Henry Stainton entered his mark (H.S) at the Birmingham Assay Office in April 1884. In August 1888 he stood trial at the Birmingham Assizes on a charge of transposing hallmarks. Below is the account of the trial, as reported in a trade journal:
IMPORTANT ASSAY OFFICE PROSECUTION
Charge of transposing the Assay Mark.
At the Birmingham Assizes, before Mr. Justice Wills, on the 7th ult., Henry Stainton (on bail) was indicted for transposing an assay mark of the Company of the Guardians of the Standard of Wrought Plate, at Birmingham, on the 19th of April. Mr. Alfred Young and Mr. W. Wills (instructed by Martineau & Co.) prosecuted, and Mr. Hugo Young and Mr. Stubbins (instructed by Messrs. Lane & Clutterbuck) defended. In stating the case for the prosecution, Mr. Alfred Young said the prisoner was a manufacturing jeweller, carrying on business in Tenby-street. The regulations of the Assay Office provided that persons who sent goods to the Assay Office for hall-marking should register their names and have a punch bearing their initials. Prisoner had a punch bearing his initials. Prisoner sent to the Assay Office some silver articles for the purpose of being marked. They were to be marked with the quality mark of a lion passant, the office mark of the anchor, and the year mark "n" These were impressed on the articles when they passed the assay. On the 17th of April prisoner sent what were said to be twelve dozen of earrings and one dozen and seven brooches ; and on the following day he sent what were said to be thirteen dozen earrings and one dozen and ten brooches. What he really did send was a number of sterling silver blanks bearing the initials " H. S.," and also a number of pieces of silver wire. These were stated to be for the purpose of manufacturing into earrings, and he sent a specimen of the kind of earrings he was going to make out of the blanks and silver wire. The articles were assayed. On the 19th of April Detective-Inspector Van Helden, who had a warrant against the prisoner, and Mr. Westwood, the Deputy-Assay Master, went to prisoner's premises and found that the blanks containing the hall marks, instead of being made up into earrings were being made into star brooches, part of which were of an inferior quality of metal. Not a solitary earring bearing the assay mark was found on the premises, whereas between the 1st of July, 1887, and 18th of April, 1888, the prisoner sent articles purporting to be for earrings, to the number of 9,975 and brooches to the number of 4,836. Since his committal he had sent 367 articles purporting to be for earrings and 2,921 articles purporting to be brooches. That was rather a significant fact.
Detective-inspector Val Helden was then called. He deposed to going to the prisoner's premises and making the discovery described by Mr. Young. When he told the prisoner of what he was charged, the latter replied, " I have done nothing wrong ; what do you mean ? " Helden produced a star brooch, and said, "The charge against you is that you inserted the hall-marked earring into a star brooch of an inferior quality of silver." Prisoner replied, " It would be impossible to have a brooch assayed in the state that it is in at the Assay Office," and added that the brooch was of standard silver. Helden then proceeded to search the place, and found a number of star brooches into which the earrings–pieces of silver with the assay mark–had been and were being worked. There were also a number of spray brooches which had no place under this indictment.
Henry Westwood, Deputy-Master, was the next witness. He said the stamp with which the prisoner's articles were marked on the 17th and 18th April had a defect in the letter "n" When he visited the prisoner's premises with Van Helden he found on Philip Stainton's bench a number of brooches with cups cut out of the blanks for earrings. Four of these bore the defective mark. Assaying all the star brooches, he found the " galleries," " cups," and " balls " of sterling silver; the remainder of each brooch was 2-dwts. inferior silver. The Judge said that it would not matter whether the other part of the brooch was good, bad, or indifferent, if the assay mark had been diverted from its original purpose. It would make difference, of course, in the amount of punishment. Witness continued that he found 33 blanks with the assay mark on, but not cut. On a workman named Denham's bench he found twelve skeleton star brooches and ten centres or cups. Parts of these brooches were 10-dwts. under standard. On Faulkner's bench he found a number of spray brooches. These were being made of leaves sent to the Assay Office, and assayed ostensibly for earrings.
On an appeal from Mr. Hugo Young, the Judge decided that they need not go into the question of spray brooches. Witness added that in comparing the different parts of the brooch, he found that the inferior portions weighed the heavier.
Mr. Hugo Young proceeded to cross-examine with the object of showing that prisoner would make only an infinitesimal profit out of the alleged frauds. Proceeding, he asked the witness : Can you contradict this, that the difference in the value of these earrings through the 2-dwt. inferior metal would be one-fifth of a farthing per dozen ?–I don't know. The Judge : That would be Id. on 240 ; 10d. on 2,400 ; and on 9,600 it would be 3s. 4d. His lordship added that he supposed the wish of the prosecution was to put a stop to processes of this sort. He suggested that if the learned counsel would confer with him in his private room they might come to a conclusion. Mr. Alfred Young said he was instructed that the great gain was in the working up of the scrap.
