HISTORY OF THE CLEARING OF STERLING SILVER
Since silver is a soft metal, it is practically not used in its pure form. Most often it is an alloy of silver and copper. The ratio of the quantities of one and the other metal was constantly changing, until Edward I introduced the branding system in 1300, according to the standard, now the share of silver in the finished product should be at least 92.5 percent. Only in this case could silver be called “sterling” and wear a stamp with a leopard head.
After 63 years, that is, in 1363, the brand of the master was introduced, which made it impossible to falsify the products with the stamp of the head of a leopard. In 1478, a letter appears, which means the year of branding of the product. And in 1544, the image of a walking lion put the final confirmation of the royal control over branding.
The assay marks indicated the city in which the metal was checked for how clean it was. In 1478, the craftsmen who tested silver and stigmatized this procedure exclusively in the Guild of Goldsmiths. This was a measure to prevent the stigmatization of products of unsatisfactory quality. The first hallmark of the London assay office was the image of the head of a leopard (the stigma of sterling silver). It happened in 1544. At the end of the seventeenth century, several assay chambers still appeared, which had their own brands: Chester branded a sword and three wheat sheaves; Newcastle – three castles; Exter – a three-tower castle; Birmingham – Anchors and Sheffield stamped the crown.
The stamp of the master was a symbol, since most at that time could not read. At the end of the 17th century, the initials of the master were placed next to the symbol. Over the next century, symbols ceased to be used, only the initials remained. From 1697 to 1720, the masters had to register updated designations, which were the first two letters of the surname.
The letter indicating the date that appeared in 1478 and is still in use today indicates the year the product was tested. Each year, the letter changed, due to the fact that assay masters changed. In all assay chambers, the letters are different. The shape of the visor into which the letter fits also changes annually.
Silver, which met all the declared standards, was called sterling in England and was branded with the head of a leopard. Since this image is related to the coat of arms, this stigma was called royal. When in 1544 sterling silver was branded with a walking lion, the image of the head of a leopard was made the hallmark of the London assay chamber. Later, the stigma of the “walking lion” was changed to the stigma of the British standard.
During the years of the Civil English War, a lot of sterling silver was melted into coins, which paid soldiers. After the war ended, the demand for silverware began to grow so much that the coins were re-smelted in order to make the necessary household utensils. This happened naturally illegally. And in order to prevent this action in 1697, a single British standard was adopted: there should be 95.8% pure silver. In order to control the system, brands were introduced depicting a woman who was supposed to personify Britain. The head of a lion was replaced by the head of a leopard (at that time the stigma of the assay chamber of London). The sterling standard returned only in 1720. Therefore, the period from 1697 to 1720 is called the British standard.
Then, in 1720, the silver tax was first introduced. In the eight years that the American War of Independence lasted, England began to feel the need for additional financial resources, so the amount of tax was constantly growing. The fact that the tax was paid was indicated by the stigma with the profile of the monarch. So it was until 1890, in which the masters of silver work achieved that the tax was abolished.
Jubilee hallmarks were legalized solely at the request of the masters and were timed to coincide with an important anniversary or event. Such stamps were not obligatory. The main anniversary marks in England are the “Golden Anniversary” of Queen Mary and George V, the coronation of Elizabeth II and the “Silver Anniversary” of Elizabeth.