article # 100



by Robert Massart
(click on photos to enlarge image)


It is quite self-evident that collectors of silverware try to widen their knowledge related to the items obtained through bargaining on markets, heritage, purchases on internet, etc. The many requests of members to ASCAS asking for information concerning silver items in their possession are a good example of this obvious statement.
For English silver articles, the collector does not need to be a real expert. Useful and comprehensive resources for the research are pocket editions of English hallmarks (note 1) or searching the internet (note 2) to identify the year the article was assayed, to learn the silver content of it and to know in which town the item was assayed. Tracing back the maker’s name linked to his mark (and eventually information related to his career) needs more effort and is not always apparent. It is therefore important to know that the maker's mark in any hallmark is distinguished not only by the initials but also by the style of the lettering and the shape that surrounds them.
Studying a few English vesta cases hereafter illustrates that research makes it possible to extend the volume of information concerning the makers. Interesting to know is that some of the maker’s marks for the period 1890-1920, may not be those of the actual master silversmith but marks registered for the manufacturing firm or wholesaler. Indeed, it was not uncommon that Victorian silversmiths produced pieces with the maker’s mark of the wholesaler. These marks where usually submitted by the silversmith to the assay office for registration, on behalf of the client. Actually, this is the reason why the assay offices prefer to use the term sponsor’s mark instead of maker’s mark.
Before passing to the particular vesta cases discussed in this article, some information regarding characteristics and history of vesta cases in general may be of interest to the reader.
Vesta cases came into use during the 1830s and due to the exploding popularity of smoking they were produced extensively between 1890 and 1920.
The small portable boxes were made to contain short matches and keep them dry. The silver vesta cases were gilded inside to avoid corrosion by the volatile match heads and the strike side allowed lighting the match. Generally made to be carried in a pocket, some were small enough to be suspended from an Albert chain (named for Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria) to anchor it to a waistcoat. Further information about Vesta cases/Matchbox holders are available in www.silvercollection "Silver Dictionary"

Small Victorian, perfectly shaped solid silver vesta case with a typical hinged design. The chain ring is located on top of the lid.
The hinged lid opens and closes with a clean snap. Clear crisp set of hallmarks and maker’s mark on the front of the vesta case and inside the lid. Fully gilt-lined interior to protect the silver against corrosion.
The hallmarks are the lion passant for the sterling silver standard guarantee, the gothic date letter ‘u’ for the year 1894-95 and the anchor for Birmingham (horizontal anchor for pre-1900 silver).
The sponsor’s mark ‘J.M.B. in a rectangle with rounded corners’ (entered at the Birmingham assay office May 1902) stands for John Millward Banks who had premises at 6-7 Northhampton Street, Birmingham and a shop in London. John Millward Banks, established in 1863, died in 1911. The business was continued by his son until c.1926.
The vesta case measures 43 mm by 32 mm, is 6,5 mm thick and weighs 20 grams.
Front view
Striker underneath
Front view with open lid
Sponsor's mark and hallmarks on the front
Hallmarks inside lid

Small Victorian, Arts & Crafts, solid silver vesta case (match safe), finely engraved on both sides.
The front of the vesta case is engraved with scrolls and has a vacant round cartouche, whereas the back side is adorned with curves and a flower in the center. The hinge, spring and lid work and fit very well.
No fob ring is present and considering the small size of the vesta it was certainly made for a lady who could put it in a purse. The striker on the base is in perfect condition. The vesta case measures 40 mm high, 29 mm wide and 10 mm across. Weight is 16 grams.
The clear struck hallmarks on the inner edge of the vesta and at the outside of the lid are an anchor for Birmingham assay office (horizontal for pre-1900 silver), the lion passant for sterling silver and a gothic date letter ‘x’ for the year 1897-1898.
The inner edge of the case is also punched with the figure 2 (probably the journeyman’s mark).
The sponsor’s mark is punched on the inner edge in such a way that only the shape (a shield) and a letter H are visible. A final identification is in this case not that easy; either it is the mark of Edward John Haseler & Noble Haseler (note 3) (entered August 1888) or, even more certain, of Thomas Hayes (note 4) (entered December 1897).
Front view
Back view
Front view with open lid
strike underneath
Sponsor's mark and hallmarks on inside edge of the vesta
Hallmarks on front of the lid
Figure "2" on rim of lid

Victorian solid silver vesta case, embossed all around, with the chain ring located on top of the lid.
The vesta case is gilded inside and the lid and spring are in perfect condition. Measurements are 55 mm by 42 mm by 12 mm. The weight is a good 38 grams. The bottom is marked on one side of the missing striker with ‘Patent’ and at the other side with ‘Sirus’.
The hallmarks and sponsor’s mark are clearly struck on the inside edge of the body and inside the lid.
Hallmarks are the anchor for Birmingham assay office, lion passant for sterling silver and date letter ‘b’ for the year 1901. The sponsor’s mark ‘H & A in a rectangle with rounded corners’ stands for Horton & Allday, who operated from their Warstone Lane workshops, Birmingham from 1891 till 1933.
Front view
Back view
Front view with open lid
strike on the bottom
Maker's mark and hallmarks on inside edge of the case
Hallmarks inside lid

