The question has often been raised on the forum as to why some Birmingham jewellers chose to use the services of the Chester Assay Office, an office some 80 miles away, rather than that of the much more local Birmingham Assay Office. Perhaps the speed of service offered by the Chester office was faster than that of Birmingham? Perhaps Chester's assaying charges were less than those of Birmingham? Perhaps the staff at Chester were more sympathetic to the requests of the Birmingham jewellers regarding the positioning of the struck marks and damaged their items less? And was there really any truth that the Birmingham 'anchor' mark was held in less esteem by the buying public due to the reputation of shoddy 'Brumagen' goods?
All, some, or none of the above reasons may have been true, but perhaps the reason of the Birmingham jewellers' popularity of choice was much more of a simple one.... Chester came to them.
I came across the below newspaper report from 1908 that reveals the Chester Assay Office maintained an agency, and had done so since at least 1888, right in the heart of the Jewellery Quarter:
THIEF WALKS OFF WITH £200 PARCEL
On Saturday an audacious robbery took place in the jewellery quarter of Birmingham, the thief getting away with a parcel containing £200 worth of gold.
It is customary for parcels going to and from the Chester Assay Office to be sent to Mr. T. C. Smith, of Hockley, who is the local agent, and on Saturday Mr. Smith received a parcel for Mr. E. Vaughton, jeweller, of Vyse-street.
As a safeguard it had been arranged that no parcel should be delivered unless the messenger brought a note authorising him to receive it, but in the case of Mr. Vaughton an exception was made, as he undertook to send the same messenger each day.
About nine a.m. a respectably-dressed young man called at Mr. Smith's shop and inquired for a parcel for Mr. Vaughton.
The young woman who was in charge of the place did not recognise him and asked for the usual authority, but he replied, "Oh, it's all right; I am Mr. Poole Vaughton, a member of the firm."
The parcel, which contained strips of gold for making rings, was handed over and the man signed for it in the name of "Poole Vaughton."
He showed no sign of haste or uneasiness, but wishing the young woman "Good morning" sauntered quietly out of the place with the parcel under his arm.
Later in the morning Mr. Vaughton's messenger called, and the fraud was discovered. The police were immediately apprised, but so far no arrest has been made. The only clue is the description supplied by the girl.
The thief must have been cognisant of the fact that there is a Mr. P. Vaughton connected with the firm, but his Christian name is Philip.
Mr. Smith states that during the twenty years he has carried on the agency he has never before been victimised.
Source: Evening Express - 19th October 1908
Maybe the real reason that we find the Chester hallmark on the products of the Birmingham jewellery trade was simply that of convenience.