The marks serve several functions: * they verify that the item is of the correct quality. * where appropriate, they record that duty has been paid on the item. The year in which a piece of Irish silver was made can be determined by the date letter – this is one of the marks described above, applied by the assay office when it is hallmarked.
In Ireland, sterling silver is not less than 92.5% pure silver, the rest is alloy. Below are a few examples and a guide to reading antique Irish silver hallmarks, followed by photos of as many date letters as I could manage. As there are only 26 letters in the alphabet, they are reused, which each cycle slightly different to the preceding one.
The testing (assay) and hallmarking of gold and silver items in Britain goes back to the year 1300.
Gold-Traders has compiled a gold hallmark identification wizard to help decipher the markings that are stamped on your item. If it was made in a country that adheres to the Convention on the Control and Marking of Articles of Precious Metals (otherwise known as the Common Control Mark), you should find a set of hallmarks / stamps.
These markings will be pretty small, so you'll need a magnifying glass to see them properly!
Hallmarks are authenticating marks struck on most silver items produced or offered for sale in Ireland. Though technically they were breaking the law, this interesting quirk of history gives pieces from these locations their own unique history and charm.
Since 1637 the Assay Office in Dublin Castle has been the only body with the authority to perform this task. The photo below shows typical Cork marks; JN, for John Nicholson, stamped twice, either side of the word “Sterling”.