article # 112



by Robert Massart
(click on photos to enlarge image)

Scottish Legends & Silver Hallmarks

Location of cities and burghs
Scotland is well-known for his clans, the fearless militaries going to the battlefield preceded by their pipers and the unspoiled nature of the Highlands with lochs, rivers, salmon and stags. During historical times many myths, folk tales and legends originated in this environment, even affecting today’s practices of hallmarking silver.
Deciphering marks on silver items is a fascinating pastime for silver collectors, but mostly they have no idea of the background of these marks and the reason why specific punches were chosen as town mark or standard mark. The scope of this article is to trace back the origin of Scottish silver punches to the earliest times and to bring the reader up-to-date on this subject.
Hallmarks were for most part, freely adopted by individuals or clans at some point in the Middle Ages and in many cases it is impossible to define the meaning of it, if any.
In particular cases however symbols and emblems of official seals were the source of town marks and were subsequently integrated in city coat of arms. As explained hereafter some punches are even linked to Scottish legends, which is not surprising as Scotland has an extensive heritage in that field.

(left) Location of cities and burghs (note 1)

Thistle mark

Thistle mark

In Edinburgh, the Scottish capital, a thistle mark was used since 1759 until 1974 to guarantee sterling silver, an alloy of silver containing 92,5 % fine silver and 7,5 % other metals, mostly copper. This thistle mark was used as a national emblem of Scotland. From 1975 to present the lion rampant replaces the Thistle as the standard mark. According to legend Scottish soldiers were forewarned of Viking invaders by their screams as they were wounded by thistles whilst creeping ashore.
(left: thistle mark)

Lion Rampant

lion rampant Great Seal of Scotland Great Seal of the United Kingdom
Sterling silver was guaranteed in Glasgow with the Lion Rampant mark from 1819 till the closure of the assay office in 1964. King William I, ‘The Lion’ (1142-1214) (note 2), adopted the Lion Rampant for his Royal flag. The lion is shown rearing up with three legs stretched out and has been incorporated in the Great Seal of Scotland and symbolises the strength of the Scottish people and their ferociousness in battle.  
Lion rampant (left)
Royal coat of arms of Scotland as used before 1603 (center) (note 3)
Scottish version of the Royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom since 1603 (right)

Edinburgh town mark

Town mark Edinburgh coat of arms
The triple towered castle is a symbol for Edinburgh, the Castle Rock having been fortified since c.600 BC.
The town mark, taken from the burgh’s arms, has been used as Edinburgh town mark from the year 1485 down to the present day. The coat of arms was granted to the Edinburgh Town Council in 1732.
Town mark (left)
Edinburgh coat of arms (right)

Glasgow town mark

Town mark

Town mark

Glasgow coat of arms

Glasgow coat of arms
Glasgow owes its existence to the river Clyde flowing through it and during the Middle Ages it was the last place where a bridge was built to allow crossing the river without a boat.
The city did not have a coat of arms until 1866 when a number of symbols and emblems, which had been used before on official seals, were incorporated on it. These symbols and emblems (oak, bird, fish and square bell) were all associated with St Mungo. (note 4).
The sturdy oak tree started out as a branch of a hazel tree. A legend tells that St Mungo as a boy was in charge of a holy fire in the St Serf’s monastery and fell asleep. Some boys, jealous of his favoured position, put out the fire. When St Mungo woke up he broke off some branches from a hazel tree and by praying over them he was able to restart the fire.
The bird in the tree commemorates a wild robin which was tamed by St Serf. Again some fellow classmates, envious of Mungo, killed the bird and blamed him for it. St Mungo took the dead bird, prayed over it and restored it to life.
The fish with a ring in his mouth refers to King Hydderch Hael of Strathclyde who had given his wife Queen Languoreth a ring as a present. Instead of keeping the ring the Queen gave it to her lover. The King was informed by a servant of the affair and laid a plot to denounce her. He went hunting with the knight and when the young man fell asleep he removed the ring off his finger and tossed it into the river Clyde. The King then challenged his wife to produce the ring, which of course she could not, whereupon she was imprisoned awaiting her execution.
The legend tells that she sent a messenger to St Mungo for help, who instructed the messenger to go fishing and bring back the first fish he catches. Another version relates that the knight asked for St Mungo’s help who sent a monk to catch the first fish in the river Clyde. When the salmon was brought back, St Mungo cut open the fish and found the ring. The ring was given to the Queen and saved her life.
The hand-bell It is thought that the square bell was acquired by St Mungo on a pilgrimage to Rome, but there is no definite information as to how he obtained it. It was said to have been used in services and to mourn the deceased. Priests’ bells were important many centuries ago as people would leave an endowment to pay for the bell to be rung throughout the city to call the residents to pray for their soul.
Scottish provincial silver ware, especially from burghs in the Highlands, is very rare. The few silversmiths being active in this area stamped their pieces with their initials or full name alongside the abbreviated name of the town or used the town mark.
Some combinations of a maker’s mark and the town name are for example: Charles Bruce of Peterhead (C. BRUCE/P’HEAD), Alexander McLeod of Inverness (AML/INS), Thomas Stewart of Elgin (TS/ELN)


