ASCAS Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
article # 184
by David McKinley
(click on photos to enlarge image)


Duty, of 6d. per troy oz, was first levied on plate sent in for hallmarking in the act of 1719 which took affect on 1st June 1720. No mark was struck on plate at this time as a receipt for this tax although the introduction of a crowned date letter was considered. The tax was abolished by an Act of 1758 (see note 1) and, following complaints of its inequity, was replaced by a flat fee of 2.00 per annum levied on all makers. (see note 2)

The same duty was reintroduced however in 1784 (see note 3) and this time receipt for the tax was identified by the striking of a mark on all plate sent in for assay. The mark was initially an intaglio of the monarchs bust in an octagonal outline (Fig 1) and it came into use on the 1st December 1784. This was the Government's third attempt to raise funds by taxing plate. In 1756 a bill had been introduced to tax the mere possession of plate over 100 oz. (see note 4) but this was found difficult to administer and it was repealed in 1777. (see note 5)
Incuse Duty Mark. Struck to the right of the other marks
Incuse Duty Mark. Struck to the right of the other marks
Some authorities have suggested that the duty on wrought plate was reintroduced in 1784 in order to offset the expense of the American War of Independence but there is no evidence to support this claim although it is true that the Treasury's coffers were greatly depleted by this debacle. The Act which imposed this tax clearly states that it was to raise funds for "his Majesty the King and his heirs in perpetuity" and not for the Treasury. (see note 6)

The Goldsmiths' Company was jealous of its ancient right to strike the marks on all plate assayed in England and it came to an accommodation with the Stamp Office by which it was paid 6d (2.5p) in the pound for striking the new duty mark on plate passing through Goldsmiths' Hall. It is of some interest that the Company was, for reasons not explained, prepared to accept the administrative responsibility for collecting and receipting this tax although it was put to some expense in doing so.

The following entries in the minute books make this clear.
The Committee book entry for 12th October 1786 reads:
"Resolved that it be a recommendation from this Committee to the next Court of Assistants that a memorial be presented to the Commissioners of the Stamp Dutys (sic) praying for an allowance of the Expenses which the Company hath been put to in building and fitting up the new Office wherein the plate duty accounts are kept "and in providing StationeryWare for that business in and for the Additional Salary they have given to their Engraver and other incidental Expenses relating to the carring (sic) that act of Parliament into execution ...." (see note 7) and the Court Book entry for 20th October of that year reads:
"....Court were pleased to come to a resolution that no memorial should be presented as therein recommended...." (see note 8)

Of particular interest in these minute entries is the reference to "the additional salary they have given to their engraver" since he, John Pingo, was under separate contract to the Stamp Office to make the duty punches for the provincial assay offices and was paid by that Office for so doing. (see note 9) Although kept at the Assay Offices these punches were not hallmark punches and were presumably the property of the Stamp Office (forerunner of The Inland Revenue, now H.M. Revenue & Customs) and one wonders why the London Goldsmiths& Company elected to pay for those which were for their own use, themselves!

The late Maurice Ridgway refers to the high cost of these punches to the Chester Assay Office drawing a comparison between them at six shillings (30p) each and date punches at two shillings and sixpence (12 1/2p) each. He also makes it clear that, although they were "probably made by John Pingo, the engraver to the Goldsmiths' Company", they were supplied by the Stamp Office. (see note 10)

This latter gives a possible explanation of the reluctant acceptance of the cost incurred by the Goldsmiths' Company who were paying their own engraver for producing the duty punches to be used at the London Assay Office. It also explains the entries showing payments by the Stamp Office to the Pingos which appear in various records. (see note 11) It was almost certainly cheaper to pay Pingo for the punches, since he would be making them anyway, than to pay the Stamp Office for them!

The Company also accepted responsibility for taking in the duty on behalf of the Stamp Office and appointed its own clerk, who was already acting as its accountant, to keep separate accounts of duty received. The Weigher was deputed to make sure that the correct duty was collected and these moneys were paid into the Bank of England on a twice weekly basis. (see note 12)

The Stamp Office, on the other hand, accepted its own administrative responsibility and appointed one William Harris as 'Inspector of Plate Duty' at a salary of 70.00 a year "To inspect the Entries of Gold and Silver Plate assayed by the Goldsmiths Company of London -- to see that the Duty is regularly charged and to report an Account thereof to the Commissioners".

