London Assay Office Tour

On Monday I was fortunate enough to be given a tour of the London Assay Office hosted by Mr David Merry. I have known “Dave” as I call him for many years as he is currently the longest serving member of staff.

Dave took us around the Goldsmith Hall Livery areas first, including the Court Room where the Court of Assistants meet (Board of Directors) and also the main function rooms. Then into the actual Assay Office starting where the packets are unpacked, counted, listed and details entered onto the computer. They are then placed into larger plastic containers for movement around the various departments. The original packaging is reused when the items are completed and ready for return to the customer.

The scraping process (drawing) is not the most frequently used method any longer. Instead most items are now x-rayed to check the metal composition. The result gives a list of the all metals the item contains and the percentage of each metal. These days, in the case of standard 925 sterling silver, the contents would be just silver and copper. Going back 100 years or so it would contain other metals including Gold and Zinc.

Modern gold alloys might contain more than two elements.

Laser marking: The only part of this process of which I was unaware is that marks burnt into the surface of silver do not have to be black. For if the article is given a last pass on low power the marks will change from black to bright. This recent development was I understand invented by Sheila, who heads the laser marking department.

The UK Hallmarking procedure is one of the best and earliest examples of consumer protection. Initially started in Europe it was perfected and refined in England.

Many thanks to Dave Merry and the Assay Office staff for an interesting and informative experience.

Apparently there is a service provided which allows customers to watch their own article being tested and hallmarked. This is arranged by the manufacturer, in this case JA Campbell. Please contact John on 01277 217829 for further details.

Antique silver buyers – beware!

Anyone considering buying a piece of “antique” silver should be extremely wary as a large percentage of them are forgeries.The antique plate committee at Goldsmiths Hall in London provide a verification service. The committee has experts on various subjects including metallurgy.

When considering buying a piece of antique silver, either on line or from a retailer, tell the vendor that after purchase you intend to submit the item to the antique plate committee at Goldsmiths Hall in London for authentication. See what their reaction is.

Punishment for forging a UK hallmark and/or handling forged goods can be extremely serious and may result in a custodial sentence.

According to a private survey of antique silverware restorers, over 70% of sort after makers (for example, Paul Storr, Paul Lamerie, Hester Bateman and Omar Ramsden) are fakes. The fakers (I am told) even go to the lengths of using scrap antique silver (odd cutlery etc.) which can be bought cheaper than the current silver price. This antique silver contains the trace metals that the spectrometers will identify and therefore give a misleading scientific result.

Whilst illegal, this practice is also highly immoral and should not be encouraged/patronised by collectors looking for a bargain.

Items presented to the Antique Plate Committee at Goldsmiths Hall for authentification if proved negative can have their hallmarks either crossed out with a punch or obliterated and replaced with the current years hallmark.

All JA Campbell silver tableware is tested and hallmarked at the London Assay office, housed at Goldsmiths Hall in London. It contains 92.5%  pure silver and 7.5% pure copper, the correct alloy for sterling silver. The copper is added to hardened the otherwise too soft pure silver.

I hope you find this information useful.

Channel Island Silver

This is a slightly unusual day which occurs about once a year, a day in which I make replicas of Channel Island silver articles. They fall into 2 main categories and are in different sizes of each.

The first category is the Channel Islands Loving Cup. These are small beaker like cups in 2 sizes sitting on a short waisted base. Each has 2 handles with a beaded pattern on the back of the top section. The second category is Bashans, in 4 sizes from 7″ diameter down to 3″ diameter. These are a shallow bowl with a narrow flat horizontal edge. This edge is frequently decorated with a flat chased pattern of single line crescent moons.

The Channel Islands have a long history of silverware manufacturing which is being kept alive by the Guernsey silversmith Bruce Russell. Bruce performs the hallmarking services for Guernsey. The Channel Islands once boasted a silver mine situated on the island of Sark. The ruins of which could be still be seen in 1998.

A bit of history, as well as excellent quality handmade silver tableware!

Queens Diamond Jubilee

Queen Elizabeth 2nd’s Diamond Jubilee is being commemorated with a special limited edition hallmark for 12 months only.

This is in the form of a profile of the young Queen Elizabeth wearing an oversized crown in a diamond shaped surround.

This will make all items bearing this mark highly collectable in the future. All JA Campbell items made during the period will carry the jubilee mark.

Enjoy browsing the JA Campbell website at your lesiure and make your choice. This will be especially significant if you or members of your family are celebrating a diamond anniversary, or 60th  birthday in the next 12 months, and, of course the obvious silver wedding anniversary in any year.

I will be happy to answer any queries you may have on engraving or hallmarking generally.

John Campbell

Master Silversmith

Silver Hallmarks

I knew I wanted to be a silversmith when I was about 12 years old. I started experimenting at home by melting tin soldiers! My father encouraged my interest and I became an apprentice and studied at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. I was fascinated by the practical side of silversmithing and design, and also the history of silver. This information about hallmarking (one of the earliest and best example of consumer protection) was one of the things that sticks in my mind and I hope you enjoy reading it.

John Campbell Designer and Master Silversmith

The English Sterling Silver Hallmark was first mentioned in 1300 when the Leopard’s Head or ‘King’s Mark’ was specified as evidence that the worked silver was up to sterling (coinage) standard and in 1363 the Makers Mark was introduced where each Master Silver and Goldsmith had their own mark. John uses a small triangular mark with JAC stamped in the middle a mark which John first registered with the London Assay office as a college student in 1958.

The policing by the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths (the guardian of hallmarking) was taken a stage further in 1478 when the marking of all wears by date letter was introduced, the basis of this standard is still used to this day.

Every single component of J A Campbell’s silver has been tested at the London Assay Office. Their Leopards head stamp and Lion rampant denote the assurance of Authenticity. The ‘925’ mark shows the purity of the silver – 925 parts of silver per 1000. No zero tolerance is allowed in English hallmarking so to avoid accidental failure John uses 928 parts per 1000.

Each year the letter stamp changes, so your heirs will be able to tell with pride, when the item was made and by whom. 2008 is denoted by the letter ‘J’. Many books are available on the subject most popular being Bradburys.