Scotland's Assay Marks

Think of them as the 'signature' of the oldest consumer protection group in Scotland. For each and every assay mark helps to assure the 'who, what, where and when' of the manufacture of precious metals.

There has been legislation governing hallmarking in Britain since 1300, when a symbol rather than a letter was used because few people could read. Applying a hallmark to guarantee precious metal purity can be traced back in Edinburgh to the mid-fifteenth century when the first surviving Act of Parliament was passed on the subject. Before it can be sold to the public silver, gold, and platinum must be assayed and independently hallmarked by one of the four (Edinburgh, London, Birmingham, and Sheffield) approved UK Assay Offices to guarantee the quality of the precious metal. Believed to be the oldest continuously existing business of any kind in Scotland, the Assay Office has been owned and has operated as an independent, privately funded business since an unknown date in the mid-15th century by the Incorporation of Goldsmiths of the City of Edinburgh.

Since January 1999 UK hallmarks now comprise of a minimum of three compulsory symbols. The silver and goldsmiths represented throughout Thistle & Broom use up to the traditional five marks to identify their work. These five marks (in order) consist of the Sponsor's (or maker's mark) which is always at least two letters contained within a shield with no two marks ever being the same. The next is the Fineness Mark, which is the precious metal content expressed in parts per thousand of silver, gold or platinum are represented by the millesimal fineness contained within a uniquely shaped shield associated with said metal. The Lion Rampant is Scotland's traditional mark for sterling silver consisting of 92.5% pure silver and 7.5% copper and opinion vary wildly on its first use from 1457 to 1544, this serves as a duplication of the 925 Fineness Mark for silver. The ancient three-towered castle follows and represents the quality, strength and durability of the nation and of her goldsmiths work in the precious metals. It has been the Town Mark for the Edinburgh Assay Office and been required by Parliament since 1485. And finally, although no longer compulsory, a date letter has indicated the year of manufacture since 1681. Each year has its own letter. Twenty-five of the alphabet's letters are used in a cycle, with the letter i or j left being left out alternating. Every 25 years a new cycle is begun with a new style of either upper or lower case letters sometimes the shields are also altered. All the silversmiths represented by Thistle & Broom utilise the letter mark as part of their identification process; by example the letter 'g' represents 2006 and 'h' for 2007.

To mark the turn of the century and the return of a Scottish Parliament for the first time in 300 years, fifteen of Scotland's finest designer/silversmiths were commissioned to create The Millennium Collection for Bute House. Described as the "most exciting collection of contemporary silver made in Scotland", the collection is on permanent loan to the State and is used by Scotland's First Minister and The Scottish Executive when entertaining visiting Heads of State and VIPs from around the world. During Parliamentary recess the collection travels the world providing a view of the extraordinary range of talent of Scottish silver artisans.

Examples of the Assay marks
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