The earliest silverware from England that has survived to the present day dates back to the XII century, and, as a rule, these are items intended for decorating numerous tombs, churches and monasteries, as well as for performing religious rites. The production of such products was entrusted to exceptional craftsmen who had reached the highest level of jewelry craftsmanship. Especially for the manufacture of church utensils , craftsmen were called to rich abbeys, where they could work on one work for months.
While the silversmiths are actually locked up in monasteries, they honed the elegance of the lines and proportions of their products, foreign competitors flooded the country with silver products of a lower grade than the silver used then for coinage. This did not bother the British at all, and they were very willing to purchase new luxury items for them, the demand for which was steadily increasing. Under such circumstances, local jewelers could not compete with foreign suppliers, and in order to resist them, they prudently united in guild 2, the first mention of which dates back to about 1180. They claim that her the founders were fined for creating an organization without the permission of the authorities. But later the government was forced not only to agree with the existence of this union, but also to call on its leaders to protect the rights of consumers. To put an end to the production and turnover of products made of silver of a lower grade than that from which coins were minted, in 1238 by order of the king Henry III six of the most respectable jewelers in London were selected, who were appointed to lead colleagues in the guild [an Ordinance (22 Henry III.)].
In 1292. The act followed [the Act 20 Edward I. stat.4 (Statutumde Moneta)], prohibiting the import and use of foreign coins with unknown silver content, as well as prohibiting the circulation of counterfeit coins.
Government Act 1300 year3 [the Act 28 Edward I.C. 20] approved sterling silver4,925 samples as the state standard . To confirm the accepted standard, the product should have been branded "Leopard's Head" (Leopard's Head), which later became known as the "royal stamp".
With the adoption of the new act , the powers of the guild leadership expanded. Now it had to check every silver item produced in London. The selected craftsmen were obliged to visit jewelry shops and test the products located here on the spot. If the product did not meet the established standards, it was either destroyed or confiscated.
In 1327, the Guild of London jewelers was granted royal privileges, which marked the beginning of its official existence. Soon after, the jewelers felt the need for a public building where they could gather and solve their production issues. As a result, Goldsmiths' Hall was erected in London in 1339 (Jewelers' Hall). It is from here that the hard-to-translate English concept of "hallmark" originates.
After the law of 1300 , the next significant step in the regulation of the production of silver products was the act of 1363 [the Statute 37 Edward III.c.7], according to which the jewelers of London were ordered to have their own personal brand (Maker’s Mark). This brand was used in order to increase personal responsibility for compliance with the state silver standard. The master had the right to apply to the product is branded only after it has been tested in the guild5. The first brands of the manufacturers were pictographs depicting a cross, a heart, flowers, birds, etc., which were stamped with a hint of the master's surname.
In 1477, the government England decided to streamline the production of silver products in the provinces and adopted a new act [the Statute 17 Edward IV. c.I], according to which the London guild had to test silver products produced in any city England. For these purposes , a stamp with an image was also to be used leopard heads. But I must say that not many provincial jewelers followed this decree and sent their products to London for testing.
In the following year 1478 in The first State Assay Chamber (Assay) was established in London Office). This event was due to the fact that at that time, on the one hand, the country was it is literally flooded with their low-grade silver products, on the other hand, despite the existing export ban, a huge number of sterling silver products were exported abroad. To preserve the silver the state needed a special body capable of implementing a new system of universal control over the production and circulation of silver products. Assay Chamber of London, located in the historic Hall Jewelers, was obliged to check for compliance with the standard of every silver item put up for sale, and the final verdict belonged to a single person, the so-called chief inspector (Common Assayer), who, in confirmation of the state standard of silver , applied a brand to the product, which is now known as an annual (Date Letter) and represented a letter of the English alphabet in a shield of a certain shape.
The original purpose of this stamp was not so much to fix the year of testing of the product, as to identify the assayer, who could be held accountable if he installed a stamp certifying the state standard on a product made of lower -grade silver. In the presence of an annual stamp , it was not difficult to do this, since the assay masters changed annually.
In London , a twenty - year cycle corresponded to twenty letters the alphabet. There are more than twenty letters in the English alphabet, however, some letters The annual values were not used (J, V, W, X, Y and Z). The shape of the letter and the shape of the shield on which the letter was placed changed at the beginning of each new cycle. The assay year, when a new letter was introduced, began on May 19,6 and since 1660 – on May 29, 8.
It should be noted that the establishment of the assay chamber led to a change in the image of the leopard on the assay stamp. Since 1478, he began to be depicted in a crown.
Taking into account the previous laws, on English products manufactured after 1477, you can see the following brands: " Leopard's head", the annual stamp and the stamp of the master.
In 1544, there was an increase in state supervision over the production of silverware, which, first of all, was expressed in the fact that two government officials were introduced into the leadership of the London assay Chamber, which until now had been represented exclusively by honored masters of the guild . Since this year, the stamp "Walking Lion" (Standard) has been used as an assay stamp certifying the sterling standard (925 test). Mark), which has become perhaps the most recognizable assay English brand and received another name - "Sterling lion" ("Sterling Lion»).
During the operation of the provincial assay chambers of England, which were established much later than London, the brand "Walking Lion" began to be used only after 1720; in Birmingham and Sheffield – since 1773, i.e. since the opening of assay chambers here.
In the history of the image of the walking lion, perhaps, several points should be noted. On the original stamp, the lion was depicted walking to the left, without a crown and looking towards the viewer (Lion Passant Guardant). Since the end of the XV century for quite a long time, the London assay chamber used a brand where the lion was depicted in a crown (1478/79-1821/22). The image of such a lion was not used on the stamps of other assay chambers in England . Over time , a brand appeared with a lion looking forward (Lion Passant not Guardant). In Newcastle, in some years, you can find a brand with a lion going to the right.
With the adoption of the new brand , the "Leopard's Head" was not abolished, but remained used as the city brand of London. Despite this fact, most of the assay chambers in England practiced this brand it is as a "royal stamp" certifying state standards. The assay chambers of Birmingham and Sheffield did not use this brand.
The year 1697 brought temporary changes to the assay system in England. The fact is that during the Civil War (1649-1660), a huge amount of sterling silver was melted down into coins to pay soldiers' salaries. After the restoration of the monarchy (1660), when Charles II came to the throne, the demand for household silver increased so much that the coins were allowed to be melted down for the production of necessary household utensils. It was done illegally, and for the destruction of this practice in 1697 on the basis of a new act [an Act of Parliament (8 & 9Wm.III.c. 8)] the "British" standard was introduced: 95.8% pure silver. For his identity, new brands were established: "Britannia" ("Britannia", the image of a woman with a trident, personifying England), which replaced the "Walking Lion", and the "Lion's Head Profile" (Lion's Head Erased), which replaced the "Leopard's Head". These stamps were used until 1720/21, when the adopted new standard ceased be mandatory [an Act 6 Geo. i. c. 11]. Precisely because of such a short-term the use of the brands "Britain" and "Lion head profile" products with them are relatively rare and are in high demand among collectors. Experience has shown that silver products of a new standard were less durable. The higher sample was not canceled, just its use became optional.
By the same act of 1697 it was established that the stamp of the master should represent initials, and not a symbol (pictogram), as it was before.
Thus, in the period from 1697 to 1720 , the following brands should have been on English products: "Britain", "Lion's head profile", annual stamp in the form of a letter and a stamp with