of Small Collectors

article # 15




by Dorothea Burstyn

The Antique Silver Industry of Hanau

Part 2

From the middle to the end of the nineteenth century copies of old silver, and items designed in an amalgamation of historic styles, satisfied customer demand and preference. Many firms (click note 1) in Europe and in the United States produced this type of silver. Generally speaking, the recognition of reproduction silver does not present a problem since it is marked according to the laws of the country of origin.

Contrary to this, the antique silver industry of Hanau chose to mark its output with fantasy marks. It is difficult to say if this was practiced with a clear intent to deceive. But it is strange that the spurious marks somewhat resemble old marks, and are also harmonized with the style of the piece. For example, French rococo style reproductions are marked with French looking marks, German seventeenth century-inspired pieces got German-looking marks, and so on. Furthermore, most Hanau firms chose as company marks styles reminiscent of seventeenth and eighteenth century maker's marks.

The diary of Willi Rodde, son-in-law and successor to August Schleissner, describes prevalent practices of the Hanau silver industry, ca. 1935 (click note 2). Stories of how antique silver was borrowed and copied exactly down to the old marks follow descriptions of visits by the German Empress to Schleissner's showrooms, where she purchased some silver items. Rodde remarks that, even though the Empress was told that her purchases were exact copies of antique silver, he is sure that these items would be registered as authentic in the imperial inventories (click note 3). He describes how some retailers ordered pieces devoid of any marks. Others, like Bulgari in Rome, ordered table silver with English-looking marks, which he loved to sell to English customers. Truth or legend, the fact that this is the diary of the CEO of one of Hanaus's leading manufacturers, and that it was left unpublished, seems to lend the stories credibility.

Mark stamping as practiced in Hanau would have been completely illegal in France or England, or for that matter in any other German city where a guild supervised the marking. But Hanau had a long tradition as a free-trade city (click note 4). In Hanau, silver production was a business proposition, rather than being dependent on the grant of master status by a goldsmiths guild or corporation. Stamping of silver wares by wardens was discontinued in Hanau by the end of the eighteenth century, and, from 1874, the Hanau town mark was not used anymore. Research has shown that Hanau silversmiths had already used fake Nuremberg marks in the seventeenth century, and there were numerous court cases against Hanau silversmiths in the eighteenth century for stamping their wares with spurious Nuremberg and Augsburg marks (click note 5). Furthermore, the imperial law of 1888 abolished official stamping by wardens in all of Germany. From then on every producer stamped his own wares and used guaranty marks for the required silver content. This again put the stamping methods of the Hanau silver industry within the framework of the law.

It is thanks to the extensive research of Dr. W. Scheffler that the spurious Hanau marks were catalogued and pictured for the first time. Ongoing research will probably add to this catalog many more spurious marks used in Hanau. Products of the antique silver industry of Hanau have long been a source of confusion for auction houses and antique dealers, as evidenced by Dr. Scheffler's long lists of items that were misattributed and sold as genuine (click note 6).It may be of small comfort to the collector that even the most esteemed experts are sometimes fooled by Hanau pieces (click note 7).

Before discussing the different types of spurious marks, it should be mentioned that Hanau was not the only "antique silver" producing center. Schoonhoven and Groningen in the Netherlands, had similar thriving industries which also stamped their wares with fantasy marks. These are published in K.A. Citroen, Valse Zilvermerken in Nederland (Amsterdemna, New York, Oxford 1977, call numbers Library of Congress 76-22679;NK 7154.A1 C57; ISBN O-7204-0522-Y).

The advice most often given to collectors, to familiarize themselves with styles and the way things were made, is of course good and pertinent. Everyone who has worked for years to become an expert, by reading and by inspecting and handling silver, can appreciate it. The following remarks are not meant to replace serious study, but rather to give some helpful pointers for collectors who do not have access to a copy of Dr. Scheffler's book.

