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The hallmark for sterling silver varies from nation to nation, often using distinctive historic symbols, although Dutch and UK Assay offices no longer strike their traditional hallmarks exclusively in their own territories and undertake assay in other countries using marks that are the same as those used domestically.
One of the most highly structured hallmarking systems in the world is that of the United Kingdom, (Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland), and Ireland.
In the early United States, no national assaying system was adopted, although the city of Baltimore did maintain its own assay office between 18.
Prior to the general adoption of sterling silver as the standard of purity in 1868, silver was generally obtained from the melting of coins.
French silver made for export carries an assay mark in the shape of the head of Mercury, along with a number to indicate the millesimal fineness: "1" for .920, "2" for .840 and "3" for .750.
French silver also is punched with the mark of the maker.
A silver object that is to be sold commercially is, in most countries, stamped with one or more silver hallmarks indicating 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.
Shows the hallmarks for two pieces of English silver (from the workshops of George Adams (1842) and Joseph & Albert Savory (1838)) each with a tally mark added (the letter B on one and a small dot on the other).
In fact, the French standard for sterling silver is higher than that of other nations, requiring a silver content of 950 parts per thousand, or 95% silver.
Silver items with a slightly lower grade of silver, 800 parts per thousand, are marked with the head of Minerva, next to which is a "2".
Like most silver products, Reed & Barton silverplate pieces feature hallmarks that help you to identify it.
From 1928 to 1957, pictorial marks representing the year were added to the hallmark, which can further help to date a piece.
These five nations have, historically, provided a wealth of information about a piece through their series of applied punches.