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British Hallmarks

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I started my pages about hallmarking to document information about imported watches, which is not readily available in the standard references such as Bradbury and Chaffers. However, I realised that many people with a watch that they have perhaps been given or inherited don't have ready access to these standard works, so on this page I show some examples of the British hallmarks that were found in any watch cases that were hallmarked before 1 June 1907, and which continued to be used in British manufactured watch cases after 1907.

I can't (for copyright reasons apart from anything else) reproduce the information in Bradbury or Chaffers, but I hope the examples here will help you read the hallmarks in your own watch. If you want some help, don't hesitate to email me, but do try to send me a clear picture or sketch of the mark you need help with. Send your query to me at Please don't give out my email address, refer anyone interested to this web site. I try to answer all emails I receive so if you don't get a reply in a few days please check your junk or spam folders.


London, sterling, 1860/61, Richard Oliver
Click image to enlarge

There are lots more examples further down the page, but let's make a start with the example of the hallmarks in the picture here, just to get a feel for what a set of British hallmarks looks like. The first thing to note is that there are four distinct marks.

Starting at the top the marks are: the lion passant of sterling silver, a leopard's head which is the "town mark" of the London Assay Office, the assayer's mark (date letter) "e" for 1860/1861, and the sponsor's mark R.O in rectangular shield, the mark of Richard Oliver, first registered 16 February 1859.

Until 1821 the leopard, the town mark of the London Assay Office, was pictured wearing a crown, and the lion of sterling silver was shown "guardant" as well as "passant". Passant means walking with three feet on the ground and right front forepaw raised. Guardant means the lion is shown looking over his left shoulder towards the viewer. From 1821 the London leopard was stripped of his crown, and the lion is shown passant but not guardant, his head in profile looking in the direction he is walking as in this example.

Assay and Hallmarking

Let's now have a look at the parts of a hallmark in more detail. Watch cases made in the UK from silver or gold should by law have been subjected to "assay" (which simply means "to test") to determine the purity of the metal, and then stamped with hallmarks showing four things:

  1. The Assay Office Town Mark - showing at which office the article was marked.
  2. The Standard Mark - the guaranteed minimum fineness of the metal.
  3. The Assayer's Mark - showing who was responsible for the assay, and thereby the hallmarking year in which the article was hallmarked.
  4. The Sponsor's mark - the registered mark of the person who submitted the article to the Assay Office for testing and marking.

Town Marks

Each Assay Office has its own "town" mark to show at which office an item was assayed. Until 1907 these were used on gold and silver items made in the UK, and also on any imported items that were hallmarked. After 1 June 1907 different town marks were used on imported items, which you can read about on my page about Import Hallmarks. Amongst the most familiar town marks are:

Standard Marks

The item of principal interest to the original purchaser was of course the "fineness" of the metal, i.e. how much gold or silver is actually in the material. In the UK this fineness is guaranteed by the Assay Office, which is why there is such a formal process of submitting, testing and marking the metal, but for researchers the marks can tell us more than just the basic fineness. Sterling silver, which is the most widely used standard in Britain, is 92.5% pure silver, the rest being a base metal alloying element, usually copper, that makes the resulting alloy stronger than pure silver. Gold purity is measured in carats where 24 carat gold is pure gold. Legal standards of gold were 22, 18, 15, 12, 9 and 14. When 14 carat became legal the short lived standards of 15 and 12 carats were discontinued.

The mark that shows the guaranteed minimum purity of the metal is called the "standard mark", which shows that the metal meets the standard.

Assayer's Mark

The year denoted by the date letter can be confusing because until 1975, when the 1973 Act came into force, the hallmarking year did not run from 1 January. This mark was introduced in 1478 and was at first called the "assayer's mark", because it was intended to be a record of who was responsible for the assay of an item if questions later arose. For this reason it was changed each year when the new wardens were elected and thereby indicates the date when the item was assayed and hallmarked, although this was not its original purpose.

Prior to the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, the London hallmarking year commenced on 19 May, the Feast Day of Saint Dunstan, Dunstan was born at Glastonbury in about the year 925 and is the first recorded working goldsmith in England. He built a cell near the Abbey of Glastonbury containing a forge where he made censers and crosses, chalices and patens, as well as articles for domestic use. He successively became Abbot of Glastonbury, Bishop of Worcester, Bishop of London and Archbishop of Canterbury. After his death on 19 May 988 he was buried in Canterbury Cathedral, canonised in 1029, and became the patron saint of all good goldsmiths. The London Goldsmiths' Company especially honoured St. Dunstan, subscribing towards the light of St. Dunstan in the Church of St. John Zachary, keeping his day as a holiday, and designating him in their records as "Seynt Dunstan our blessed Patron, Protector and Founder". patron saint of English gold and silversmiths. From the restoration of Charles II to the Monarchy in May 1660 until 1973, the London hallmarking year officially commenced on Oak-apple Day (the King's birthday), 29th May, but the actual date when the new letter was first struck was sometimes later by days, and even weeks, depending on when the new punches were accepted by the Wardens, the letter "s" causing trouble on several occasions because the there is no distinct lower case version of the letter s.

