article # 42



by Dorothea Burstyn ©
(click on photos to enlarge)


In 'The Berry Silver Flatware Pattern by Whiting' (note 1) William P. Hood, Jr. at a1. pointed to Whiting's mysterious numbering system for flatware pieces.
This gave me pause to think about all kinds of numbers, found on flat- and hollowware. Most collectors are familiar with termini technici like scratch weight, British registration mark, etc. but in conversations about the various meanings of all these numbers, I found out that knowledge about these is sketchy at best. An article giving more info about all these numbers seemed like a good idea.

Let's start with the 'easy ones'. Fig. 1 shows the lid and rim of a sauce tureen, bearing the numbers 4, thus indicating that lid fits to body, but also that this tureen was one of a set of four. Due to the common and unfortunate practice of splitting up table and flatware services at auction sales or between family members, 'pairs' with the numbers 3 and 4 might be offered. A 'pair' with the numbers 1 and 2 might be a true pair or the first ones in a series of a larger number of items. Wine coolers and soup tureens and their liners are often such numbered, with the proper way of assembly (after cleaning) in mind. Mid Victorian Sauce Tureen lid and body are both marked 4
fig.1: Mid Victorian Sauce Tureen lid and body are both marked 4
Mortimer & Hunt Entrée Dish on Lid. London 1843, here numbers do not match Fig.2 shows a beautiful entrée dish by Mortimer and Hunt, London 1843, the lid does not quite fit and the numbers on body and lid '1 and 4' tell the rest of the story. It might have been the butler, who in one inattentive moment after cleaning managed to 'destroy' right away two pieces of the service.
Numbering was also a common practice for Scottish flatware pieces. Toddy ladles were usually made in sets of half a dozen and are often found with numbers 1- 6 stamped in.
fig.2: Mortimer & Hunt Entrée Dish on Lid. London 1843, here numbers do not match
Fig. 3 shows quite rare egg spoons, made ca. 1820 by Alexander Cameron in Dundee. They are a 'set' of 6. The fact, that they are numbered with 13, 14, 18, 20, 21 and 22 proves that there must have been 24 or more at one time. An unexplained mystery is the number ' 34 ', stamped on only one spoon, next to the monogram on a set of 6 German spoons, all monogrammed with T. v. W. and dating to ca. 1750. Fig. 4.
Two egg spoons made by A. Cameron, Dundee, stamped with 21 and 20  34 stamped on only one spoon od a set of 6 German spoons, ca. 1750
Fig.3: Two egg spoons made by A. Cameron, Dundee, stamped with 21 and 20
Fig.4: 34 stamped on only one spoon of a set of 6 German spoons, ca. 1750
Larger collections with multiples of the same items introduced inventory numbers. This practice was amply illustrated in the Thurn and Taxis Collection. (note 2) Two different systems have been used:
A- Consecutive numbers for multiples of the same items, like for example Lot 87, 'A set of six German silver meat dishes, J.C. Drentwett I, Augsburg 1755-5' is numbered with the inventory number 1 - 6,
Lot 121: 'A set of eight German silver table candlesticks, Daniel Schaeffler I, Augsburg, apparently 1712-15, one lacking inventory number, the others: 77, 78, 79, 81 to 84, also engraved with scratch weights.' Consecutive numbers were also used for ice pails, set of salts, casters, etc.
B- Inventory numbers with two parts were used for sets of plates and flatware, as for example in Lot 98 'A set of twelve German Silver Dinner plates, J. C. Drentwett I, Augsburg 1755-57' is numbered with 33-1 to 33-12. Fig.5. Lot 84 'A German silver-gilt dessert service, Johann Beckert V, Augsburg 1757 '59' consisting of forty-two dessert spoons, forty-two dessert forks and forty-two dessert knives with silver blades and are stamped with inventory numbers: 9-1 to 12, 10-1 to 12, 11-1 to 12 and 12-1 to 6. (note 3)

