Indeed, in 1757, those found guilty of imitating hallmarks were sentenced to death.
Each piece of British silver had at least four marks that told its story: the standard mark, town mark, date letter, and maker’s mark.
For a short interim starting in 1697, the crown required silverware to be 95.8 percent pure silver, rather than 92.5 percent.
The Worshipful Company derives its authority from the Goldsmiths’ Hall, whose name is the origin of the word “hallmark.” Because England used silver money until 1921, the crown relied on strict enforcement and heavy punishments to ensure the quality of British silver.London used a leopard’s head, but marks elsewhere were often inconsistent.No one knows for sure, but some historians speculate that the word “sterling” is a corruption of “Easterlings,” the German silversmiths brought to England by Henry II to share their silversmithing knowledge with the British.What we do know is that the sterling standard of 92.5 percent silver and 7.5 alloy, which tends to be mostly copper, originated around 1300 in England with Edward I.
Without these standards, silversmiths could debase currency by melting down coins, reducing their silver content, and then passing them off as pure.Hallmarks guaranteed a standard of quality, and the force of the law gave weight to the standard.