Know your hallmarks

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By John J.van OmmenKloeke

So many times questions are asked about the age of hallmarked silver mounts on the pipes, that it seems wise to offer some more precise information on just how to interpret those hitherto quizzical hieroglyphs on the luxury parts of our favourite musical instrument.

On close examination, we can establish that there are several different marks, of which only one (usually the last one) indicates the date of manufacture, at least of the silver part that is, which may incidentally have been fitted (from stock) to a later built set of pipes, or also sometimes later fitted onto an already existing older set. So it will not necessarily tell you the age of your actual pipes.

Also, there are three features about this yearmark you should observe: not only which letter, in which version, was used, but also, the precise shape of the border around it. Only with those three bits of information is it possible to look up the year in the list given for the town which is indicated by the “Mark of origin”, which is usually the second one, coming after the “Maker’s Mark”, which in turn indicates the maker of the silver parts.

After the (1) Maker’s Mark and the (2) Mark of Origin usually follow (3) the Assay Mark, indicating the material used to be “Sterling” silver, this will be a lion — passant (walking) or — rampant (standing), and (4) the Country Mark, for Scotland this is a thistle. Sometimes a further “Jubilee Mark” (1934-5) or “Coronation Mark” is encountered. (1952-3), finally followed by the yearmark.

The image of Edinburgh hallmarks, below, illustrates what these look like (click on the image to enlarge):

Edinburgh hallmarks, 1857-1988.

• From the April 1991 Piping Times.

• Silver standards change under European law.