Silver hallmarks are punched onto a sterling silver object that is to be sold commercially in most countries. One or more silver hallmarks are used to indicate the purity of the silver, the mark of the manufacturer or silversmith, and other (optional) markings to indicate date of manufacture and additional information about the piece.
In some countries, the testing of silver objects and marking of purity is controlled by a national assayer's office.
Silver hallmarks are applied with a hammer and punch, a process that leaves sharp edges and spurs of metal. Therefore, hallmarking is generally done before the piece goes for its final polishing.
The hallmark for sterling silver varies from nation to nation.
The control or inspection of precious metals was an ancient concept of examination and marking, by means of inspection stamps (punch marks). The use of hallmarks, at first, on silver has a long history dating back to the fourth century AD and represents the oldest known form of consumer protection. A series or system of five marks has been found on Byzantine silver dating from this period.
The Master Craftsman was responsible for the quality of the work that left his atelier or workshop, regardless of who made the item. Hence the responsibility mark is still known today in French as le poinçon de maître literally "the maker's punch."
In this period, fineness was more or less standardized in France and England at 20 karats for gold and 12 to 13 lots (75% to 81%) for silver, but the standards could only be partly enforced owing to the lack of precise analytical tools and techniques.Click to go to Silver Antiques Dealers