Understanding Victorian Jewelry Makers Marks
While you might be familiar with hallmarks, the small marks which define the purity of the metal used in a piece, you may be a little less familiar with makers marks.
One of the first things that an experienced buyer or seller of antique jewelry will look for is who made it, and this can usually be worked out using the makers mark.
What is a makers mark?
Makers marks (also known as trademarks) are initials or marks stamped into gold, silver or platinum pieces which identify the manufacturing firm that produced the piece.
These markers marks are usually the only way that one can actually prove that a piece of jewelry has actually been manufactured by a certain marker, so theyre incredibly valuable to traders and collectors.
A makers mark is generally thought of as being the signature of its maker or manufacturer, and the pieces main responsibility mark.
Traditionally they were used so that someone could be held responsible for the purity of an item, should any problems arise.
Nowadays the purpose of a hallmark is more akin to a modern day trademark, and the presence of more notable markers marks will command much higher prices.
But much like hallmarks, markers marks are also useful in helping us date pieces of jewelry.
This is because over time, the makers mark may evolve, and those who know when certain marks were used can more easily pin down when a piece may have been made.
Its very easy to get makers marks confused with hallmarks, but its important to know theyre two very different things.
Generally, a hallmark will reveal the purity of the metal used in the piece, as well as where it was assayed and possibly when it was produced.
On the other hand, a makers mark solely refers to which craftsman or company produced it.
Makers marks are very similar to hallmarks, and while they need to be registered at an assay office, as they are struck by the manufacturer themselves, they must be considered a separate entity.
Makers marks started to become common in the late middle ages, as several European countries made it compulsory for all gold and silver artefacts to bear this unique mark, as a step to protect consumers.
In countries where hallmarking was traditionally mandatory, all markers marks had to be unique and copies of them were held in the archives of the guilds.
However, the fact that all countries have different rules means that makers marks can vary quite a bit from one piece to another.
The marks usually carry the initials of the maker as well as a unique pictorial mark. These were sometimes regulated, for example in France, where all markers marks from 1797 must be in a diamond shape, whereas in the UK and its former colonies, most makers marks will contain ampersands.
In the USA, makers marks were only made mandatory in 1961, making these pieces much harder to identify.
If you have jewelry with markers marks which you would like to try and identify, there are numerous databases available online such as this one at Antique Jewelry University.
Alternatively, the Bradburys Book of Hallmarks is another good resource which will help you identify any hallmark.