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A History Of Silver.

 

Discovery:

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 household items.


Silver Hallmarking:
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 being detected.
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 stamp.

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.


 

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