From all groups of fantasy marks, the "English prestige marks" are the easiest to recognize. Because English silver is so widely researched and published, even a cursory comparison will suffice to identify the reproduction. Next is the group of German-looking marks. The imperial law of 1548 decreed the use of a town mark and a master mark (click note 8).) Although Hanau items with two or three marks do exist, most of them feature a riot of marks. Up to nine punches were often used on the same silver item, many of which could qualify as town marks. The most common mark on Neresheimer silver is the German Renaissance "n", while Schleissner featured eagle-and-crown combinations and, as the company mark, a sickle in a shaped surround.

For items inspired by French styles, mostly Louis XIV and XVI, French-looking marks were used. The most frequent are the plain or crowned fleur-de-lys, and crowned date letters. Schleissner used crowned master marks with the letter combinations BI or RC. Another maker, Georg Roth & Company, used a crowned GR. Neresheimer used a TG below the fleur-de-lys. All of these French-looking marks are very shallow, in contrast with genuine early French marks, which were punched forcefully and deeply while the item was still in a rough state, so that they would withstand the finishing process intact. Furthermore, genuine French pieces have "recharge" marks, which are tiny and mostly found on the rim of the piece (click note 9). This leads to another guideline: Old silver has recharge and tax marks which reproductions lack, and the reproduction pieces often have import marks from which old silver was exempted.

The portion of Hanau production comprising exact copies of authentic old silver, and left unmarked, presents a problem for the art historian, who comes more and more to rely on the help of natural sciences. Metallurgic analysis often reveals metal alloys that prove a nineteenth century manufacture. We know that Hanau firms smelted old coins and old silver, (click note 10). a fact that seems to defeat metallurgic tests. But fortunately, one metal unknown before the nineteenth century found its way into the melting pots of the silversmiths. This rare metal, extracted first in 1817 from zinc ores, is cadmium. Today, the use of cadmium has been largely abandoned because of its carcinogenic properties. From the middle of the nineteenth century, it was widely used as an ingredient in gold and silver alloys, as well as in hard solder. For authenticity analysis, cadmium is regarded as a "fake-indicator." The presence of cadmium shows that presumed old objects are really nineteenth production, or have at least been substantially altered or repaired (click note 11).

The collector must be aware of two facts: Wars and financial crises have greatly diminished antique Continental silver, and only a small percentage of the original production has survived. On the other hand, the output of the Hanau antique silver industry was prolific. Clever and active marketing found ever new customers all over the world. Hanau silver was even exported to Africa, Siam, and China, and forms a large part of available antique silver everywhere. Therefore, the chance of finding a nineteenth or twentieth century item or reproduction silver is incomparably higher than of finding the rare genuine piece.


Chased tankard by Schleissner Marks on tankard on the left
Chased tankard by Schleissner
ca. 1880, 43 cm
Marks on tankard on the left. The TS mark is remarkably similar to the master mark of Thomas Stoer, the Elder, Nuremberg, active 1597-1611 (Rosenberg 3/4081) The TS and the eagle mark are in Scheffler No. 454 and 456

Basket by Neresheimer

marks on basket by Neresheimer

Basket by Neresheimer
Marks on basket on the left, only the third mark is listed in Scheffler, No.517

Chased platter by Neresheimer

Marks on platter  on the left

Chased platter by Neresheimer, 45 x 60 cm
Marks on platter on the left a typical punch combination
Fish-shaped box, by Neresheimer Neresheimer standing cup and cover
Fish-shaped box, by Neresheimer.
It has Chester, England import marks for 1903 and date letter C, stamped twice once on the head, once on the tail, which also has a BM mark for the importer Berthold Mueller
Neresheimer standing cup and cover with Austrian import marks (not shown)
Neo-gothic beaker cup 
and cover by Georg Roth French-looking marks 
and Chester, England 
import marks for 1900
Neo-gothic beaker cup and cover by Georg Roth. The beaker is a faithful copy of old German silver
the neo-gothic beaket cup has French-looking marks and Chester, England import marks for 1900
Part 1 of this article is available clicking here
Dorothea Burstyn - 2004
this article was published in Silver Magazine Nov./Dec.1997 - reproduction on ASCAS website is authorized by the Author and the Editor of Silver Magazine