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The UK is highly regarded around the world for its production of silver and the valuable metal has been produced on these shores for hundreds of years – most notably in Sheffield.
Several methods have been conjured up to produce silver at a cheaper rate using base metals such as nickel and copper to replicate the look and feel of silver. Today, the majority of silver coloured cutlery and jugs are made using this method.
However, as antiques expert Anita Manning showed The Hour, it doesn’t take a specialist to spot real British silver from its cheaper alternatives - although you may have to get your magnifying glass out.
Anita said: “I love silver because as well as being very useful, it’s very very beautiful. But how can we tell silver? We tell by the hallmarks.”
The practise of placing hallmarks on British sterling originated around 1697 and is designed to indicate that the metal is pure silver. This is signified by a lion emblem, which is usually accompanied by a maker’s mark and a separate date symbol.
Showing off a genuine sterling silver platter dish, Anita pointed to its special hallmarks:
“If we look at this particular piece we find that it has the little mark of lion. With electro plated nickel silver we see what we think is a hallmark, although these are actually symbol marks. We can also spot the initials EPNS on the base of the silver.”
Many of the more elusive silver pieces come from smaller silversmiths that are dotted around the country, including several in Scotland.
These traditionally fetch a high price at auction and are easily identifiable through specific hallmarks – although inexperienced antique hunters may wish to reference a hallmark list or book.
Anita added: “Silver collectors love to collect silver from provisional towns and villages. If you look at these unassuming teaspoons, we find that they were made at a Banff silversmith.
“Silver from this Scottish town was only ever made over short period of time. They could be worth £100 each.”
Although they are small and often tucked away at the base of silver pieces, hallmarks can give a fascinating amount of information on the artefact in question and are crucial in finding genuine antiques:
“When looking at hallmarks, it’s important to look where it is, who made it and don’t forget the little lion. Happy hunting.”