Glossary

This page is devoted to a glossary of terms not described elsewhere on our web-site.  For information on types of spoon, early spoons, and flatware patterns please go to the relevant section.

Al

The "A1" mark is sometimes found on the reverse side of silver plated flatware and refers to the quality of the silver plate, i.e. "A1" is the best quality for that manufacturer. Lower qualities are usually referred to as "1" or "A", "B" etc. 

Bifurcated

A stem that is forked or split into two sections where it attaches to the bowl. When split into three it is termed trifurcated.

Bottom-struck

It may sound a bit kinky, but I assure you that it is a much used term! 

Hallmarks have moved up and down the reverse side of the stem of spoons over the Centuries. When the  marks are located towards the bowl end at the narrowest part of the shank then they are termed "bottom struck". The process of striking the marks in this area caused the stem to bulge, so on return from the assay office the spoon maker would have to re-hammer the spoon often resulting in squashed marks that are difficult to read. The damage caused by this method lead in 1781 to the move of the hallmarks to the stem-end, known rather unsurprisingly as top-marking or occasionally as tail-marking. 

Marks were sometimes mis-struck if the person stamping was less than accurate, resulting in only part of a hallmarks components. Unscrupulous spoon makers could take advantage of bottom marking by not sending the spoon to assay (thus avoiding duty), striking their makers mark four times to simulate hallmarks and re-hammering the stem to make the marks illegible. These spoons are known as duty dodgers and are very collectable.

Bright-cut Engraving

This elegant decoration is generally to be found on Old English pattern items, which was the favoured pattern of the period that bright-cut engraving was in fashion. Bright-cut engraving became popular from about 1770, with most pieces dating from about 1775 to 1805. The technique involves facets being cut out of the surface of the silver to leave a shiny appearance, as opposed to lines being drawn.

Britannia Silver

The Silver with a purity of 958 parts per thousand (95.8%) is known as Britannia standard. It is far less  common than Sterling standard, but was compulsory on all silver made between 1697 and 1720. It was not popular as the official standard as the increased level of purity meant it was more expensive to purchase as bullion, and  more difficult to work due to it's increased brittleness. 

Britannia standard silver is represented  On London marked Britannia standard silver the leopards head is substituted by the lion's head erased mark.

 

Cast

A technique of making silver items or components by pouring molten metal in to a mould. Early finials to spoons such as seals and apostles were made this way before being applied to the spoon stem. Some small, decorative spoons such as caddy and salt spoons were sometimes cast in one piece and are often the most sought after examples.

Die-stamping

Most spoons today are made by this method. A steel die, shaped out in the form of the spoon with the relevant pattern, is hit by a drop hammer thus forming the sandwiched sheet silver in to the appropriate spoon.

Drop

A drop is the term given to the heel on underside of Hanoverian pattern spoon bowls. It was the remnant of the earlier rat-tail and can be found in a variety of forms e.g. single, double, extended and strap.

Date Letter

Each assay office has it's own independent cycles of date letters. Each item of silver has it's own date letter stamped within the hallmarks. The style of the letter together with the other hallmarks, will lead to the year the item was assayed.

Lists of the date letter cycles for each assay office are available in many publications. More information can be found on our Hallmarks page.

Duty Dodger

Duty has been paid as a tax on silverware since the end of the 17th Century. The tax was paid at the time of assay, and the amount due related to the weight of the article. Several methods were employed by unscrupulous silversmiths to avoid paying the tax. One commonly used tactic on larger items was to have a much smaller piece assayed and hallmarked, and then set that piece in to a much larger article, thus only paying the tax due for the  lower weight.

The most commonly encountered method of duty dodging with spoons occurred during the 18th Century when bottom-marking was used as the hallmarking technique. The process of stamping hallmarks on the lower section of a spoon's stem results in a distorted shape that requires re-hammering by the silversmith. The hallmarks can often become squashed  and illegible. To take advantage of these unreadable marks the duty dodger would stamp his own makers mark four times to simulate hallmarks and then distort them. This would by-pass the need to send the spoon to assay and avoid the costs incurred. The practice was more or less abandoned upon the change to top-marking, in the late 1770's and the addition in 1784 of the duty mark.

Duty Dodger by Wm Fearn (WF struck twice) 


Nowadays these spoons have become collectable in their own right and can usually be recognised when two or more of the hallmarks can be read as being maker's marks. If four identical maker's marks are seen on a piece and easily read, it begs the question of how discreet the silversmith was of this unlawful pursuit! 

Duty Mark

A fifth mark introduced in 1784 to show that duty had been paid on an article of silver.