Mid 18th Century plate # 33-6
fig.5: Mid 18th Century plate # 33 - 6
Many but by far not all early silver pieces have weights scratched in underneath. Fig.6. Scratch weights on flatware pieces are rare. Fig.7. To understand scratch weights and to correctly convert them to today's weights is of utmost importance for the collector. Deviations from the scratch weight are indicators for alterations: A conversion from a teapot into a (much higher prized) tea caddy by removing the spout and handle, conversion from a larger mug to a teapot, added borders, spouts, handles: the examples are endless. Additions on English silver pieces are of course marked with contemporary hallmarks, but sometimes one has to really look hard for these in elaborate borders and handles. The English system of scratch weights is straightforward. Troy weight is used.
1 pound (lb) = 12 ounces = 373.2 grams
1 ounce (oz) = 20 dwts = 31.103 grams
1 pennyweight (dwt) = 24 grains = 1.555 grams
Mazarin, 1776 London, 28 oz. 13 dwt. Strainer spoon. London 1774, 3 oz. 18 dwt.
Fig.6: Mazarin, 1776 London, 28 oz. 13 dwt.
Fig.7: Strainer spoon, London 1774, 3 oz. 18 dwt.
American silversmiths adopted the English system. Fig. 8 shows the scratch weights on a silver brazier, made by Myer Myers, New York, ca. 1755. (note 4)
The weights for 18th century French silver are as follows:
1 livre = 2 marcs = 489.506 grams
1 marc = 8 onces = 244.753 grams
1 once =8 gros = 30.594 grams
1 gros = 3 deniers = 3.824 grams
1 denier = 24 grains = 1.275 grams
1 grain = 0.053 grams
Myer Myers Brazier
fig.8: Myer Myers Brazier
French 18th century dinner plates of larger services are stamped with consecutive inventory numbers, combined with the scratch weights in marcs and onces. (note 5) On March 28, 1812 the marc @ 250 grams became the legal weight in France. In Switzerland the weights mostly correspond to the French weights, with three exceptions Zurich, Schwitz and Glaris used the mark @ 234.9 grams. In Spain the mark weighed 230 grams with small differences between various towns, Catalonia 268.35 grams and Navarre 244.6 grams. In Riga the mark weighed 209 grams, in Vilnius only 194.8 grams (note 6)

Most of the German lands used the Cologne mark. (note 7) The Cologne mark converts to:
1 Pfund (lb) = 2 Marks = 467.71 grams
1 Mark = 8 Unzen = 233.856 grams
1 Unze = 2 Lot = 29.232 grams
1 Lot = 4 Quentchen = 14.616 grams
1 Quentchen = 4 Pfennig = 3.654 gram
1 Pfennig = 1/16 Lot = 0.9135 grams
1 Gran = 1/18 Lot = 0.812 grams

Fig. 9. shows the scratch weight, in German: 22 m[ark]//7 L[o]th, on La Machine d'Argent by Francoise Thomas Germain for the Court of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. (note 8)
22 Mark //7 Loth on La Machine d'Argent
Fig.9: 22 Mark //7 Loth on La Machine d'Argent
As mentioned before, the Cologne standard was not used everywhere. There are many exceptions, all given in Fabian Stein's article, to mention a few: Augsburg = 1 mark = 236 grams, Nuremberg = 239 grams, Prague and Bohemia = 239,1 grams, Vienna/Bozen and Tyrolia - 1 Viennese mark = 16 lot = 280.644 grams. Divergences in weights plus the fact that various materials were weighed with different weights (troy for precious materials, avoirdupois for others) makes us appreciate the easy metric system so much more.

Even though manufacturer's numbers are usually associated with more 'modern' silver - used from about the middle of the 19th century - an early predecessor existed. Many, but not all, Storr silver pieces have three-digit numbers stamped in, which could not have been inventory numbers. N.M. Penzer calls these 'order number of Storr & Mortimer' (note 9), 'pattern number or job number' (note 10) is probably a more apt description. Variations and inconsistencies are many, for example only three of a set of 4 wine coolers are stamped 887, a dinner service made for Sir Thomas Picton, 1814, is marked 167 on 2 meat dishes and covers, a large meat dish, two rectangular dishes and covers. Yet the matching soup tureen and stand is not marked with this number. (note 11) The manufacturer's numbers is a logical further development, but now every item was given its own specific number. Note Fig.10 casters and salts, made London 1867/68 by Hunt and Roskell in the 'Ashburnham' pattern, the salts are stamped with 4801, the matching casters with 4671.
An assembled Victorian tea set, London 1840/41 features stamped-in manufacturer's numbers - 2055 for the sugar bowl and 2074 for the milk jug, both pieces made by Charles Gordon, but the matching teapot, made by Francis Dexter has no number. Fig. 11. The obvious deduction is therefore that around middle of the 19th century not every silversmith used manufacturer's numbers, but by 1880 manufacturer's numbers were fairly common.
Hunt & Roskell Ashburnham Salt, # 4801, 1867 Charles Gordon Sugar Bowl, 1850/1 # 2055
Fig.10: Hunt & Roskell Ashburnham Salt, # 4801, 1867
Fig.11: Charles Gordon Sugar Bowl, 1850/1 # 2055
These numbers corresponded to order number in catalogues or salesmen books as well as to numbers on cast moulds and chucks. (note 12) In American silver, the production of the Gorham Manufacturing Company is best researched. The John Hay Library in Providence, RI is the home of the Gorham archives. Given the manufacturer's number, Samuel J. Hough (note 13) will research your Gorham silver item. Gorham flatware patterns, as a rule, are designated either by name or by number, but not both. However, there are exceptions. For example, Gorham gave a not-full-line pattern or grouping a name and then designated different designs within that group by a specific number. Flatware pieces with manufacturer's numbers within a rectangle are special orders. (note 14) Fig.12. Toasting Fork Special Order # 1357
fig.12: Toasting Fork Special Order # 1357
Tiffany flatware has generally two numbers: the first is the pattern number; the second is the chronological order number. Occasionally there is a third number, representing a decoration design number. An example of this kind of numbering is found on handmade Tiffany Lap Over Edge dessert forks and spoons, on the back of the spoon stamped with 356=pattern number, 1089=decoration number and 3579=order number. (note 15)