Aberdeen coat of arms

The three castles represent fortifications that stood on three hills around which Aberdeen developed during the reign of King Robert the Bruce. The legend of Robert the Bruce relates that he was at war with the King of England who tried to conquer Scotland.
Six times he fought against the English but each time his army had been beaten. At last Robert the Bruce’s army was scattered and he was forced to flee and hide out in a cave. There he observed a spider spinning a web. The spider failed six times, but each time it tried again until it succeeded. The perseverance of the spider inspired Robert the Bruce to organise an army of brave men around him and fight the English invaders again. Finally, in 1314 at the battle of Bannockburn he defeated decisively his opponents and assured Scotland’s independence.
Place names with 'aber' are common on the East coast of Scotland. Aber is a Celtic word meaning ‘confluence of waters’ or ‘river mouth’.
(left: Aberdeen coat of arms)

Three castles c.1745 Three castles c.1800 hand holding dagger c.1800 cockerel c.1800 AB ABD ABDN ABERDEEN


Arbroath mark c. 1835 Arbroath coat of arms Arbroath seal
The burgh of Arbroath probably used a portcullis to symbolise strength and redoubt ability of his citizens.
The silver mark is based on the Arbroath burgh seal.
Arbroath, formerly Aberbrothick, is the anglicised (contracted) form of aber.


mark c. 1765 mark c. 1765
According to legend King David I of the Scots was hunting during a Holy Day in 1128, when out of nowhere a magnificent male red deer attacked him and threw him from his horse. The King tried to protect himself against the antlers by raising his arms. At that moment a crucifix appeared between the antlers of the stag and when he held the cross the stag calmed down and walked away. In gratitude for his miraculous escape from the enraged stag David I established the same year a monastery at the site and granted a charter to the adjacent burgh which was to become Canongate.


Dundee mark c. 1800 Dundee mark c. 1815 Dundee mark c. 1820 Dundee mark c. 1829 Dundee coat of arms
(note 4) The three lilies first appear on the seal of the city in 1416 and symbolise St Mary, one of the two patron saints of the city (St. Clement I being the second patron saint of Dundee). The lilies are flowers of purity and had strong religious connotations, especially with the Virgin Mary. The lily also appears as a crest in the full coat of arms of Dundee.


St Giles

St Giles, a 7th century hermit, who lived in France, became the patron of Elgin, probably due to the ancient ties between Scotland and France. According to legend, Giles was accidentally wounded by a huntsman in pursuit of a hind. The saint is usually depicted protecting a hind from an arrow, which had pierced his body.

mother & child, c.  1750 St Giles mark: 1809-1824 Elgin cathedral church mark: 1809-1824 mark 1790 mark c. 1820 mark c. 1840


Forres coat of arms mark c. 1835 mark c. 1820
The mark refers to Nelson’s tower, situated on top of Cluny Hill in Forres. The tower was built in 1808 as a memorial to Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson to commemorate his victory over Napoleon’s fleet at Cape Trafalgar in October 1805.


Cartsburn and Easter Greenock existed as a single estate since the rule of Mary Queen of Scots. A small fishing village was established there sometime prior to 1592. Around 1669 Greenock was established as a port. The anchor (note 6) and a ship in full sail clearly refer to the port and the importance of shipbuilding in the burgh. Jackson (p. 604) states that the green oak is a pun on the town’s name and not a pointer on its derivation.

