Silver originates from all over the world, and different types have different standards. Silver ‘standards’ refer to the purity of the silver and are expressed as a percentage value of silver, once the alloy is accounted for.
The zolotnik (from the Russian zoloto meaning gold) was used as a measurement for the weight of gold coins as early as the 11th Century. In imperial terms, it originally amounted to 1/96 of a pound, but later changed to 1/72.
There are three types of Russian silver standards:
- 91 Zolotnik which equals 947.9 (or 94.79%) millesimal fineness
- 88 Zolotnik which equals 916.6 (or 91.66%) millesimal fineness
- 84 Zolotnik which equals 875 (or 87.5%) millesimal fineness
It is possible to come across other purities of Russian silver; ’84’ zolotnik is by far the most common. It is worth noting at this stage that there is no such thing as Russian Sterling silver (despite what you may see for sale on some websites!)
(For comparison purposes, British Sterling silver, has a millesimal fineness of 925)
The Problem with Russian Silver
Whilst Russian silver can be a great addition to your collection, it is important to be on the lookout for fakes. The hallmarked ‘84’ standard does not guarantee that the item is Russian silver, especially if the hallmark is found in isolation (ie the item in question has no other hallmarks).
If the item was made in Russia during the 18th or 19th centuries, then the ‘84’ by law must be accompanied by several other hallmarks (e.g. a regional or city punch). This system was in place until 1899, when the national assay marking stamp, the Kokoshnik, began to be used.
It is also worth researching the purity of silver used by famous makers. For example, Karl Fabergé only worked with ‘88’ silver, immediately deeming any item displaying contradictory Russian silver hallmarks, a fake.
Perhaps the most obvious indicator of a piece which appears too good to be true is the price. If you find a piece that is by well-known maker and is stamped with ‘84’ for less than $5000 then there is a 99% chance that it is bogus.
Russian Hallmarks – Before and After 1899
As I mentioned previously, the Russian hallmarking system changed in 1899 to the marks we see today.
Prior to 1899 the hallmark for St Petersburg was the city’s coat of arms of crossed anchors and sceptre followed by the metal standard in zolotniks. The image shows the 14 ct gold standard.
For Moscow, the hallmark was the city’s coat of arms also, this time depicting St George and his dragon. The metal standard in zolotniks would also be stamped alongside it.
Once the new system was adopted in 1899, a uniform mark was used to hallmark Russian silver. The kokoshnik (the traditional woman’s headdress) is now the symbol for silver, followed again by the metal standard in zolotniks. Prior to 1908 the symbol faced to the left, however any silver produced after this year will depict the face to the right.
After the right facing kokoshnik was introduced in 1908, the two cities were distinguished by the Greek letter alpha for St Petersburg and delta for Moscow.
The beautiful enamelling that is the famous tell tale of Russian silver is what makes it so desirable. Be sure that the pieces you are purchasing are the ‘real thing’ by researching and/or understanding the hallmarks.
Genuine Russian silverware looks fantastic on display in your home – your guests will be even more impressed when you can share your knowledge about the hallmarking system!
What pieces do you have? I’d love to see them!
Take a look at some of our Russian Silver Collection
Katharine Biggs – Sales & Digital Content Contributer
Katharine joined AC Silver as part of the retail team, and almost immediately became actively involved in the numerous internet media used to support sales. Katharine brings a young and fresh approach to the business and this is reflected in her blog writing style.