Irish Assay Offices - Early History
The tradition of Irish Silver dates back to the 13th century when goldsmiths were first practicing in Dublin. This was the first Irish city that established a guild/company (1498) and a town mark. It was in 1605 when hallmarks first started appearing on Irish silver plate. Dublin plate would be branded with the town mark (a crowned harp) and a makers mark.
Upon the reign of Charles I, a new standard was declared that governed Irish silver. This rule stated that no Irish silver could be of a lesser fineness that English silver- controlling the quality of plate produced. A further law in 1729 was established to make sure hallmarks were added to Irish plate. This law stated that silver must be assayed by an assay master. Furthermore, it must incorporate hallmarks, a maker’s mark, the date letter and the crowned harp.
A year later, in 1730, a fourth stamp was introduced. This mark was the ‘figure of Hibernia’. Hibernia is the female natural personification used to represent Ireland (equivalent to Britain’s ‘Britannia’). This mark was added by order of the Commissioners of Excise to assure that duty had been paid.
Yet another change to the Irish hallmarking process occurred in 1807. This was during the reign of George III. At this time, it was decided that the sovereigns head must be stamped on all silver as a duty mark. This tradition was only enforced up until 1890.
Irish Assay Offices
The Dublin Assay office is the only remaining assay office in Ireland today. It was first established in 1637, when it supervised the assaying of gold and silver throughout the Kingdom of Ireland. Up until 1806, silver crafted in Dublin could be identified by its town mark: a crowned harp.
Prior to 1923, Dublin had to comply with the same silver marking laws which governed England and Scotland. Upon the formation of the Free State (1922) however, the laws regarding silver production were governed from within Dublin. Despite the change of order, hallmarks remained mainly unchanged over this transition.
Since 1963 the town mark for Dublin has been a solitary harp.
The assay office in Cork never had an established date letter. Prior to 1715 a town mark was used in the production of Cork silver. Pieces would be branded with the city arms: a ship in full sail between two castles (sometimes also including a heraldic icon). After 1715 however, Cork silver was marked only with the maker’s initials, the word STERLING (sometimes corrupted to stirling, starling, sterlin, starlin or ster), and the word DOLLAR (used in place of a town mark). The origin of the latter mark was from ‘doolar’, which signifies that the silver was used for plate. This word was chosen as most silver used for plate came from melted down Spanish silver dollars.
Other assay offices include Limerick, which was established in the 17th century and marked its silver with the fleur de lis. Established during the same century, the Youghal office used the town mark of a masted ship. Similarly to Dublin, the assay office of New Geneva used the mark of a harp. This small village near Waterford was named as a result of the community of Genevan watch makers who chose to settle there.
Clonmel, Waterford, Mullinger, Kinsale, Kilkenny and Drogheda all made plate, which was assayed at Dublin.
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