Greenock coat of arms seal of Greenock Greenock mark: c. 1820 Greenock mark: c. 1820 Greenock mark:  thistle head c. 1820 Greenock mark: c. 1820 Greenock mark: c. 1745-1825


The camel (in fact a dromedary) is part of the town’s early coat of arms and is thought to represent the burghs thriving Eastern trade links (note 7). The burgh’s later seal and coat of arms represents a camel and an elephant. Ultimately Inverness lost its coat of arms in 1975 with the formation of the Highland Council.
The earliest known camel mark (used by the silversmith Robert Anderson) dates from 1760 (ref. page 607 in Jackson’s Silver & Gold marks of England, Scotland & Ireland).
In the areas of the Western Highlands and the Grampians, Inver is a common element in place-names. Just like the word aber it means 'confluence of waters’ or ‘river mouth’.
Inverness coat of arms Inverness seal Inverness mark: c. 1775 Inverness mark Inverness mark Inverness mark c. 1825

St Andrews

St Andrews mark 1671 St Andrews mark 1830-1860 St Andrew St Andrews coat of arms

(note 8)
Several legends relate that the relics of Apostle Andrew (crucified in 62 on a diagonal cross) were brought under supernatural guidance from Constantinople to the town of St Andrews.
According to one legend King Ungus, fighting the English with his army during the late eight century, saw a cloud in the shape of a saltire. He felt protected by St Andrew and promised he would become their patron saint if they won the battle.
Another legend narrates that a Greek monk, Saint Regulus or Saint Rule, was warned in 347 by an angel to take the relics of the Apostle Andrew and go West by ship. That way he could avoid that Emperor Constantine would remove the bones to Constantinople. Saint Rule fled with the relics to Scotland and shipwrecked at the village Kinrymont (now St Andrews). He founded a church at that spot, where he buried the bones of the Apostle.
Around the tenth century Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland and the diagonal cross forms the national flag of the country.


This write up has not the intention of an in-depth study; it is only a first attempt to reveal the origin of some Scottish and Scottish Provincial silver marks. Hopefully it will enhance the interest of other silver collectors to look out for the origin of other Scottish town marks, such as:
Banff mark Banff mark c. 1795 Banff mark c. 1800 Banff mark c. 1810
BANFF: salmon, B
Cupar mark 1815-1877 Cupar mark c. 1830
CUPAR: Fleur de Lys (marks used by Robert Robertson)
Dumfries mark c. 1794-1817 Dumfries mark c. 1800 Dumfries mark c. 1820 Dumfries mark c. 1820-1840 Dumfries mark c. 1830-1840 Dumfries coat of arms
DUMFRIES: stag’s head, coiled anchor, unicorn, Medieval castle ruin
Montrose mark c. 1780 Montrose mark c. 1790 Montrose mark 1815 Montrose mark 1860 Montrose coat of arms
Nairn mark 1852-1860 Nairn Burgh Seal depicting St Ninian Nairn coat of arms
NAIRN: NAIRN (note 9)
Paisley mark c. 1800 Paisley mark c. 1800 Paisley mark c. 1800 Paisley mark c. 1820 Paisley coat of arms
PAISLEY: rat, anchor
Perth mark c. 1687 Perth mark c. 1690 Perth mark c. 1812 Perth mark c. 1816 Perth mark c. 1830 Perth mark c. 1840 Perth coat of arms Perth coat of arms Perth burgh seal
PERTH: double headed eagle (note 10), lamb bearing the banner of St. Andrew (earliest town mark 1675-1710 on the left).

Peterhead mark c. 1830 Peterhead mark c. 1835 Peterhead mark c. 1880 Peterhead coat of arms
Tain mark c. 1790 Tain mark 1822
TAIN: sunburst, TAIN
Wick mark c. 1840



(note 1) In Scotland a settlement with a diocesan cathedral, headed by a bishop, used to be defined as a city. Before the creation of cities some towns were granted the status of a Royal Burgh by a charter from the King; most of them during the reign of King David I (1124-1153).

(note 2) The unicorn is a symbol of strength, endurance, agility, perseverance, wisdom and playfulness. The animal is also a symbol of purity, hope, love and majesty, grace, finesse and unconquerable nature. It was thought that his horn offered protection against poison. When James I ascended to the English throne in 1603, the heraldic unicorn and lion represented the union of two formerly enemy nations.

(note 3) William I reigned as King of Scots from 1165 to 1214. He was an effective monarch whose reign was marred by his ill-fated attempts to regain control of Northumbria from the Normans.

(note 4) A legend tells that princess Theneu became pregnant before marriage and therefore she was thrown from a cliff in the river Forth. She survived, met an unmanned boat and drifted across the estuary. Finally she landed at Culross where she gave birth to St Kentigern and was taken care of by St Serf. It was St Serf who gave Kentigern his pet name Mungo, meaning ‘my beloved’. St Mungo started his preaching near Glasgow and lived an austere life. Following an anti Christian movement he left the district and moved to St Asaph, from where he took a pilgrimage to Rome. When the new King of Strathclyde invited him to return he did so and died there in old age on 13th January 613. Legend has it that St Mungo founded Glasgow in 543 when he established a church on the banks of a tributary of the river Clyde. He therefore became the patron saint of the city of Glasgow.

