A History Of
Historically, silver is first
mentioned in the Bible in the time of Abram, were in the book
of Genesis, Chapter XIII, 2, "Abram was very rich in cattle,
in silver and gold."
Gold and silver originally being in lumps, nuggets and bars,
were in this manner weighed out in the making of payments for
commercial transactions, but there being no certainty of the
purity of the metal, no convenience in size, the lumps being
too large, necessity arose for smaller amounts and divisions,
which were gradually made, vouched for, and a die stamp
invented which was punched by hand on one side of the smaller
lumps of gold and silver, thereby attesting to its purity and
value, and so originated the first acts of coinage. Silver was
first coined in these crude lumps on the island of Aegina,
where the ancient Greeks stamped a turtle on their first
silver coins over 700 years before the Christian era.
The actual coinage of money now being an accomplished and
accepted fact, it was furthered along by the Greek nations,
who, after stamping thereon turtles, owls, images and other
objects of their divinity, finally with Alexander the Great,
began to impress upon their coins crude portraits or heads of
living persons and
rulers, leaving to us thereby no uncertain means of tracing
their lineage from time to time, indestructible evidence to
posterity of their existence, their appearance, and their
advancement. This method was kept up and improved upon by the
Romans, who became proficient in the art, in consequence of
which we have
today an immense number of Roman coins and silver "Denarii,"
preserved for centuries, serving as a complete record of the
ruling families of the Caesars, established by a close study
of the features and inscriptions impressed upon their coinage.
After the decline and fall of the Roman empire, the coinage of
money from an artistic standpoint began to deteriorate, and
from the Byzantine period, beginning with Anastasius in the
fourth century, until almost a thousand years later, money
became crude in form and expression, unequal in shape or
value, lacking design and execution, both Christian and
Barbarian coins being in use, and there are but few well
struck specimens left to us, which few are mostly gold. The
early English Kings coined pennies, and there are some
existing of possibly the first attempts under Egbert and
Cuthred, Kings of Kent, A.D. 765 to 805, but they are crude
and uncertain. William the Conqueror, in 1066, issued fair
specimens of pennies, and Edward I, in 1280, issued a new
coinage of pennies, half pence and farthings, but it remained
for Queen Elizabeth of England to set a step forward when she
introduced the first experiment of milling money, instead of
hammering, and also the establishment in 1600 of a Colonial
silver currency for use of the East Indian Company. After this
period coins began to get more of an even roundness and shape,
and all the large pieces, such as silver dollars or crowns,
that we have of England, Germany or Saxony from the 16th
century on, show again the gradual improvement and symmetry in
the artistic work of coinage.
Since that time silver has to greater and lesser degree been
used as money. However, in modern times, silver as a measure
of a coin's value has declined to the extent that today it
primarily used to make jewellery, cutlery and other ornamental
In its pure form silver is too soft for normal or "domestic"
use. For this reason it is necessary to mix the pure silver
with a hardening agent, usually copper. Once alloyed (mixed),
the silver metal is beaten out using a hammer - a process
called annealing. It is important for the silversmith to avoid
hitting the same spot twice before the piece has been heated
to realign the structure of the atoms, which are then able to
withstand further beating.
Copper is an ideal hardening agent because it does not
discolour the silver - a caveat of this is that it is
impossible to assess the purity of silver using the naked eye
and thus an unscrupulous silversmith could increase the
percentage of copper in silver wares without much fear of
As a guarantee of the purity and "fitness", silver had to be
tested or assayed. To perform the test, a scraping of silver
was taken, weighed, then heated in bone ash - any copper
component would be absorbed into the ash leaving just the pure
silver. This was weighed and the difference between the two
weights gave the percentage of copper.
To indicate that the silver had been tested and "passed at
assay" (met with the standard for purity), items were marked.
From 1300 only silver containing at least 925 parts of silver
per thousand (that is 92.5%) to 75 of copper (7.5%) could be
considered and termed "sterling" and marked with the official
On March the 30th, 1327, Edward III introduced a charter
giving the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths the right to
conduct and enforce the assay laws. Assaying (testing) was
carried out at Goldsmiths Hall, which was the headquarters of
the guild, leading to the mark of guarantee being referred to
as a "hallmark".
All silver had to be taken to Goldsmiths Hall, London, to be
tested and given the Kings mark. However, silversmiths were
reluctant to bring their wares over long distances - transport
was slow, dangerous and uncomfortable - deciding instead to
sell wares unmarked and ignore the law. In 1363, to combat
this, powers of touch were granted to mayors of all cities and
boroughs, and representatives were elected annually to carry
out the work of the London office.
Before 1544, in England, the Sterling silver standard, of
92.5%, was indicated by the presents of Leopard's Head mark of
the London Assay Office.
The "Britannia" mark for silver of the new higher standard of
95.8% - the highest possible purity before the silver became
too soft to be workable - which was introduced to discourage
clipping, a practice which involved scraping off minute pieces
of silver from the edge of coinage. This could then be used to
produce home-made coins or sold to a silversmith. The
government also introduced coins with a milled edge.
In Scotland the Lion Rampant was used in place of a Lion
Passant - at the Glasgow office between 1819 and 1964 (which
was when the office closed) and the Edinburgh office has used
the mark from 1975.
More facts about Gold...