Although no longer compulsory, British hallmarks typically include a letter to indicate the year when a piece of silver was assayed.Generally the letter was changed annually until a complete alphabet had been used and then the cycle would begin again with an alteration to the style of letter or its surrounding shield.Silver struck with the half leopard’s head and half fleur de lys of York (closed 1856) and the crowned X or a three-turreted castle of Exeter (closed 1883) can be collectable on account of its rarity and sense of place.Below is list of marks applied by provincial assay offices which have now ceased operating: Chester - closed in 1962 Mark: three wheat sheaves and a sword Exeter - closed in 1883 Marks: a crowned X or a three-turreted castle Glasgow - closed in 1964 Mark: combined tree, bird, bell and fish Newcastle upon Tyne - closed in 1884 Mark: three separated turrets Norwich - closed by 1701 Mark: a crowned lion passant and a crowned rosette York - closed in 1856 Mark: half leopard's head, half fleur de lys and later five lions passant on a cross For many reasons town silversmiths in Ireland and Scotland seldom sent their plate to Edinburgh, Glasgow or Dublin to be assayed.Dublin’s assay office has been operating since the middle of the 17th century and silver is still marked there.Most British and Irish silver carries a number of stamps indicating not just the standard or purity mark (typically the lion passant) but also the initials of the maker, a date letter and the place of assay.
The Edinburgh mark is a three-turreted castle (to which a thistle was added from 1759 until 1975 when a lion rampant replace the thistle); the mark for Sheffield was a crown until 1974 when it was replaced by a rosette, while the symbol for silver made in Birmingham is an anchor.
Dublin silver is struck with a crowned harp, to which a seated figure of Hibernia was added in 1731.
Sequences of historical marks for the following offices can be viewed through the links below (reproduced courtesy of the British Hallmarking Council).
For a variety of reasons this practice was not always adhered to and the resulting anomalies can be seen in the tables of marks.
However, the date letter system allows antique plate to be dated more accurately than almost all other antiques.
It should be noted that while the date letter has routinely been taken to represent a single year, it was not until 1975 that all date letters were changed on January 1.