Engravings

The vast majority of spoons made prior to 1900 were adorned with some form of personal engraving. The style of engraving is often a good pointer to the period of production. For example, initials in a script style would not have been engraved until after 1770.

In the period pre-1660, the engraving was to be found on the back of the bowl or, if it existed, on a flat disc at the spoon's terminal (i.e. apostle tops and seal tops). Between 1660 and circa 1770 the engraving was generally placed on the stem end of the reverse side. Flatware during this period was generally laid bowl and tines facing down. Forks continued to be laid facing down until circa 1820, when we begin to find them following the same trend as the spoons, with engraving to the front terminal.

The following are examples of the types of engraving to be found:-

  • Initials in block or dot pricked - often given as a birth, Christening or baptismal spoon. Pre-1770.
  • Three initials in block or dot pricked on two lines - often given as wedding presents, the letter on it's own being the surname and the other being the two Christian names.
  • Single letter - generally the surname of the owner. 
  • Initials - the Christian, middle (if applicable) and surname of the owner.
  • Crest - the crest taken from the family's coat-of-arms.

Spoons that are to be used (as against collectors items) with engraved initials or monograms are less saleable/desirable than those that are without. They are therefore deemed less valuable – and sometimes by as much as 50% (esp. on King’s pattern where successful engraving removal is extremely difficult). These engravings can be erased and the saleability and inevitably the value will go up accordingly. BUT it must be done properly – badly erased inscriptions will decrease the value further (the potential has been lost!). 

Items without inscriptions will match up to each other far better than a multitude of different engravings, plus many people do not want somebody else’s initials on their flatware. Remember virtually every item of flatware would originally have been adorned with personal engraving, so an item that is without today, has probably had a removed inscription at some stage – yesterday, 10 years or 100 years ago!

Many people are happy with engraved crests – depending upon what is depicted, they can sometimes increase value.

Collectors are generally unconcerned about engravings as they can add interest and history to a spoon. More about engraving can be found on the Engravings page.

EPNS

Often seen on the reverse side of silver plated flatware and hollow-ware (e.g. teapots). It is an abbreviation of Electro Plated Nickel Silver. 

Another abbreviation found on hollow-ware is EPBM (Electro Plated Britannia Metal).. It is never found on flatware as the metal is too soft.

Fancy-backs

A spoon with a motif to the reverse of the bowl is known as a fancy-back. They were popular during the mid-18th Century and were revived in the early 20th century. The most common forms of fancy back are the shell and the scroll motifs, which can be found alone or in combination. A similar form of spoon is the picture-back. More information about picture backs can be found on our Flatware Patterns page.

Feather Edge

A simple form of bright-cut engraving where the edge of the front stem on a spoon is decorated with diagonal lines. Mostly found on Old English pattern, but scarce examples are found on a transitional pattern called Feather edge with shoulders.

Feather edge decoration on a pair of sugar tongs c. 1775

Finial

The "bit" at the end of a spoon's stem. Sometimes an applied cast figure or device such as the apostle on apostle spoons. Also the name of the bi-monthly journal of the Silver Spoon Club of Great Britain.

Fire Stains

On certain spoons, in a certain light, a reddish stain or bloom can be observed on the surface of the silver – this is called fire stain and can be a result of either a repair or from the original manufacture. The easiest way to detect it is to breathe on the spoon and note any differences in colour to the silver

Sterling silver is 92.5% pure, i.e. 7.5% of the sterling alloy is made up from other metals. The bulk of these other metals are made up from copper. Copper is alloyed to silver to make it harder and more durable; 100% pure silver is too soft and malleable to work.

Fire stains occur when Sterling silver is heated to just below melting point during either the forging or soldering processes. Copper has a 100 degree centigrade higher melting point than silver. Copper atoms within the alloy migrate to the surface giving a dark stain to the upper layers. This fire staining is not easily seen until any polishing takes place; once the surface skin of copper has been breached a difference in colour can be seen. Many silver items have the fire stain removed during the manufacturing process – this can be done by stripping or buffing, the third method is to leave the fire stains and electroplate over the top.

During the manufacture of a spoon the silver ingot is repeatedly annealed (heated and allowed to cool slowly to toughen it) and hammered into the required shape. Once the spoon has been completed the final process is to buff the surface, this includes the removal of the fire stains. However during the forging process the spoon stem may be folded over, this leaves a line of fire running down the centre of the stem. This line of fire would probably not be seen at the time of manufacture, but over subsequent years of wear and polishing the line is revealed. This is quite a frequent occurrence in old hand-made spoons and should not be seen as a fault.

