Chester was somewhat late in beginning its career as a plate producing centre, the first reference to its distinctive marks occurring in the records of its goldsmiths' company for 1686, the year after it received its charter from James II. At that time the marks were the city coat, a dagger between three garbs or sheaves, and the city crest, a sword set up erect, with the blade crossed by a ribbon, but they were soon changed for three lions passant, with three garbs, that in their turn presently gave place to a dagger or sword erect between three garbs, to which were later added the marks employed elsewhere, including the leppard's head that was used from 1720 to 1839, but not since then. In 1689, a date letter was first used at Chester, and plate produced between then and 1698 bears each year its distinctive letter, but the Chester alphabet ends with I.
A beautiful 18th century punch ladle, of fine workman' ship and elegant form
A very simple mark, a Roman capital X, surmounted by a crown, sometimes enclosed in a plain, sometimes in a dotted, circle, distinguishes old Exeter plate, examples of which are preserved dating from before the sixteenth century, at which time the letter was supplemented by a dot on either side of it, that was omitted in the seventeenth century. A maker's mark is also generally to be made out, consisting sometimes, as in Elizabethan church plate, of a monogram in a shield, sometimes, as on many spoons, of two or three letters supposed to suggest the surname of the maker.
In 1701 the silversmiths of Exeter adopted a triple-towered castle as their emblem, and until 1720 the Britannia and lion's head erased were also used, after which the castle was replaced by the leopard's head. Roman date letters were employed until 1837, when they were replaced by old English capitals.
In most places the use of the leopard's head was discontinued after 1739, the Act passed in that year confining it to London. But, for all that, the Exeter silversmiths retained it, though they made it larger and more distinct than that of their brethren of the capital.
Another English city long noted for its plate was Hull, that owned a goldsmiths' company in the middle of the sixteenth century, whose distinctive marks were the town arms - three crowns, one above the other, and a large letter H, standing for Hull, that both varied slightly according to the fancy of individual smiths. They were used sometimes together and sometimes separately. Date letters of various kinds were also used for a few years in the last decades of the seventeenth century, but were afterwards abandoned.
Silver sugar-tongs of 18th century date. The place of their manufacture can be identified by the mark, or "touch." as it was formerly termed
In spite of the high position they now hold as plate producers, Birmingham and Sheffield did not own assay offices of their own until quite recent times. The distinctive marks of the former town are an anchor, and for silver of the higher standard only, the Britannia figure without its usual accompaniment of the lion's head erased. An alphabet of an ordinary description was also used for Birmingham date letters. A simple crown is the distinctive Sheffield mark, and both towns use the lion passant and the first letter of the maker's name and surname, with a variable letter changed every year.
Various other local English marks of interest are the following :
A goat's head in a circle, with the initials A.f., used at Gates-head.
A pendant lamb, with the initials T.b., S.t., A.m., or others, all distinctive of work done at Leeds.
A seeded rose with the initials E.b., supposed, to be those of a Carlisle smith.
A nine-pointed star, the initials I.m. in a shield, and the Roman letter I. found on certain Lincoln Communion cups.
A large letter T, with a barrel set longways across it, and the initials T.d., with a fleur-de-lys below, found in patens, chalices, and spoons made at Taunton.
The arms of Leeds consist of a shield with the heads of three conger eels set upright, each with a cross-crosslet in its mouth, and with a varying maker's mark; and a lion passant combined with the hull of a ship, is distinctive of Sandwich - made plate, with various others, the origin and locality of use of which cannot be ascertained, such as a fleur-de-lys or a cross in a circlet; a wheel-like spiked circle surmounted by a small seated figure and supplemented by the letters R.c., with a five-pointed star between them, and a group of four hearts, with the points turned inwards.
Long before the union with England Scottish silversmiths were renowned for the beauty of their work, and many were the legal enactments intended to secure the purity and fineness of the metal used by them. It was not, however, until 1489 that the marks used were regulated by law; but at that date a statute was passed in the Scottish Parliament enacting that each maker should have a special sign, and that all gold or silver plate should also be marked by a deacon of the craft or Guild of Goldsmiths after he had duly examined it to make sure of its being of true and right assay. The earliest marks, therefore, to be found on Scottish plate are those of the makers, the most ancient of which date from about 1457, which from that year to 1681 were supplemented by the deacon's initials, and from 1681 to 1759 by those of the assay master, after which the national emblem of the thistle replaced them.