Patent numbers are especially helpful when dating older vintage jewelry, and will be covered in a separate article in this series. Resources for Learning About Hallmarks Antique Jewelry University: Hallmarks on Period Jewelry It includes silver marks from many countries and you can access it here: As a general rule, signatures without a copyright symbol indicate the piece was manufactured prior to There are exceptions, however.
Jewelry companies would often use up their supply of pre-stamped clasps and findings after switching to a new signature, so some pieces made soon after might not have copyright symbols. A detailed study of vintage jewelry marks could fill multiple books, but to give some guidance we can use the Trifari company as an example.
Trifari always signed its jewelry and was very diligent about protecting its designs. Prior to the change in the copyright law in , the designs were patented. Here, often for reasons of security and economy, it was prudent to operate outside the jurisdiction of the metropolitan assay houses of Dublin and Edinburgh. Instead, they stamped the silver themselves with a maker's mark, a town mark or combinations of these and other marks.
The mark of the Limerick silversmith Joseph Johns. Specialist publications are essential for locating and unstanding the meaning of a huge proliferation of different marks and symbols used on Scottish provincial silver. The marks struck for Alexander Cameron of Dundee. Date Letters 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. 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 that all date letters were changed on January 1. These neo-style items looked very much like the artifacts made in their respective era. From around people started noticing repetitive patterns and the study on hallmarks began, exposing many frauds in decades to follow. By a good hallmark inventory was at hand and the risks of an item being destroyed, due to falsified hallmarks, soon outweighed the profits of tax evasions.
By that time the general taste had changed from eclecticism to Art Nouveau and Edwardian. Thanks to the hallmark research that began in the late s, a good picture of hallmarking practices throughout the ages is now readily available. The interpretation of these hallmarks, however, requires specific training and a keen eye. Especially in countries with no governmental assay offices, like the USA, the need for in-shop trained professionals in this field is required to interpret these stamps correctly.
On a large percentage of antique jewelry these hallmarks are, due to various reasons, absent and estimations on the origin can only be done through careful observation and, if present, the correct interpretation of accompanying documentation. When hallmarks are present, they can add greatly to the value of the coveted object and that is especially true when the stamp is rare or that of an important maker. While in the United Kingdom smiths incorporated the hallmarks in the design, sentiment amongst most precious metalsmiths is that they do not want someone to punch stamps on objects they created with great care and hard labour.
When it could be avoided, for instance when it was not mandatory, the smiths would choose not to have their items marked. Other reasons hallmarks are not found on jewelry include repairs done in the course of the life of the item or that the article was exempt from hallmarking. This exemption was for items that were under a certain weight or were too delicate to be marked without damage.