During a repair to a split or crack in a spoon the silver is heated to a red-hot temperature, the area immediately surrounding the spoon will be affected by the heat and subsequently develop the fire stain. This fire stain can be patchy, as any repair would have involved dressing with a file and buffing over thereby removing the fire in just those areas worked upon. The fire stain can be completely buffed out, but this would leave a polished finish and therefore have been obviously worked upon in recent times. The item can be silver plated to cover the fire stains but the colour would not look right – too white.

Flame-backs

A highly desirable form of Trefid spoon with decoration to the reverse of the bowl resembling the flames of a fire.

Haft

The handle of a knife. In Georgian times there were specialist silver haft makers. They were made in two halves, soldered together (after assay in the 18th Century), loaded with hot pitch and the tang of the blade inserted whilst the pitch was still molten. They are often found today with the blade removed from the haft. This is caused by heat (especially dish washers) softening the pitch. In the 20th Century the hafts were made in one hollow piece and soldered to stainless steel blades.

Heel

The join of the stem to the underside of the bowl is often strengthened with an overlap known as a heel. Usually it is a plain rounded junction, but can be decorated.

I Love Liberty

Probably the most famous of the picture backs spoons. It depicts a dove departing an open cage with an olive branch in it's beak, surmounted by the words "I LOVE LIBERTY". Almost certainly inspired by the trials of the political activist John Wilkes during the period 1765 - 1771. John Wilkes (1725 - 1798) was imprisoned on "libellous" and "treasonable" charges following his attacks in The North Briton newspaper against King George III and his government. His stance against the establishment's corruption, is considered as the major break through for the freedom of the press in the UK.

Lace-backs

A highly desirable form of Trefid spoon with an intricate raised design to the reverse of the bowl and front terminal of the handle.

Lion's Head Erased 

The leopards head town mark for London is substituted by the lion's head erased on Britannia standard silver articles. The lion is cut-off at the shoulders and has it's tongue poking out.

Lion Passant

The lion passant was first used to symbolise 925 grade silver in 1544.  The word "passant" means walking. The representation used to signify silver has its' front right paw raised, facing left with a crown on it's head.

In Scotland one of the symbols representing Sterling silver is the lion rampant (the other being a thistle). the lion rampant stands on it's hind feet with it's two front paws raised.

Other lions found in silver spoons are the lion guardant (guarding) and lion sejant (sitting). These can be found to the terminals of 16th/17th Century spoons and as part of crests/coat-of-arms.

Pennyweight

A measure of weight for silver in the troy ounce system, usually abbreviated to "dwts". Often seen on the reverse side of silver plated flatware to show the quality of silver plate. 20 pennyweights = 1 troy ounce.

Picture-backs

A spoon with a picture to the reverse of the bowl is known as a picture-back. This style of spoon was very popular during the mid 18th century and was revived in the early 20th century. Typical picture backs to be found include flowers, farmyard scenes, galleons etc. Picture fronts are decorated to the front terminal of the spoon and are usually adorned to the reverse of the bowls too (usually a scroll). A similar form of spoon is the fancy-back.

Prick Dot Engraving

The simplest form of engraving initials and dates on to silver using a needle point. A series of simple dots make up each letter or number.

Provenance

The history of a piece of silver, generally backed up with hard evidence such as receipts or inventories.

Silver Standard

There are two standards of purity for hallmarking silver; Sterling (92.5% pure) and Britannia (95.8% pure).

Sterling Silver

This is by far the most common standard of silver purity used in Great Britain. It is often referred to as 925 standard, i.e. 925 parts per thousand is silver (92.5%), the remainder is mainly copper, with other trace elements present. Copper is added to the alloy to make the silver harder and more malleable; 100% pure silver is too brittle and will crack under pressure.

Top-marked

In 1781 a change was made from hallmarking spoons at the base of the stem (bottom-struck) to the top of the stem towards the terminal. This was due to the introduction of stub marking (i.e. the punches were stamped at the same time by a press rather than individually by hand) which was not practicable on the thin section of the stem. This has remained the standard position ever since.

Terminal

The end section of a spoon furthest from the bowl. This is usually a wider area allowing  inscriptions to be  engraved.

Transitional spoon

An alternative name for a dog nose spoon, used by Sir Charles Jackson for the changeover in styles from Trefid to Hanoverian but now generally seen as an out-dated term.

Troy ounces

An imperial system of weight and measures specifically used for precious metals and stones, often abbreviated to "tr. oz.". There are 20 pennyweights in one ounce troy and 12 ounces troy in one pound troy. The standard imperial measurement system is avoirdupois ounces. 

1 ounce troy  = 1.097 ounce avoirdupois

1 ounce troy = 31.1 grams

Wavy end

An alternative name for a dog nose spoon. They can also be called "Shield End" too.