The point of all this is that the date letter change is nearly half way through the calendar year! So an item marked with an " a", which the table in Bradbury indicates is the date letter for 1916, could have been marked at any time from May 29th 1916 to 28th May, or possibly even some time in June, 1917.

The Glasgow hallmarking year ran from 1st July to 30th June, neatly bisecting the the year. The Glasgow office closed in 1964. The Birmingham office also changed its date letter with the annual election of the wardens on 1st July.

The date letters used by the London Assay Office to indicate the hallmarking year ran in sequences of 20, starting at the letter "a" and running up to "u", omitting the letter "j". Other offices used the full cycle from "a" to "z".

The letter j, a variant of the letter i, was introduced to allow finer nuance in the written word. This bit of obscure information can be useful if you come across a word like "fjord" (a partially submerged Norwegian coastal valley). At first sight most English speakers would stumble on this word, but just imagine the j as an i and you are close to the correct pronunciation of "fee-yord" - it's not exactly the same because the j sound is slightly different to the i sound, but it gets you close. And you can do vice-versa with i for j if you need to.

Why was "j" left out? Well, the letter "j" was only invented in the 16th century, and didn't make its way into common English usage until the 17th century. The Goldsmith's Guild weren't going to change their ways for a new fangled thing like that. Even the hallmarking act of 1973, which did away with the London cycle ending in "u" and allowed the date letters to run up to " z", didn't introduce the letter "j" into London hallmarks - still a bit too modern I guess.

The shield shape (the outline around the letter) can sometimes be a bit confusing if you look in one of the reference books for a date letter in a gold case. Bradbury and other books show the shield shape for silver date letters, which often have serifs (points) along the bottom or top edges. The shields used for the date letter on gold items have plainer square or oblong shields and are hardly, if ever, shown in the reference books.

Maker's / Sponsor's Marks

To send an item to the Assay Office to be assayed, a person must be registered with the particular Assay Office. The reason for this is pretty obvious - the Office needs to know who to charge for their services and who to return the items to. To facilitate this, the Assay Office requires that each registered person have a registered mark, called the "Sponsor's mark", which is unique to them. This usually consists of the persons initials set in a "shield", a surrounding shape. If a person has the same initials as someone already registered, the shield of their mark will be made different, so that the two marks can be distinguished.

The sponsor's mark is not necessarily the mark of the person who made the item, which is why the name of the mark was changed in the nineteenth century from the previous "maker's mark".

Rotherhams London 1881 / 1882 Hallmarks

British made case

These hallmarks are in the British made case of a watch made by Rotherhams of Coventry.

Reading from the top and then left to right the marks are:

  • The walking lion, the mark for sterling silver.
  • The sponsor's mark "JR" in a diamond shield, the registered mark of John Rotherham.
  • The leopard's head: the town mark of the London Assay Office.
  • The date letter "F": the date letter of the London hallmarking year 1881 to 1882.

If you click on the image of the hallmarks to the right, you should get a bigger view with each mark highlighted.


"Foreign"

NB: Don't confuse the "F" date letter of this hallmark with the "F" (for "Foreign" ) in an oval shield as shown here that from 1867 onwards should have been struck on all imported gold and silver items. The "Foreign" mark would obviously not have been struck in an English made case, but should appear in foreign watches from 1867 until 1887 but has never been seen (unless you have one? If you do, please let me know).


Click image to enlarge

IJTN: Newsome and Company
Chester 1888 / 1889 Hallmarks

British made case

Newsome and Co. were one of the leading English watchmaking firms of the period. The following information about the company is largely based on the entry in Culme John Culme "The Directory of Gold and Silversmiths, Jewellers and Allied Traders, 1838-1914: From the London Assay Office Registers" Publication Date: 15 Oct 1987 | ISBN-10: 0907462464 | ISBN-13: 978-0907462460 Two volumes; the first with 4,000 biographies, the second with photographs of 15,000 marks taken directly from the London Assay Office Registers at Goldsmiths' Hall. .

Newsome & Yeomans of Spon Street, Coventry, advertised in the Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith in 1877 as "Wholesale Watch Manufacturers ... Silver English Lever Watches of every description; also gold lever watches, three-quarter and full plate; Three-quarter Plate Keyless Centre Seconds Stop Watches in Gold and Silver. The Performance of every Watch guaranteed for a number of Years."

The partnership of Isaac Jabez Theo Newsome and Samuel Yeomans (jr) was dissolved on 5th February 1879. Yeomans remained in Spon Street and Newsome moved to 14/15 The Butts, Coventry. Newsome and Co. advertised from this address in the Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith in 1886 as watch and chronometer makers, with an engraving showing the factory.

By 1894 Newsome and Co. had a London office at 94 Hatton Garden, EC, and were advertising as "Wholesale Watch Manufacturers. All kinds of English Lever Watches in Stock. Sole Makers of Patent Safety Wheel for Going Barrels. Keyless Work a Specialité with or without the Kew Certificate in "A," 46B," or "C" class... Illustrated catalogue on application." The firm's London agent was listed in 1897 as J.M. Joseph. By the time the London office has moved to 70 Hatton Garden, Joseph had been replaced by Charles Louis Ebeling.

