Notes on York Hallmarks
by Trevor DownesThe origins of official hallmarking on silver at York date to the Act of 1423 whereby York was appointed one of the seven provincial assay towns of England, however there is some evidence of local control going as far back as the year 1190. The York assay office carried on until the early eighteenth century when a serious decline in the local silver trade caused the office to be closed in 1716. During the sixty year closure, sterling silver was still manufactured in York and the remaining silversmiths were granted admittance to the Goldsmiths Company at Newcastle and had their work hallmarked there. In the latter eighteenth century there was an upturn in the fortunes of York silversmithing, the assay office reopened in 1776 and remained active until its final closure in 1858.
The first town mark for York was a circular device, the left side a halved Fleur-de-Lys and the right side a halved Leopard's Head. In 1701, the town mark was changed to a cross device containing five lions passant.
York hallmarks contain a few anomalies; the Town mark is seldom seen on smaller items and, in the early years of the nineteenth century, the Lion Passant is sometimes to be found facing to the right, the reverse of its usual position.
Like Exeter, Chester and Newcastle, York also opted to use the Crowned Leopard's Head mark. This, in conjunction with the frequent non-use of the town mark, has York sterling often mistaken for London made.
There were only a small number silversmiths that worked in York and those are found in varying combinations of partnerships. Silversmiths not illustrated below include: Ambrose Beckwith, Richard Clark, William Astley, John Bell, & Charles Union.