The marks used by the Chinese during the China Trade Period (c 1775 - 1880) when Chinese export silver was being made for the Western market are based on the British silver hallmarks which they were intended to copy.
There is also a resemblance to the marks found on American coin silver which can also add to the confusion. Makers who later exported to the Western market also had their own marks.
All Chinese silver was made by hand, with its elaborate designs hammered out by the Chinese master craftsmen. They depict flowers, birds, landscapes, dragons and human figures and these are the favourite patterns that most collectors seek.
In the 18th and 19th Centuries Europeans would spend weeks or months on board ship travelling to China. They would go to the trading centres of Canton, Hong Kong, and Shanghai and would not return for several months. This gave time to choose a pattern that could be custom-made. Many of the pieces seen for sale today were made to order. They were made primarily for foreigners. The elaborate designs of most of the export silver weren't to the Chinese tastes.
In the early 20th century, many more tourists visited the vast country than ever before and much more Chinese silver was exported. To meet the boosted demand, Chinese silver became mass-produced, more a tourist item thana master craft.
Antique Chinese silver was largely unknown until the publishing in 1975 of the book Chinese Export Silver, 1785 to 1885, by H.A. Crosby Forbes, John Kernan, and Ruth S. Wilkins. After that book was published, silver collectors began to search out Chinese export silver, especially the earlier works.
Museums have bought most of the earlier Chinese silver, and it is now a challenge to find. Today collectors seek the late 19th- and early 20th-century Chinese silver much of which is still of high quality.
It's important to know that the Chinese did not use the same standard of silver content that was used in the West, and every piece would have a different level of purity. This does not affect the value.
Chinese silver is also a specialty that has very few fakes but it is still better to buy from a reputable dealer.Click to go to Silver Antiques Dealers