Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks & Makers' Marks
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The Exeter Lions Passant

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The Hallmarking of Exeter Small Spoons and Tongs; 1797 - 1810
by Miles Harrison

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Exeter Assay Office, unlike the London Assay Office, did not stamp date letters on small spoons; however, with even a small collection of Exeter silver one can see different lions passant and duty marks. Using these differences and the working dates of Exeter silversmiths it has been possible to set out here a timeline of Exeter hallmarks on small spoons and tongs from 1797 - 1810. This article is only concerned with small spoons and tongs because larger spoons of this period were stamped with a date letter and used only one type of lion passant.

The Lion's Timeline

Figure 1
This timeline begins in 1797 with what has been nicknamed the "letterbox" lion passant and a duty mark in an oval cartouche. This lion was used for many years before 1797, but this article will only focus on its last.

Figure 2
Here the same "letterbox" lion passant has been used, but the duty mark punch has been altered so that the king's profile is at the edge, this could very well mark the doubling of duty from 5 July 1797 and, while other assay offices struck the oval duty mark twice, this was Exeter's solution while waiting for the new punch to arrive from London. The rarity of this mark suggests that it was not used for long.

Figure 3
Here is a combination of the "letterbox" lion passant and a triple-cusped duty mark; clearly the new mark had arrived from London. Of all the "letterbox" lions passant I have seen, a mere 5% have been accompanied by the cusped duty mark; the lion must therefore have been changed soon after the arrival of the cusped duty mark which itself remained, I believe, for another seven years.
To find out the reason for the change, perhaps one needs look no further than the lion itself: the mark is almost unrecognizable. It is tempting to suggest that this lion was discontinued on 7 August 1798: the end of the assay year in Exeter.

Figure 4
The start of a new lion. Every lion of this sort which I have seen has been accompanied by either a triple-cusped duty mark or the duty mark in fig.5. I date this combination from the latter part of 1798 - 10 October 1804. The small spoons made by the partnership of Francis Parsons and Stephen Crees (1797-1800?) which I have come across have all been marked with this lion.

Figure 5
We now see another alteration to the duty mark: a chunk has been taken out of the top. The most obvious reason for this is the duty increase from 10 October 1804. Since London small spoons were blessed with date letters during this period it was only necessary for the assayers of that town to use a cusped duty mark for the remaining part of the assay years in question (1797, 1804), and so afterwards they returned to the oval cartouche. Exeter, however, had no date letters on its small spoons and was consequently forced to continue using the cusped mark after 1797 to prevent unscrupulous exporters claiming more in drawback than they had originally paid. This presented a problem: how to show the duty increase of 1804. This cusped and clipped duty mark is perhaps the first solution, but when we consider the rarity of this mark we might conclude that it was either only meant to be temporary or was unsatisfactory.

Figure 6
We can see here the same duty mark as before with a new lion in a distinct oval cartouche; this combination is as rare as that of fig.5, and so perhaps lasted only for a few months. Why it was changed so soon when the previous cusped duty mark had been used for seven years is not certain; was the difference between the cusped duty and the cusped and clipped duty not clear enough or did the mark become worn very quickly? I can only guess.

Figure 7
The same oval lion remains, but the cusped and clipped duty mark has been replaced by the oval duty we saw in fig.1. This presents the problem of recognizing which items had been charged the new higher duty. I theorize that the new oval lion (introduced just after the 1804 increase in duty) was distinct enough to aid in the differentiation between sufficiently and insufficiently duty paid articles. This combination dates from perhaps as early as 1805 and continues to1810. The small spoons and tongs I have seen made by the partnerships of Francis Parsons and Joseph Goss (1805 - 06?) and Francis Parsons and B.G (1806 - 07?) have all been marked with this oval lion.

Figure 8
In 1809 and 1810 date letters start to appear on small Exeter spoons and tongs; with their arrival comes yet another change of lions. Judging by the alignment and neat spacing between the date letter and lion, it is possible that the stub had recently been introduced at the assay office which meant a new lion had to be made.


Figure 9
The lion in fig. 9 is occasionally found on small spoons and is identical to the one found on tablespoons of this period; I have seen it with an incuse duty mark, a cusped duty mark and an oval duty mark. I can only assume that it was used whenever there was a shortage of punches.

Figure 10
It is difficult to fit the lion of fig.10 into the timeline; it resembles the oval lion of figs.6 and 7 but has a wavy base. Without further evidence, it is only safe to date it from 1805 -1810.
These anomalies, and indeed all the marks shown here, demonstrate the relaxed attitude of the Exeter Assay office towards hallmarking when compared to their London equivalent. This timeline is intended as a rough guide and has been written with the suspicion, or rather the expectation, that at least part of it will be disproved as we continue to learn more about Exeter marks.
I would like to thank Graham Hodges for his invaluable help with this article and also for the excellent photographs which he supplied.

1. The Finial; Volume 13/04; February/March 2003; pp.6,7
2. The Finial; Volume 13/05; April/May 2003; pp. 4,5
3. The Finial; Volume 14/04; March/April 2004; pp. 4,5
4. Jackson's Silver & Gold Marks; Ian Pickford; Antique and Collectors Club; 3rd rev.ed.; 1989
5. Exeter and West Country Silver; Exeter Museum; 2nd edition; 1978

Related Pages at

British Hallmarks Explained
London Date Letters & Maker's Marks
Birmingham Date Letters & Maker's Marks
Chester Date Letters & Maker's Marks
Exeter Date Letters & Maker's Marks
Newcastle Date Letters & Maker's Marks
Sheffield Date Letters & Maker's Marks
York Date Letters & Maker's Marks
Edinburgh Date Letters & Maker's Marks
Glasgow Date Letters
Dublin Date Letters
British Import Marks

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