Old English silver candlestick bearing London hall-mark for 1767-8

Condon Oats Marks on Old Plate.

1688 to 1886.

The First Mark On Plate 1001040

Wykeham and the Hourglass salt, both of which are at New College, Oxford; more important, however, in that it bears the hallmark of 1481-2, is the Anathema Cup at Pembroke College, Cambridge. This cup bears the ominous inscription, "Qui alienaverit anathema sit" ("Cursed be he who shall part with me"), and from the inscription it derives its significant name.

Institution of the



In the last quarter of the fifteenth century it became usual for plate to be marked by the assayer of the

Goldsmiths' Guild with what is known as the annual letter. The letters used were selected from alphabets which did not contain every letter; J, U or V, W, X, Y and Z being left out. At first these letters were merely set in a framework consisting of a single line following the form of each letter. As time went on, however, this line was replaced by heraldic shields.

The earlier annual letters were stamped with punches of their own shape, but the later ones with punches in the form of a shield, in the centre of which the actual letter was cut. The letters L and M, for some unexplained reason, formed an exception to this rule, and in 1726-7-8, were produced with square punches.*

The sixteenth century was a time of exceptional aesthetic activity in England, and, in spite of the reckless destruction of ecclesiastical plate after the dissolution of the monasteries and the

A table of date marks.

A table of date-marks.

* All these Acts are quoted at length in the original edition of Wilfrid Cripps' "Old English Plate," and form, with the records of the guild, an exhaustive history of the practice of the gold and silversmiths' craft in England.

* Tables of the alphabets used for the annual letters are given at the end of the "Plate-Collectors' Guide."

Elizabethan Severity

Queen Elizabeth did much to keep up the standard of silver plate, and in her reign the assayer at the Goldsmiths' Hall was instructed to examine with extreme strictness the plate issued, and to punish those who infringed the rules laid down. Two unfortunate goldsmiths, for example, were compelled to stand in the Westminster pillory with their ears nailed to it, and then were thrown into the Fleet Prison, whence they were not allowed to depart till they had paid a heavy fine. Noteworthy examples of sixteenth century plate are the 1507 beaker, at Christ's Church, Cambridge; the 1564 Communion Cup, which is still in use at All Souls', Oxford; and the 1570 Poison Cup, in Clare College, Cambridge. This latter is a relic of the time when great personages had their food and drink tested, and substances credited with the power of revealing the presence of poison were worked into drinking vessels. This particular vessel has a crystal in the lid, which was supposed to become clouded if the wine had been tampered with at all.

Apostle Spoons

There are also some very fine examples of sixteenth century craftsmanship to be found in chalices, patens, and the so-called Apostle spoons. These latter came into use about 1506, and superseded the Maidenhead spoons. The handles of these spoons terminated in an image of the Blessed Virgin, but although they were introduced about 1450, hardly any specimens of the spoons can now be found. Thirteen was the number of a complete set of Apostle spoons, the figures representing respectively the twelve apostles and our Lord.

Unfortunately no complete set is now known to be in existence. The nearest approach to such a treasure are the thirteen spoons, of dates ranging from 1516 to 1566, that were presented to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, by Archbishop Parker.

About 1547, the mark known as the lion passant came into use. At first it represented an attenuated creature, bearing some slight resemblance to a lion, with a small crown above its head, but in 1550 it lost its crown, and its body became a mere shield of oblong shape. This form it retained until 1557. From then until 1677 the form of the shield followed that of the lion. In

1756. however, after having passed through various modifications, it assume! the final form of a plain shield, with decorated con and an ornate base

Silver cup and cover, or porringer, with English hallmark for

Silver cup and cover, or porringer, with English hallmark for

1679 and 1683

From the Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington

The Origin Of The Britannia Mark

After the Restoration a new era began in the history of English plate Those whose property had been voluntarily given up or confiscated were anxious to replace their losses, and much of the silver coinage of the day was appropriated.

This led to the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1696, which, by raising the standard of plate, restricted the melting down of silver coin. The marks henceforth were to be a lion's head erased and the figure of a woman, to whom the name of Britannia was given. In addition, it became necessary to stamp the first two letters of the surname of the maker and a sign to specify the year when the plate was issued.

For some twenty-three years these marks alone were used, but in June, 1720, the old standard was reverted to, and its marks were again employed. At this time, therefore, there were two legal standards, but the later and higher one was gradually discontinued, and examples of it, bearing the lion's head erased and the figure of Britannia, are rare. Since 1720 the records of the London Goldsmiths' Company have been kept very strictly, and the entries in it give not only the name of each craftsman, but the mark which he employed, printed with his own punch.

Effects Of The Duty On Silver

After 1720, when the old standard was restored, some confusion arose between the work that fulfilled its requirements and that produced during its suspension. Some makers, indeed, registered two marks, using their ordinary initials on old sterling, and the first two letters of their surnames on new sterling plate. Paul Crespin, for instance, signed the former P.c.. and the latter C.r.: whilst other old-established firms reverted to the marks which they had used before 1697. In 1739 an Act was passed ordering the destruction of all old punches.

In 1798 another mark was added to those established in 1739, the head of the reigning sovereign, to prove the payment of a duty imposed on silver by an Act of 1784. This mark, however, was withdrawn in 1890, when the duty it svmbolised was abolished.