The son of Isaac Newsome was Samuel Theo Newsome. He became a director of S H Newsome Ltd, watch manufacturers of Coventry, and proprietor of the Coventry Hippodrome. He died on 4 January 1930 aged 61.

Reading from the top and then left to right the marks are:

  • The walking lion, the mark for sterling silver.
  • The town mark of the Chester Assay Office, an upright sword between three wheatsheaves.
  • The assayer's mark or date letter "E": the letter of the Chester hallmarking year 1888 to 1889.
  • The sponsor's mark I.J.T.N registered in 1884 by Isaac Jabez Theo Newsome of 14/15 The Butts, Coventry, watchmaker and watchcase maker.

Waltham Birmingham 1899 / 1900 Hallmarks

British made case

These hallmarks are in the case of a watch by the American Watch Co. of Waltham, MA, USA. The movement was of course made in America, and the case was made in Britain. But one can't be so certain about all Waltham cases with British hallmarks because Waltham had cases made in Britain, Switzerland and America, all of which they had hallmarked in Britain.

In evidence to the Select Committee on hallmarking in 1878 Alfred Bedford, the manager of Waltham UK, said that they could not get enough watch cases made in England and that in 1877 Waltham UK had imported 5,000 watch cases from the USA and 18,000 from Switzerland. Bedford said that these were mostly hallmarked at Chester. To the Select Committee on the Merchandise Marks Amendment Act, which sat in 1887, Bedford said "At our case factory at Birmingham we turn out something like 50,000 cases a year for our watches." This factory is almost certainly what became the Dennison watch case factory.

As I discuss on my page about assay and hallmarking, the 1887 Merchandise Marks Amendment Act made it illegal for foreign watch cases to be marked with British hallmarks like this from 1888 onwards, so this case was British made, almost certainly by Dennison, although why it carries Bedford's sponsors mark rather than Dennison's is something of a mystery.

Reading from the top and then left to right the marks are:

  • The walking lion, the mark for sterling silver.
  • The anchor: the town mark of the Birmingham Assay Office.
  • The date letter "Z": the date letter of the Birmingham hallmarking year 1899 to 1900.
  • The sponsor's mark "A·B" in a rectangular shield, the registered mark of Alfred Bedford, director of Waltham UK.

Thanks to Richard Edwards for the picture of the hallmarks.

IWC "Seeland" Chester 1877 / 1878 Hallmarks

Swiss made case

These hallmarks are in the Swiss made case of an IWC "Seeland" watch.

Reading from the top and then left to right the marks are:

  • The walking lion, the mark for sterling silver.
  • A sword erect between three wheatsheafs (garbs): the town mark of the Chester Assay Office.
  • The date letter "O": the date letter of the Chester hallmarking year 1877 to 1878.
  • The sponsor's mark "AC" incuse in an oval incuse shield, the registered mark of Antoine Castelberg.

IWC "Seeland" watches were made during the period from October 1876 to the summer of 1879 when IWC was under the control of of Frederic Frank (or Francis) Seeland who was appointed to manage the IWC factory in October 1876, after the first company, founded by F.A. Jones, had gone bankrupt. The sponsor's mark is "AC" incised within an oval. This mark was registered at the Chester Assay Office on 17 October 1877 and was the mark of Antoine Castelberg of 58 Holborn Viaduct, London, a watch dealer and importer from La Chaux-de-Fonds. Castelberg had several London addresses, his sponsor's mark was first registered with the London Assay Office on 25 August 1875 with the address 90 Newgate Street London. On 2 August 1876 he moved to 58 Holborn Viaduct. The incised mark registered to Castleberg is unusual because UK makers usually used cameo (relief) marks like the other assay office marks.

Longines London 1877 / 1878 Hallmarks

Swiss made case

These hallmarks are in the Swiss made case of a Longines watch imported by Baume & Co.

Reading from the top and then left to right the marks are:

  • The sponsor's mark "AB" in an oval shield, the registered mark of Arthur Baume of Baume & Co.
  • The walking lion, the mark for sterling silver.
  • The leopard's head: the town mark of the London Assay Office.
  • The date letter "B": the date letter of the London hallmarking year 1877 to 1878.

If you click on the image you should get a bigger view.


Click image to enlarge

Stauffer, Son, & Co. London 1886 / 1887 Hallmarks

Swiss made case

These hallmarks are in the Swiss made case of a Swiss watch imported by the Anglo/Swiss company Stauffer & Co.

Reading from the top and then left to right the marks are:

  • The walking lion, the mark for sterling silver.
  • The leopard's head: the town mark of the London Assay Office.
  • The date letter "L": the date letter of the London hallmarking year 1886 to 1887.
  • The sponsor's mark "CN" in a rectangular shield with cut corners, the registered mark of Charles Nicolet, a director of Stauffer & Co.

If you click on the image you should get a bigger view.

Thanks to Deveron Jewellers for the picture.


Click image to enlarge

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