The Judge : If you don't answer this question in one certain way we will go on, because I don't want to put a stop to this. I desire emphatically to protect the assay. Is the object of the prosecution to warn people about these matters or is it to punish this man ? Mr. Hugo Young : On behalf of my client I was going to say that we would accept any warning. After some further argument the counsel retired to confer with the judge in his room.
On returning into court, Mr. Hugo Young said there was no doubt his client had been guilty of an offence under the Act of Parliament–whether he had done it innocently or for small gain. He desired to admit publicly that what he had done was wrong, and must not be repeated either by him or by other people : and he desired also to give the fullest undertaking that in the future he would endeavour to steer clear of anything that could give offence to the Assay authorities. If the prosecution could withdraw, his client would feel most deeply grateful for the course taken, and would take every warning from the proceedings.
Mr. Alfred Young, on behalf of the prosecution, said that after the handsome statement of his friend he could not do otherwise than abstain from pressing this case any further.
The Judge, addressing the jury, said this prosecution was entirely justified. Ths Assay laws had grown up with the trade and with Birmingham, and they were passed in order to prevent these frauds, which, if persisted in, would destroy the trade. There could be no question about the propriety of the Assay authorities vindicating the law which had been broken. It was true that the gain in this matter had been very small, even if they allowed some discount off the estimate which had been put forward, but in many matters which would fall under the same heading the gain would be great. The Act of Parliament was intended to prevent the tampering with what is called wares, and transposing the mark from one description of ware to another. Anything which had begun to receive the stamp of manufacture, however imperfect, was a ware, and the mark upon it could not be transposed to anything else. But in future no man could say he had not had a warning ; therefore the legitimate object of the prosecution had been achieved by what had taken place. He suggested then that the jury should find the prisoner not guilty.
The jury having found the prisoner not guilty,
The Judge said : Stainton, you may go your ways. You have been most kindly dealt with by the Assay people, and I am sure you will bear in mind what has taken place, and avoid transgressing the law which for other transgressions will he vindicated.
With reference to the foregoing case the Birmingham Post has the following editorial " Not guilty, but don't do it again." That is in substance the verdict given at the Birmingham Assizes, in the Assay Mark case, in which Henry Stainton, a manufacturing jeweller, was charged with unlawfully transposing
the Assay Office mark on certain articles of silver jewellery. The charge was in effect, that the prisoner, having obtained the assay mark on sundry strips of silver professedly intended for earrings, introduced and incorporated these strips in larger ornaments, such as brooches, composed of inferior metal, which were thus made to appear as though they had passed the assay. Suspicion had been excited against the prisoner by some reports which reached the ears of the Assay Office authorities, and on the 17th and 18th of April a trap was laid for him by bringing into use for his goods a special stamp with a flaw, which would serve to mark the occasion on which it was used. On the first day the prisoner sent in what were represented to be twelve dozen silver earring blanks, and one dozen and seven blanks for brooches, and on the day following he sent in thirteen dozen earrings and one dozen and ten brooches also in the blank form, and in each instance they were accompanied by specimens of the finished article he proposed to make. As the blanks were of the quality represented–viz., 11 oz. 2 dwts. silver to the pound troy, they were marked accordingly ; and the following day, in consequence of information received that the marks were being used for improper purposes, a warrant was obtained for prisoner's arrest, and a detective raid was made upon his premises. Here suspicion was promptly confirmed by the discovery that the silver blanks, instead of being made into earrings, were being worked into star-pattern brooches composed of inferior metal, and not a solitary earring bearing the mark was to be found about the place. When prisoner's attention was called to the irregularity he professed to believe that there was nothing unlawful in it, and intimated that he adopted the expedient purely as a matter of convenience. On examination of the brooches, however, by the Assay authorities, it appeared that the expedient represented also a pecuniary gain to the prisoner, as the body of the articles was of a lower quality silver than the part assayed. Even if there had been no gain involved, Mr. Justice Wills held that the Assay mark having been diverted from its original purpose, the illegality was the same, though the moral culpability might not be so obvious. As it appeared, however, that the gain on some of the articles would be only a farthing on sixty, and the object of the Assay Office was not so much to punish this particular transgressor, as to warn manufacturers generally against a malpractice, the Judge ultimately invited the counsel on either side to a private conference. On the return of the parties into Court, Mr. Hugo Young, on behalf of the prisoner, frankly admitted that he had been guilty of an offence under the Act ; and he undertook, if the prosecution were withdrawn, that his client would steer clear of every irregularity in future. This confession and apology having been mercifully accepted on the part of the Assay authorities, the judge, after a little homily on the legal aspects and dangers of the case, in the course of which he entirely justified the prosecution, expressed his opinion that every legitimate object had been obtained by the publicity that had been given to the facts and the prisoner's acknowledgment of his error. In conformity with his Lordship's suggestion, the jury then returned a verdict of " Not guilty," to which the judge appended a suitable warning to the prisoner, who was thereupon discharged. Mr. Stainton has had a narrow escape, and if any of his trade competitors are addicted to similar irregularities, it is to be hoped they will take warning by his experience, and reform their practice before the Assay Office take action against them.
Source: The Watchmaker, Jeweller and Silversmith - 1st September 1888