On English flatware pieces, yet another number with different meaning is found. In Fig.13 a pair of Victorian salt spoons with a journeyman's marks in the form of the number '7' is shown. While most journeymen's marks are symbols, numbers were also used. A journeyman was a qualified craftsman who worked for a master. In order to have a count of how many pieces a specific craftsman had produced, a symbol or number was assigned to him. The journeyman's mark may also have been a method for quality control of produced pieces. It was usually stamped in next to the sponsor's mark. In larger flatware services, pieces with different journeymen's marks may be found. To date there is no research into the identification of individual journeymen. (note 16)
Journeyman's Mark 7 on Salt Spoon
Fig.13: Journeyman's Mark 7 on Salt Spoon
On American hollowware one can find two different types of numbers. Numbers consisting of 1-2 digits and appearing on the underside of jugs, tea-and coffee pots are capacity indicators - showing the capacity of the vessel in half pints. Coffee pots normally bear the number 7, tea pots the number 6, hot water pots the number 5. Coffee urns may also bear capacity numbers, usually between 13 and 20 half pints. 3-4 digits numbers on American silver and silver-plate are manufacturing numbers, denoting a certain pattern and also specific types of items. In this connection I received a very interesting email from Judy Redfield, who writes;
- 'Manufacturer's numbers can be used by researchers for a variety of purposes other than simply tying an item to an original catalogue. For example, since there were very few companies that actually manufactured silverplated hollowware, sometimes the catalogue numbers on pieces can indicate which manufacturing firm was the original producer of an item that bears the mark of a smaller firm. If one is studying smaller firms it is often helpful to determine who their suppliers were. The book 'Victorian Silverplated Hollowware', published in 1972, reprints some old silverplate catalogues. One catalogue it shows is Rogers Brothers Mfg. Co., for 1857. One might assume that the items shown in this catalogue were originally manufactured by Rogers Brothers, but certainly many, if not all, were not. They were simply 'bought in the metal' and plated by that firm.
For example, on page 29 of the book is shown a tea service No. 1780. On the following page in the same pattern is the matching coffee urn, and on the page after that the matching water kettle. These pieces were actually originally manufactured by Reed and Barton, not by Rogers Brothers at all. How do I know? Because I have the same pieces with the same catalogue numbers but bearing the mark of Bancroft Redfield & Rice, a contemporary of this particular Rogers Brothers firm. One of my pieces, in addition to the number 1780, also bears the mark of Reed & Barton. Both Rogers Brothers and Bancroft, Redfield & Rice obtained some of their wares from that source. Using catalogue numbers has helped me to demonstrate a variety of other suppliers for the Redfield companies as well. Besides if one looks at all the tea service items in this Rogers Brothers catalogue, one sees that the manufacturing numbers on them are all in the 1700s. In addition to illustrating the point about series numbering, this fact suggests that the remaining tea service items in this Rogers Brothers catalogue were also probably originally from Reed & Barton as well.'
- (note 17)

To know manufacturing numbers of items has another practical application for the collector. In their chapter 'Fakes, Mistakes and Mysteries' in 'Figural Napkin Rings', 1996, Gottschalk and Whitson point out how manufacturing numbers can be used to verify the authenticity (or lack of it) for certain items. Gottschalk and Whitson illustrate how a variety of items, such as toothpick holders, vases and card stands have at times been 're-worked' to make them appear to be napkin rings, due to the collecting popularity of the latter. The manufacturing numbers on the pieces, when compared to catalogues, indicate the item's true original function. (note 18)