That Office also appointed one John Johnston as 'General Accountant of the Duties, 1784' at a salary of 120.00 a year "To examine the Accounts of the new Duties 1784, and of those granted since, previous to their being delivered over to the Comptroller". (see note 13)

Items which were destined for export were exempt from this tax but as the statute, which introduced it, required that the duty mark be struck on all items before assay, duty had to be paid on everything sent in for hallmarking and then reclaimed on export goods afterwards.

To show that this refund had been made a separate mark, the exportation mark (now known as 'the duty drawback mark') was also applied to export goods.

This latter mark was an intaglio of the figure of Britannia standing and as it was applied after the plate had been 'tidied up' following the initial hallmarking it was found, in some cases, to have damaged the plate and a complaint against its use was lodged by the silversmiths. Accordingly it was withdrawn from use by Act of Parliament (see note 14) on 24th. July 1785 and was thus only in use for just over seven months. This makes it a rare mark and one sought after by collectors.

Examination of the mark plate at Goldsmiths' Hall shows that the punch for this mark was engraved in two forms. One fairly large free standing figure (Fig 2a) and one much smaller example which was entirely enclosed within a punch outline (Fig 2b). This latter is usually difficult to see clearly and the punch outline must therefore be relied on to identify it. It is not clear why two examples of this mark were produced and as the illustrations given here are of a table fork and a table spoon respectively it seems that they were used indiscriminately! Both are, of course, authentic.
Duty Drawback mark struck to the left of the hallmarks and at a right angle to them
Fig. 2a: Duty Drawback mark struck to the left of the hallmarks and at a right angle to them
(Image by kind permission of The Silver Spoon Club of Great Britain)
Duty Drawback Mark.  Struck at a right angle to and to the right of the other marks
Fig. 2b: Duty Drawback Mark. Struck at a right angle to and to the right of the other marks
It is believed by some authorities that the initial concept at Goldsmiths' Hall was that the exportation mark should cancel out or negate the duty mark and that it was therefore struck over that mark but that it was very soon realised that if the duty mark could not be seen there was no way of establishing that the duty had been paid and that the decision was therefore taken to strike the exportation mark separately. Whatever the truth of this is it is certainly the case that there are pieces so marked (Fig 3). Examples of overstruck duty marks are very rare indeed.

In 1786, when the duty mark was incorporated with the other marks on the stub used in the fly press, the mark became cameo to match the hallmarks. The intaglio mark was only in use therefore from 1st December 1784 until 28th May 1786 and is, for this reason, also sought after by collectors because of its comparative rarity.
Over struck Duty Mark. The maker's mark is on the left followed by the fly pressed Hallmarks (closed over)
Fig. 3: Over struck Duty Mark. The maker's mark is on the left followed by the fly pressed Hallmarks (closed over).
The duty mark over struck by the drawback mark is on the right
Duty on plate was abolished in 1890.


I am indebted to the Worshipful Company Of Goldsmiths for allowing me the privilege of examining their records.
note 1: 31. Geo II. c. 32
note 2: This was raised to 5 per annum the following year 32 Geo II c. 24
note 3: 24. Geo III. c. 53
note 4: 29 Geo II c. 14
note 5: 17 Geo III c. 39
note 6: 24 Geo. III. Sess. 2, c. 53
note 7: Committee Book 13 (Goldsmiths' Hall) p341
note 8: Court Book 18 (Goldsmiths' Hall) p411
note 9: House of Commons Sessional Papers (accounts for year ending 1st. August 1797)-vol 110. p142
note 10: Maurice Ridgway-Chester Silver 1727 1837-Phillmore & Co Ltd., 1985. p29
note 11: Christopher Eimer-The Pingo Family & medal making in 18th-century Britain.-British Art Medal Trust 1998.p34.
note 12: John Forbes - Hallmark-A History of the London Assay Office. p232.
note 13: House of Commons Sessional Papers. Vol 108. P33.
note 14: 25 Geo III c. 64

David McKinley
- 2014 -
David McKinley devotes much of his time to researching the history of silversmithing in England with particular reference to hallmarking at the London office. He writes for both The Silver Spoon Club of Great Britain and The Silver Society.

David McKinley is the author of the book THE FIRST HUGUENOT SILVERSMITHS OF LONDON
Information about the content of this book and the discounted price applied to members of ASCAS is available in September 2011 Newsletter