The worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, as the
guild were later called, is still responsible for the London Assay
Under another Statute in 1363, makers were
ordered to stamp their own distinguishing marks alongside the
leopard’s head. Originally, the maker’s mark took the form of a
device, such as a cross or a fish; later, it became the practice to
use the initials of the worker or the firm.
In December 1478, the company appointed a
salaried assayer and compelled makers to bring their completed
silverwares to Goldsmiths’ Hall to be assayed and marked before they
were offered for sale; this practice has continued to the present
day and is the origin of the word ‘hallmark’
In the same year, an additional mark – the date
letter – was introduced by the Company. This consisted of a letter
of the alphabet which was changed annually. When one alphabet cycle
was completed, the style of the letter or its surrounding shield was
Hallmarking continued during succeeding centuries
at ‘Goldsmiths’ Hall and at the Assay Offices which were later
opened in other towns, such as Newcastle, Exeter and York, where
there were working goldsmiths and silversmiths.
In Scotland, there
were goldsmiths working at a date as early as in England. The
earliest records pertain to the goldsmiths of Edinburgh. An Act of
Parliament was passed in 1773 establishing Assay Offices in
Birmingham and Sheffield.
Several of the provincial offices have now closed
– Newcastle, Exeter and York in the 19th Century, Chester in 1962
and Glasgow in 1964. The Dublin Assay Office, whose origins date
from the early 17th Century, continues to operate in Ireland.