Typical Art Nouveau solid silver vesta case engraved all-over with leaves and flowers. The lid is still tight fitting and the striker is in good condition. A chain ring is present to the side. The front is embellished with a heart shaped cartouche that has been engraved with the initials LJB of the previous owner.
The vesta case measures 48 mm by 36 mm by 9 mm. The weight is 20 grams.
Clear hallmarks are struck on the inner edge of the case and inside the lid.
The hallmarks read as follows, anchor for the assay office of Birmingham, lion passant for sterling silver and date letter ‘e’ for the year 1904.
The sponsor’s mark ‘T.H in an oval’ belonged to Thomas Heasley, first registered in 1899. He registered as a whip maker and his address was 138, Suffolk Street Birmingham.
Front view
Back view
Front view with open lid
Sponsor's mark and hallmarks on inside edge of the case
Hallmarks inside lid

Edwardian Art Nouveau solid silver vesta case with clear and crisp hallmarks for Chester on the inside edge of the case.
The interior is gilded. It is engraved throughout with a scroll and acanthus leaf design, typical for the Art Nouveau style. It has a fine shield cartouche on the front, engraved with fancy initials. The chain fob is located to the side of the vesta case and the striker underneath is in perfect condition.
The vesta case is hallmarked for Chester (note 5) with a shield bearing the city arms (sword erect between 3 wheat sheaves), lion passant for the sterling standard guarantee and the letter ‘E’ for the year 1905.
The sponsor’s mark ‘W.N in a rectangle with cut corners’ stands for William Neale. His mark was entered in the Birmingham assay office on April 1862 and in the Chester assay office on September 1882. William Neale’s business was located on Warstone Lane, Birmingham and subsequently on Cox Street, St Paul’s, Birmingham.
The vesta case is 40 mm high, 31,5 mm wide and 10 mm across and weighs 17 grams.
Front view
Back view
Front view with open lid
Detail of spring mechanism
Strike underneath
Detail of hinge
Maker's mark and hallmarks on edge inside case

Original "George V" solid silver vesta case (match holder and striker) with banded decoration engraved throughout and with a round cartouche on the front engraved with the previous owners initials JHC.
It measures 50 mm by 43 mm by 9 mm and weighs 27 grams.
The interior is gilded, a chain fob is present to the side, the striker on the base is in perfect condition and it has a snappy tight lid.
The vesta case is clearly and fully hallmarked on the inner edge of the case and there is a further matching set of silver hallmarks inside the lid.
The hallmarks are anchor for Birmingham, lion passant for solid sterling silver and date letter ‘O’ for the year 1913. The sponsor’s mark, ‘WHH in a rectangle with cut corners’, stands for William Hair Haseler.
The firm of goldsmiths, silversmiths and jewellers was founded in 1870 by William Hair Haseler and went in formal partnership with Arthur Lasenby Liberty (note 6), founder of Liberty & Co, whose particular importance was his role in relation to the Aesthetic Movement (note 7) and Art Nouveau (note 8), often known in Italy as Stile Liberty. The two firms joined forces from 1898 on to launch the Cymric silver range under the name Liberty & Co (Cymric) Ltd.
The machine produced silver and jewellery was hand finished and often decorated with a variety of semi precious stones, giving it a luxury look.
Celtic motifs were a real source of inspiration for designers such as Archibald Knox (note 9), who worked for Liberty & Co.
Knox remained anonymous because Liberty adopted the policy of not promoting the names of the designers he used, in order to keep the public’s full attention to his own brand identity.
William Hair Haseler continued to produce silver for Liberty & Co until the partnership of both firms ended in 1926.
Front view
Back view
Sponsor's mark and hallmarks on inside edge of the case
Hallmarks inside lid


1 Inexpensive pocket books are for instance Bradbury’s Book of Hallmarks (ISBN 0 901100 32 3) and Pocket Edition Jackson’s Hallmarks (ISBN 1 85149 169 4).

2 Identification of Birmingham hallmarks and Sponsor's marks from 1773 till 1858, the Birmingham Assay Office has launched a new, Early Silver Hallmarks website. Any silver collector who may have acquired, for example an early Birmingham silver snuff box with a maker’s mark they don’t recognise, or perhaps a recent beneficiary of a will who has inherited a set of nineteenth-century Birmingham silver salts and would like to know who made them will find this website of immense value. You can visit the website at
Another valuable source, of course, can be found at , a site created by Giorgio Busetto.

3 Also known as Haseler Brothers, Branston Street workshops, Birmingham

4 T. Hayes had his workshops at Hockley Street, Birmingham. He became bankrupt in 1907. In 1910 he was found mutilated on a railway line and after being charged with attempted suicide he died of his injuries in the police station.

5 The Chester Assay Office closed 24th August 1962.

6 Arthur Lasenby Liberty started a small shop in 1875 on the corner of Regent Street, London, selling imported exotic goods from the East. Soon he became well known in fashionable retailing. His success was due to the fact that he succeeded in promoting design to the broad public by reducing the high production costs, which were typical for handcrafted pieces made by the Arts & Crafts movement.
Liberty received a knighthood in 1913 in recognition of the significant role he had played in promoting the decorative arts in Britain. He died in 1917.

7 The Aesthetic Movement existed in Britain during the 1870’s and 1880’s and manifested itself in the fine and decorative arts and architecture. It was characterized by the cult of the beautiful and the emphasis on the sheer pleasure to be derived from it.

8 Art Nouveau is the name for the artistic trend in decoration and architecture during the period between 1880 and 1914, as a reaction on the fading norms of impressionism. Characterized particularly by the depiction of leaves and flowers in flowing, ornamental lines. The same style-characteristics exist for buildings, furniture and ornamental objects.

9 Archibald Knox, born 9 April 1864 in Cronkbourne Village, Isle of Man - died 22 February 1933, Isle of Man. He was a famous English designer, silversmith and painter. His flair and artistry was the reason of the success of the Cymric silverware. The collaboration of Knox and Liberty ended in 1912.
Robert Massart - 2008 -