(note 5) Dundee was granted the status of Royal Burgh in 1191 by William the Lion. It is said that when William returned from the Crusades he barely escaped death by drowning and that his brother David named the burgh therefore Deidonum (God's gift).

(note 6) The best known anchor mark is of course the town mark of Birmingham, in use since 1773. The reason this mark was adopted at that time is not related to a port at all (Birmingham is not located near the coast) but refers to an inn called the "Anchor and Crown" where a meeting was held by councils to decide upon the symbol for the town mark.

(note 7) The collection of the Inverness Museum & Art Gallery contains a 17th century burgh seal representing a camel.

(note 8) Permission for reproduction granted by St Andrews Community Council.

(note 9) Saint Ninian (c. 360 - 432) is the earliest known evangeliser to have visited Scotland north of Hadrian’s Wall. According to legend he is buried at Sanda Island and whoever stepped on his grave would die.

(note 10) The double-headed eagle, a symbol of power, can be traced back to the Hitite civilisation (1700 BC-1200 BC). During the 12th century the symbol was used in Constantinople and from 1250 on the double-headed eagle symbol was adopted by several Empires, Kingdoms and Confederations (Austria, Russia, Germany, …)

Before the reign of King David I towns did not exist in Scotland. During his reign King David I created Royal burghs by granting prerogatives by Royal chart to important population concentrations around monasteries and fortifications. Most Royal burghs were seaports and acquired a monopoly of foreign trade.
These burghs were for the most part populated by foreigners, rather than native Scots. The predominant ethnic groups were the Flemings (people from Flanders). The reason of it was that in 1066 not only Normans but many Flemings followed William the Conqueror to England. They were offered territories in Scotland, which resulted in a strong Flemish presence in the Medieval Scottish court.
Period of Charter
Patron Saint or
Figure on Seal
David I
St Nicolas
The area around Aberdeen has been settled for at least 8000 years
James VI (1599)
St Thomas a Becket
Arbroath remained a small village until 1178, when King William the Lion founded an abbey, which was completed in 1233.
William I (1202)
St John the Baptist
In 1197 William the Lion built his castle at the mouth of the river Ayr and established the royal burgh in the area which he granted the right to hold markets and the freedom for overseas trade through the harbour.
William I
St Mary
Early 12th century the first castle was built to defend the coast against Viking invasion. Confirmed as Royal burgh in 1372 by Robert II.
Canongate, now part of Edinburgh, is the area of the Old Town of Edinburgh.
James VI (1588)
St Serf
Birth place of St Mungo and port city on the estuary of the river Forth. An abbey was founded here in 1217 by Malcolm, 7th earl of Fife.
David II (1363)
Holy Trinity
Situated between the larger towns Dundee and Glenrothes.
David I
St Michael
Located on the east side of the lowest crossing point of the river Nith, Dumfries grew rapidly as a market town and port.
William I
St Mary & St Clement
Dundee is the fourth largest city in Scotland.
William I
St Giles
Confirmed as Royal burgh in 1457.
St Andrew
Village built in the late 18th century, located not far from the city of Elgin.
William I
St Laurence
The saint figures on the coat of arms of the burgh
Charles I
Established as a small village prior to 1592. It was quickly established as a port and developed to a large town.
William I
St Mary & Crucifixion
Early in the 12th century King David I (1124-1153) made Inverness a royal burgh. In the late 12th century King William the Lion gave Inverness 4 charters.
David I
St Peter
The name Montrose is probably derived from 'Mouth Hrossay' due to the location of the burgh at the outlets of the river Esk near Rossie Island (Norse for horse island).
William I
St Ninian
The royal burgh of Nairn, located between Forres and Inverness, is said to have been originally founded by William the Lion, and derives its name from the river Nairn, on which it is situated.
James IV
St Mirin
A priory was established in 1163 and raised to the status of an abbey in 1245.
David I
St John Baptist
Perth was a Royal residence throughout the Middle Ages.
St George
Founded by George Keith the 5th Earl Marischal in 1593. Peterhead became a fishing port. The whale trade was at its peak in the mid 1800s.
St Andrews
David I (1140)
St Andrew
From medieval times until the Reformation, St Andrews was the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland.
Malcolm III (1066)
James VI (1587)
St Duthacus
Tain is Scotland's oldest Royal Burgh.
James VI (1589)
St Fergus
The earliest harbour works started in 1803.
Source: Preliminary Notice of the Seals of the Royal Burghs of Scotland, by James Urquhart
Robert Massart
- 2009 -