This article from the April 2000 Piping Times looked at changes made to hallmark regulations as a result of a ruling by the European Court of Justice a few months previously. Read also ‘Know your hallmarks’.

By Robert Wallace

Anyone buying new silver-mounted pipes would do well to heed the new regulations governing the purity of precious metals. To bring the UK into line with Europe it was ‘all change’ from January last year. From that date the Hallmarking Act of 1973 was altered to allow silver of lower – and higher – purity to be sold in the UK. Silver is now available in various levels of ‘fineness’ from 800 (80%) to 925 (92.5%) to 958 (95.8%) and 999 (99.9%). Makers often refer to 800 as ‘European’ standard, 925 as Sterling, and 958 as Britannia and 999 as ‘pure’. It is illegal to sell a precious metal such as silver unless it is hallmarked with either of these marks:

Compulsory marks for all silver pipes made in the UK are now as follows:

  1. Bagpipemaker’s initials or mark. The maker’s mark in the UK consists of at least two letters within a shield and no two marks can be the same.
  2. Purity symbol: The purity mark indicates the precious metal content and that it is not less than the fineness indicated. In the case of silver the number is contained within an oval shield (see image above).
  3. Assay Office Mark: The assay office mark indicates the particular office at which the article was tested and marked. There are four in the UK: Birmingham, London, Sheffield and Edinburgh:

Bagpipemakers have to submit every piece of silver to be used in a bagpipe for examination but only one piece – sometimes the blowstick slide or the bottom slide on the bass drone – need have all three symbols. The others must have the purity mark, however. Some makers use Sterling silver on the majority of  mounts but Britannia on the ring caps. The higher purity of the latter means the metal can be spun into shape. It is no longer legally necessary to date-mark the silver and pipers in the future will have difficulty in guessing the age of a bagpipe without this guide. However, some manufacturers may still apply it to their instruments. The mark for 1999 for example is:

Those wishing to examine their own pipes with a view to establishing the age of the instrument can consult the date-mark lists of UK Assay offices.

From 1975 all UK Assay offices used a common date letter (click to enlarge):

To work out roughly where the silver on your pipes was assayed, go back four paragraphs and check the symbols in point 3.

There was an Assay Office in Glasgow with this symbol (right), but it is now closed.

To work out the quality of silver prior to 1975 the following symbols (below) may help:

Your pipes may have commemorative marks highlighting a historically significant time. A special mark has been created for bagpipes made in the Millennium year. Some manufacturers are offering this historic symbol on their pipes:

Between 1784 and 1890 there was excise duty on gold and silver and older pipes may also carry a Sovereign’s head duty mark.

Hallmarking has a long history in the UK. It began in 1238 when Henry III [of England] commanded the Mayor of London to appoint six “faithful and discreet goldsmiths” who would be responsible for ensuring standards for gold and silver articles, Later Edward I [of England] passed a statute requiring not only that all silver articles were to be of sterling standard, the same as coinage, but also that they were to be assayed by the Wardens of the Goldsmith’s Guild and marked with a leopard’s head

In 1327 the Goldsmith’s Guild received its first Royal Charter from Edward Il which confirmed its responsibility for assaying and marking The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, as the guild was later called, is still responsible for the London Assay Office.

Under another statute, in 1363, makers were ordered to stamp their own distinguishing marks alongside the leopard’s head. Originally, the maker’s mark took the form of a device, such as a cross or a fish; later, it became the practice of silversmiths to use the initials of the worker or firm.

In December 1478, the Company appointed a salaried Assayer and compelled makers to bring their completed silverwares to Goldsmiths’ Hall to be assayed and marked before they were offered for sale. This practice has continued to the present day and is the origin of the word ‘hallmark’.

In the same year, an additional mark – the date letter — was introduced by the Company. This consisted of a letter of the alphabet that was changed annually, When one alphabet cycle was completed, the style of the letter or its surrounding shield was altered.

Hallmarking continued during succeeding centuries at Goldsmiths’ Hall and at the Assay Offices that later opened in other towns such as Newcastle, Exeter and York, where there were working goldsmiths.

In Scotland, there were goldsmiths working at a date as early as in England. The earliest records pertain to the goldsmiths of Edinburgh. An Act of Parliament was passed in 1773 establishing Assay Offices in Birmingham and Sheffield.

Several of the provincial offices have now closed — Newcastle, Exeter and York in the 19th century, Chester in 1962 and Glasgow in 1964. The Dublin Assay Office, whose origins date from the early 17th century, continues to operate in Ireland.

Check the date of your silver pipes:

Click on image to enlarge.

• From the April 2000 Piping Times.

More on silver pipes: hallmarks of the Glasgow makers

By Robert Wallace

Lack of space precluded inclusion of Glasgow hallmarks in the feature last issue on silver bagpipes. We are happy to redress the balance in this PT and those with silver pipes made by R. G. Lawrie and Peter Henderson or any of the other Glasgow pipemakers in the period 1871 to 1964 may like to check the date, city of origin and quality of silver using these charts:

Click on image to enlarge.

The date mark should be clearly seen along with the ‘bird, tree and fish’ Glasgow symbol. Quality of silver can be assessed along using the diagram [in the article, top].

The Glasgow Assay office closed in 1964 and pipes made after this date would probably be sent to Edinburgh for hallmarking.

I also wish to correct a slightly misleading impressing given in the April issue on this subject. I was not quite accurate in stating that the pipemaker’s mark was compulsory. What is compulsory is the silversmith’s mark. If the pipemaker is registered with the Assay Office as a silversmith then his mark would be used but this is not always the case.

In modern manufacture, a large proportion of pipes are made using silver that is contracted out for engraving. For example, one of the main suppliers to the bagpipe trade are Midlands [England] based Dalman and Narborough. Bagpipes mounted with their silver would have the mark D&N and an anchor denoting the Birmingham Assay Office. Some older pipes may have the stamp PN on the silver which denotes the silver was supplied by a Peter Narborough, forerunner of Dalman and Narborough.

These instruments would not legally require the pipemaker’s mark on them but some makers may, of course, add their own initials for recognition purposes.