This attractive silver box is decorated with swags and bows and bears a London import mark for 1923. But closer inspection reveals that it carries an antique of much greater age: a medieval coin set in the base.
Attractive round silver box with medieval coin set in the base. Import marks London 1923. NJL9617
The coin is an English "Long Cross" silver coin, which was minted between 1272 and 1485. It is difficult to be sure exactly which "Long Cross" coin it is but it looks like it might be an Edward III silver penny (1344-1351).
In 1180 the “Short Cross” penny was introduced by King Henry II and continued to be minted throughout the reigns of Richard I and King John. The Short Cross coins are so called because the cross embossed on the back did not reach the edges. This encouraged the illegal practice of snipping some of the silver off round the edges of the coin, so in 1272, King Henry II introduced the “Long Cross” coins where the cross went right to the edges. It was thus immediately visible if any of the coin was missing. The cross also provided a neat guide for cutting the coin into halves or quarters when change needed to be given. The penny was the most common Long Cross coin but there were also groats (four pennies) and half groats.
Below: the silver coin set in the base seen from the outside, with the Long Cross distinctly visible, and two more photos showing the gilded inside of the box and the face of the coin bearing the monarch's head (possibly Edward III).
A question staff are often asked at Woodbridge Antiques Centre is ‘how do I know if this is silver?’ So, if you’ve had a clearout and have found some pieces you are unsure of, here is a brief guide.
What is hallmarking?
Silver is never completely pure. Like gold, it is a soft metal and needs to be mixed with other metals to make it stronger. In Britain the most common grade of silver is 925 known as ‘Sterling silver’, the most popular grade around the world and so-called because it is 925 parts per thousand silver, the other 75 parts being other metals. To ensure that a piece has the correct amount of silver in it, it is sent to an assay office where the piece is tested and stamped with a hallmark.
Hallmarking is probably the oldest form of consumer protection, dating back to the 1300s! A hallmark is really an independent seal of approval. Great Britain is lucky to have one of the best hallmarking systems in the world, so it is possible to date and identify the maker of a piece of silver and the location it was assayed. There is another grade of silver for British pieces which is Britannia this is 958 parts per thousand silver and has a different symbol. There are also different grades and symbols for other countries but we will be focusing on identifying British sterling silver.
What to look for on your piece:
First you need to find your marks. Sometimes they will be quite obvious, on the back of cutlery or on the base of an item, but sometimes they are hidden within a pattern so you may need a magnifying glass to hunt for them. The photos below are of a silver button hook with a Mr. Punch head. The hallmarks are shown with arrows - as you can see they were quite difficult to spot.
Once you have found them it’s time to identify them: The most important symbol to look for is the lion passant (1), which identifies your piece as being sterling silver. Now look for the town hallmark: in this photo we see the anchor (2), denoting it was assayed in Birmingham. The date letter ‘k’ (3) indicates it was assayed in 1909, and finally the maker’s mark (4) shows that it was made by Jones & Crompton.
Common town marks are London, Birmingham, Chester, Sheffield, Edinburgh and Dublin. The designs have changed a little over the years but typical marks are shown in the photo.
Silver plated pieces are made from base metal which can be nickel or copper with a layer of silver applied. These can also have markings that look a bit like hallmarks. Look out for the letters EP or EPNS which stand for electro plate or electro plated nickel silver. It may also have the marking A1 or B1 which denote for the quality of the silver plate. Here are some examples of silver plate markings.
It is also a good idea to look for signs of wear. Silver will tarnish and may have grey or black marks but underneath if you polish it, it will return to a shiny surface. With silver plate you may be able to see a yellow hue to the metal where the base metal is beginning to show through the layer of silver (such as in the last photo, above). This usually occurs where the silver has been worn away by repeated cleaning.
This is a little insight into the big world of hallmarks. There are some useful links on our links page.
Woodbridge Antiques Centre buys items as well as selling them. We specialise in jewellery and silverware and are always looking for quality pieces. It is not just high value items we are interested in but also more everyday items from times gone by, including:
Silver and gold jewellery: vintage, antique and second hand.
Silver items: table pieces, novelties, desk items and decorative pieces.
Vintage and antique ladies and men's jewellery including costume jewellery, amber, brooches, glass bead necklaces, rings, bracelets and cufflinks.
Pre 1960s ladies accessories: dressing table items, hat pins, compacts andhandbags.
Sewing-related items such as thimbles, needlecases, button hooks and pin cushions.
Antique copper, brass and wooden items.
Decanters, cocktail shakers and sets of glasses.
Other interesting antique or pre-1970s vintage items that are in good condition.
Give us a ring on 01394 387210 before bringing anything in, to make sure the right person will be here to help you.
Hester Bateman (1704-1794) is one of the best known English silversmiths whose work has touched the hearts of generations of collectors. One of the main reasons may surprise you if you are not aware that Hester is usually a female name. Yes - Hester Bateman was a woman and the mere fact that she was able to work at all in a field which at that time was completely dominated by men is an achievement in itself.
Hester Bateman Sauceboat, London 1779. TGS07
Born in 1704, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Needham, she married a goldsmith named John Bateman in 1732 with whom she had six children. John Bateman died in 1760 leaving all his household goods and his tools to his wife, so Hester went into business under her own name, registering her maker’s mark ( a simple “HB” script) at Goldsmith’s Hall, London on April 16th 1761.
With her sons, Peter (1740-1825) and Jonathan (1747-1791) she continued to run the family business until she retired in 1790 at the age of 86. Hester had a great deal of business acumen and achieved considerable success within her own lifetime, partly by using techniques and machines which were at the forefront of technology at that time and by using thin sheet silver that enabled her to keep costs down and compete with companies producing Sheffield plate. The family specialised in household silver in a neo-classical style and their work often features bright-cut engraving, piercing and beading round the edges. Hester Bateman’s attention to detail and the quality of her work have earned her a place amongst the finest English silversmiths.
Pair of Hester Bateman Silver Table Spoons, London 1790 - PLCE4871.
Hester Bateman's "HB" maker's mark seen on one of the table spoons pictured above. The rest of the hallmark shows (from left): the Lion Passant for sterling silver; the Leopard's Head wearing a crown for London (the crown was deleted from the London mark after 1820); the letter P for 1790; and the Sovereign's Head (George III) showing that duty had been paid on the item (used between 1784 and 1890).
Hester died in 1794 at the advanced age of 90. She was the first and most famous silversmith in a dynasty of four generations. When she retired, her sons Jonathan and Peter registered their own mark - the letters PB over IB – but, since Jonathan died in 1791, this mark was used for only six months and silverware bearing it is extremely rare today. After Jonathan’s death, his widow Ann Bateman continued working with her brother-in-law, Peter. On his uncle’s retirement, Jonathan and Ann’s son William (1774-1850) took over the business in 1815 and eventually passed it on to his own son, also named William. He was to be the last silversmith in the family: the business finally closed in 1840.
The rare maker's mark of Hester Bateman's sons Jonathan and Peter on the base of a silver pillbox. Showing the letters PB over IB, this mark was only used for six months due to Jonathan's death. Silverware bearing these marks are sought-after collector's pieces.