Who Made This?
We see it all the time, someone spots a cute piece of jewelry at a flea market, or in grandma’s jewelry box, and we have no idea how old it is, who made it, or if it’s even worth anything. First, IMO, if you love it it’s worth something. But sometimes there are better reasons to want to know who made a ring or a pendant.
One of the more common reasons for researching Maker’s Marks is to help you find more of the same type of jewelry. Perhaps you like the style, or perhaps you like the designer and want to collect more of his or her work. In either case, discovering who the creator is through their mark is often the only way to track them down.
Where Did Hallmarks Start?
The earliest hallmarks range back to as early as AD 350. Byzantium Emperor Augustinian began using a series of marks on silver to define their authenticity. These may have been origin marks, or fineness marks, no one is really sure, but they are the first example of marking metals as a form of consumer protection.
In the Late Middle Ages, the age of the crafts guilds, a Master’s Mark began to be used to show responsibility for the items made in his shop. The French called it the maker’s punch or le poinçon de maître. Maker’s Marks began to be codified in 1260 in France with the Goldsmiths Statute and that was closely followed by England in 1300 and then Switzerland in 1424. After this the marking system was further refined and organized into the system we know today.
How Do You Read Hallmarks?
Depending on the period of the piece and the location of the maker, the hallmarks and maker’s marks can be hard to sort out and understand. For example, the above Victorian ring shows a maker’s mark from Thomas Morrel, in Birmingham, UK, from 1867. You can see the T.M & Co clearly for the maker. The crown stands for gold between 18kt and 22kt and the 22 stamp is for 22kt.
Following that is the Birmingham Assay Office mark, the anchor, that declares that the item was made to the standards set out on the hallmark. Other UK marks may include a castle for Edinburgh or a panther for London. Other countries will have their own marks. The M is the date code mark and the Sovereign’s Head showed that the duty had been paid for that item.
Help Researching Maker’s Marks
As you can see, hallmarks in general and maker’s marks, in particular, can be incredibly complex and a challenge to decipher. Fortunately, jewelry and precious metals have a very detailed and well-researched history because of the value of the items themselves.
One of the best laid out sites for researching your maker’s marks is the Antique Jewelry University. Their site is loaded with information about antique jewelry, but more important, their database of antique maker’s marks is staggering.
If you are looking for European marks, the Assay Office in Birmingham has a great system for identifying modern marks and even a hallmark app that will help you identify jewelry on the fly with your phone or tablet.
Gold isn’t the only precious metal to use hallmarks. You can also discover the history of silver hallmarks at the Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks.
Finally, costume jewelry also has their own hallmarks. Illusion Jewels has a deep collection of maker’s marks and hallmarks on their website.
Hallmark research is a complex problem. Hopefully, these sites will help you research your own jewelry and allow you to understand more about when, where, and who made your jewelry. If you know of another site that has more information that we should include here, please let us know.