The mid 19th century saw a tremendous increase in manufacturing firms; international exhibitions promoted trade but must have been also fertile hunting grounds for trades people who were out to copy successful models of other companies rather than developing their own. The need for some protection was acute and the patent laws catered to this. Registered patents were protected from piracy for a period of three years. English silver shows registration marks and numbers in addition to hallmarks, - just for completeness it should be mentioned that foreign companies or their agents also could register a patent, so not all items with British registry marks are necessarily of British manufacture. See Fig. 14.

The letters for the months are in both periods the same:
A = December, B = October, C or O = January, D = September, E = May, G = February (and March 1st - 6th 1878), H = April, I = July, K = November (and December 1860), M = June, R = August (and Sept.1-19th 1857), W = March.

Roman numerals are used to designate materials: I for metal, II for wood, III for glass and IV for ceramics, etc.
1842 - 1867
1868 - 1883
bowl and tray

Fig. 14:registry mark used between
1842 - 1867

Fig.14: registry mark used between
1868 - 1883








1842 X
C 1868 X
1843 H
G 1869 H
1844 C
W 1870 C
1845 A
H 1871 A
1846 I
E 1872 I
1847 F
M 1873 F
1848 U
I 1874 U
1849 S
R 1875 S
1850 V
D 1876 V
1851 P
B 1877 P
1852 D
K 1878 D
1853 Y
A 1879 Y
1854 J
1880 J
1855 E
1881 E
1856 L
1882 L
1857 K
1883 K
1858 B
1859 M
1860 Z
1861 R
1862 O
1863 G
1864 N
1866 Q
1867 T

Fig.15 shows the marks of a wine jug which patent can be dated to October 28, 1875, it is hallmarked for 1878, therefore within the protected period for the patent. Even if the patent was long expired, the registration number was often stamped in, see Fig. 16, the patent No. 5518 for a clever mechanism, whereby the moving of the handle causes the lid to open or close is found on two nearly identical jam jars, one marked for London 1898, by Heath & Middleton, the other marked Birmingham 1929 by Mappin and Webb.
Patent registration mark on wine jug, for October 28, 1875, next to manufacturers mark of 2661 D Mechanism for closing and opening a jar, stamped with British patent registration No. 5518
Fig.5: Patent registration mark on wine jug, for October 28, 1875, next to manufacturers mark of 2661 D
Fig.6: Mechanism for closing and opening a jar, stamped with British patent registration No. 5518
From January 1884 registered designs were numbered consecutively and these numbers appear on wares with the prefix 'Rd' or 'Rd No.' Fig. 17. (note 19) Both English and American patents can be searched on the net. A warning, it is a long and time-consuming process. (note 20) Judy Redfield is doing enormous research into American silver-related patents and last time I heard from her, she had things recorded to the middle of 1907. (note 21) It is to be hoped that once finished, she will publish the results of her research. British Patent registration No. 189088 for 1892 on a small pickle fork dated 1893/4
fig.17: British Patent registration No. 189088 for 1892 on a small pickle fork dated 1893/4
Probably inspired by the financial success of limited edition lithographs, modern silver companies started to offer limited edition pieces. Apart from the more pedestrian offerings like reproductions of vintage cars, wall plaques for Christmas, Norman Rockwell scene plates, etc - which can be seen regularly on Ebay - it is to mention that serious silversmiths like Stuart Devlin also participated in this fad. He produced various silver eggs in limited editions of 100, 300 and 500, modelled on Faberge eggs - a nice-looking egg with a surprise inside: there are the 1975 Easter egg, the 1980 Silver Jack in the Box egg, the 9 Ladies Dancing egg to name just a few of his many limited edition items. Fig.18 shows a London 1979 egg, stamped 259 500.
Limited edition number 259/500 on decorative egg, London 1979
Fig.18: Limited edition number 259/500 on decorative egg, London 1979
In closing I want to mention a set of numbers, you do not want to find on your silver - hastily scratched in numbers - are often referred to as repair numbers and were scratched in by silver repair shops in order not to mix up repair jobs. There is a grey area though, since some collectors thought they were inventory numbers for retailers or maybe pawnbroker's marks.

Dorothea Burstyn - 2005 -
photos by Douglas Hawkes
this is an article published on 2005 issue of the 'Journal' of the Silver Society of Canada