Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Makers' Marks
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Irish Provincial Silver Marks

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Irish Provincial Silver Marks ~ Overview
Seal of the
Company of Goldsmiths
of Dublin
The Dublin Goldsmiths' Company was granted its powers to control assaying and hallmarking throughout all of Ireland by a charter of King Charles I in 1637. Since that date, all gold and silverware wrought in Ireland was required by law to pass though the Dublin assay office of the Goldsmiths' Company for hallmarking prior to being offered for sale. During the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries much silver was wrought in the provincial towns of Ireland, especially those of Cork, Limerick, and Galway, however, the silversmiths working in towns such as these found the law impossibly restrictive and few of them complied.

The risks involved with transporting their wares to Dublin were the main factor, the trip from Cork to Dublin would take several days by coach on a road over three hundred miles long and haunted by highwaymen. If their goods did manage to arrive safely at the assay office, they then faced the prospect of the silverware being broken by the assayers should it be found to be under standard. If the silverware did pass assay, fees would have to be paid, and then the dangers of the return coach journey repeated. It was no wonder that with such risk, extra expense, and wasted time many silversmiths chose to evade the law and dispense with the Dublin assay.

Towns such as Cork and Limerick had their own trade guilds and abided by their rules,
Robert Goble, Cork
when a silversmith struck his mark upon a piece, this was his guarantee, and one that was accepted by his customers. Town marks were also often applied, in the case of Cork, during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, a ship issuing between two castles, taken from the Arms of Cork was used. At Limerick during the seventeenth century, the marks applied were a castle gate, sometimes with the addition of a six or eight pointed star, the origin of these marks are uncertain, but the gateway could be a variant on the Arms of the city which are a gateway between two towers, however the significance of the star remains obscure,
Richard Joyce,
Galway
later wares are often found with the fleur-de-lys mark. At Galway a single struck anchor was the usual device to be found. These marks were not struck by the local guilds, but by the silversmiths themselves, with each having their own punches, so many variations occur. The use of such emblems or devices representing town marks disappears in the early to middle eighteenth century, this may have been because of a order from the Dublin Goldsmiths' Company in 1731 prohibiting the use of such 'ornament'.

Following the demise of the provincial town mark in the early 1700's we see the introduction of the purity mark. The fineness of silver made in Cork and Limerick was denoted by an additional stamped mark, usually in the word 'STERLING' sometimes spelled 'STIRLING'
John Tolekin, Sterling, Cork
or 'STARLING', or abbreviated to 'STER', on occasion the word 'DOLLAR' is to be found, no doubt used when the piece was made out of melted down Spanish Dollars. It was a system that worked well and neither silversmiths, nor their customers, saw a need for change. However, the Company of the Society of Goldsmiths of the City of Cork, at least, did make efforts to stay within law, they lobbied repeatedly for the government to grant them their own assay office, but each time the Dublin Goldsmiths' Company, who were very careful to protect their own monopoly, insisted that there was not enough silver made at Cork to justify the setting up of a assay office, and thus it could not be self financed.

John Irish, Ster, Cork
The early years of the 1700's saw a continued rise in the amount of provincial silver sent to Dublin for assay, but the situation became more delicate for Irish provincial silversmiths in 1730 following the passing of the Irish Act 3, G.II. c.3 (1729) that imposed a duty of 6d. per ounce on all gold and silverwares wrought in Ireland, and to prove the duty had been paid, a mark, the figure of Hibernia, had to be struck on all pieces by the Dublin assay office. To make and sell silverware lacking this mark was now a serious revenue offence. The passing of this act appears to have a dramatic effect on the provincial silversmiths of Cork and Limerick, but perhaps not of that expected,
John Warner, Stirling, Cork
as these silversmiths just ceased to send their wares to Dublin. One of the surviving ledgers of assay records at the Dublin Assay Office shows that during the period 1745-1748 that although some packages of silver were received from Waterford and Clonmel, not a single package was received from either Cork of Limerick. The Dublin Company appears to have had little in the way of resources or inclination to effect prosecutions and the situation appears to have only gradual improvement over the next few years.

Phineas Garde, Dublin Assay, 1839
It was not until 1784 that Act of Parliament - 23 and 24 Geo.III c.23 (1783) brought the majority of provincial gold and silversmiths to heel. The new Act required those involved in the trade in Ireland to officially register with the Dublin Assay Office and have their marked ware assayed and hallmarked there under the threat of a fine of £100 for each and every offence. The threat of enforcement consequently brought the provincial silversmith into line with their Dublin counterparts and although provincial marking was continued by some few, it had all but faded away come the passing of Statute 47, Geo.III, c.15 (1807) that required the additional stamp of the King's Head Duty mark on Irish silver.

On the marks pages you will find repeated use of the terms; Freedom, Warden, Master, and Registered at Dublin, they refer to the following:
Freedom - unless other wise stated, this term refers to the Freedom granted by their local society or guild, in the case of Cork, it would have been the Society of Goldsmiths of the City of Cork, in the case of Limerick, it refers to the Limerick guild of Smiths. Other towns also had their own guilds, usually in the form of a Guild of Hammermen. Becoming a Freeman of the local guild entailed the serving of a seven year apprenticeship under a Master, who himself, was a Freeman of the guild. It was normal form that following the granting of guild Freedom, then application for the Freedom of the city was made.
Master and Warden - this refers to the local trade guild. It was normal to serve a term of at least two years as Warden before being considered for the role of Master.
Registered at Dublin - in most cases this refers to registrations made following the passing of the Act of Parliament (23 and 24 Geo.III Chapter 23 {1783}) that enacted; "from and after 9th September 1784, no person being a merchant, manufacturer or dealer in gold or silver wares should sell or expose for sale, buy or exchange or export any wares of gold or silver or of both or any jewels either set or unset without first registering his name and place of abode with the Company of Goldsmiths in Dublin in a book to be kept by the said Company for that purpose under a penalty of £100 for every offence". Of course there were some registrations made by provincial silversmiths prior to the Act.

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Related Irish Pages at 925-1000.com:
Dublin Date Letters & Makers' Marks


Irish Retailer Marks


Masters and Wardens of the Goldsmiths' Company of Dublin - 1637-1800
Related British Pages at 925-1000.com:
British Hallmarks Explained
London Date Letters • 1696 - 1935 & Makers' Marks
Birmingham Date Letters • 1773 - 1924 & Makers' Marks
Chester Date Letters • 1701 - 1925 & Makers' Marks
Exeter Date Letters • 1701 - 1883 & Makers' Marks
Newcastle Date Letters • 1702 - 1884 & Makers' Marks
Sheffield Date Letters • 1773 - 1916 & Makers' Marks
York Date Letters • 1559 - 1858 & Makers' Marks
Edinburgh Date Letters • 1681 - 1931 & Makers' Marks
Table of Glasgow Date Letters • 1819 - 1896
Examples of British Import Marks

Thanks to Trevor Downes for his important contributions to this section.

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