian tablespoon:
A nice set from 1734-35.

Sadly, I no longer have this piece.

asheland

IP: Logged

tmockait

Posts: 963
Registered: Jul 2004

iconnumber posted 12-14-2005 03:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for tmockait     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hello All,

I actually got a response from the librarian at the London Assay Office/Goldsmith's Hall. It seems that Henry VIII attempted to gain control of the London Office by foisting his nominees for assayers on the Guild in 1544. The introduction of the new symbol, Lion passant guardant, was perhaps an effort to demonstrate this royal oversight. The lion passant wore a crown until 1550. The information comes from John Forbes' book Hallmark: A History of the Assay Office, London.

I can add a bit of background to this information as well. The English Reformation was accompanied by what historians now call the Tudor Revolution in Government, which included sweeping administrative reforms spearheaded by Henry's Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell. Most reforms had to do with improving collection of revenues, for despite the massive wealth seized from the Catholic Church, Henry was constantly in need of money to support his extravagant court, fruitless wars, and six wives. That he would have sought control of the assay office makes perfect sense.

As for the leopard and his crown, the government ordered the London office to design new punches for both the lion passant and the leopard's head in 1821. The lion passant guardant became the lion passant (i.e., his head faced forward instead of looking out over the left shoulder) and, as we know, the leopard lost his crown. Forbes offers this explanation:

"The records give no specific reason for redesigning the marks, but the most likely explanation is that it was to discourage counterfeiting, which was causing concern at the time."

I suspect the changes were large enough to make forgeries easy to spot but still preserved the basic symbols.

Cheers,
Tom

IP: Logged

mdhavey

Posts: 164
Registered: Dec 2003

iconnumber posted 12-16-2005 10:23 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for mdhavey     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Very interesting, thanks much, Tom. And they had precedent with the "leopard" uncrowned from before 1470.

Did the London office say anything about why their coat of arms contains unicorns? It's bugging me about the unicorns!

While on the subject of early London marks, here's one and the spoon upon which it resides. The pattern is very unusual, called Onslow.

IP: Logged

outwest

Posts: 390
Registered: Nov 2005

iconnumber posted 12-16-2005 11:51 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for outwest     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Hey, that's a stuffing/rice spoon.

IP: Logged

asheland

Posts: 925
Registered: Nov 2003

iconnumber posted 12-17-2005 02:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for asheland     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
That is a nice piece. You don't see those often. Thanks for sharing!

IP: Logged

mdhavey

Posts: 164
Registered: Dec 2003

iconnumber posted 12-17-2005 08:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for mdhavey     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Rather a challenge to decipher the year mark, even under a lupe, but seems to be from the 1756-1775 date cycle. Most days I lean toward 1762-3 as pictured in Jackson.

md

IP: Logged

asheland

Posts: 925
Registered: Nov 2003

iconnumber posted 12-18-2005 11:37 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for asheland     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I looked at some examples (online) of London, 1762 and believe that is it. It's the correct period for Onslow pattern, anyway. If that is not the year, it's definately in that cycle.

asheland

IP: Logged

FWG

Posts: 845
Registered: Aug 2005

iconnumber posted 12-19-2005 10:16 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for FWG     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
And I *think* the mark is that of Thomas Parr II, working 1753-73 (Grimwade 2884).

IP: Logged

All times are ET

next newest topic | next oldest topic

Administrative Options: Close Topic | Archive/Move | Delete Topic
Post New Topic  Post A Reply
Hop to:


Ultimate Bulletin Board 5.46a


1. Public Silver Forums (open Free membership) - anyone with a valid e-mail address may register. Once you have received your Silver Salon Forum password, and then if you abide by the Silver Salon Forum Guidelines, you may start a thread or post a reply in the New Members' Forum. New Members who show a continued willingness to participate, to completely read and abide by the Guidelines will be allowed to post to the Member Public Forums.
Click here to Register for a Free password

2. Private Silver Salon Forums (invitational or $ donation membership) - The Private Silver Salon Forums require registration and special authorization to view, search, start a thread or to post a reply. Special authorization can be obtained in one of several ways: by Invitation; Annual $ Donation; or via Special Limited Membership. For more details click here (under development).

3. Administrative/Special Private Forums (special membership required) - These forums are reserved for special subjects or administrative discussion. These forums are not open to the public and require special authorization to view or post.


| Home | Order | The Guide to Evaluating Gold & Silver Objects | The Book of Silver
| Update BOS Registration | Silver Library | For Sale | Our Wants List | Silver Dealers | Speakers Bureau |
| Silversmiths | How to set a table | Shows | SMP | Silver News |
copyright © 1993 - 2020 SM Publications
All Rights Reserved.
Legal & Privacy Notices