Scottish provincial silver

Scottish provincial silver

Scottish provincial silver is much sought after by collectors, partly because it is a collecting dream - put together a “complete set”, when there is such a range which includes many rarities; it can consume many hours searching to find the elusive missing pieces. But how did it come about?

In 1784 changes were made to hallmarking legislation that meant that all wrought silver had to be sent to a main assay office (Edinburgh being the nearest for Scottish silversmiths) and a duty paid of 6d per ounce, which rose to 1s 6d per ounce during the 1797-1815 Napoleonic wars. This added many pounds to the cost of even a simple cutlery set and, coupled with the hatred of giving money to an English government, meant that silversmiths looked for ways round the law … it’s probable that they were already working round it anyway.

Across Scotland most towns had a silversmith, or someone who did silversmithing alongside their normal trade. Rather than sending the work to be assayed and stamped with official hallmarks, they created and applied their own stamps, usually a mark identifying themselves and another which identified the town they worked in; they tended not to bother with date marks. Hence the collectors quest …

There are at least 28 towns known to have their own mark, and for some more than one. Finding a piece created in one of the major towns or cities like Edinburgh or Glasgow is relatively straight forward, but the needle in the haystack is the piece from one of the small towns with little production, e.g. Cupar, Fochabers and Wick (I’ve seen them but never owned them myself!). If you then try to collect all the known makers …

It should be noted that is likely that the larger makers did occasionally get some work legally hallmarked, probably the larger pieces, as some sort of insurance against getting caught. This can then extend the collector’s search more to include provincial and properly assayed pieces for a maker.

In 1850 Queen Victoria bought Balmoral and Scotland became more popular, transport improved and the law was enforced more strictly, plus there was no issue with charging the increased number of English tourists more. So provincial marking died out, though with little/no date marking anyway it is not possible to say when it did finally stop.