Scotland has been marking silver since the 15th century. In Medieval Scotland, silver was the most important metal used to create highly regarded and powerful items, and provincial silver was given to a lot of churches and places of worship. Quite often, silversmiths couldn’t rely solely on this vocation for their income, therefore most trained in other trades, such as clock making and gunsmithing. One of the earliest references to silver trading was in 1504, when King James IV paid a Dumfries goldsmith to make falconry equipment. In these times, it was also common practice for the customer to bring their own silver to the silversmiths to be wrought.
During the 18th century, Scottish silver reflected the prominent fashions in London, and later, Sheffield and Birmingham. However, some styles of silver are seen as typical Scottish designs, such as that of the bullet teapot, the quaich, and the harsh spoon.
Traditional Scottish Silver
The Quaich is an item known as Scotland’s ‘Loving cup’ or ‘Cup of Friendship’. The word Quaich comes from the Gaelic word ‘cuach’, meaning cup. A traditional element of Scottish silver, the quaich is a shallow cup, with two handles on opposite sides which were carved out of wood or imitation scallop shell. Larger quaiches were also produced for the purpose of drinking ale. The quaich originated in the Highlands, and was first produced in the 17th century. They were originally crafted from wood but later were made out of silver, brass and pewter. The varying materials adhered to the fashions of the upper classes of northern Scotland. The centre of the bowls could often be engraved with ‘SGUAB AS I’ which means ‘Toss it back’ and, as the name suggests, the quaich was used to offer a welcome drink at gatherings whether that be clans, weddings, christenings or to welcome friends into the home.
The Bullet Teapot was another popular item often crafted in Scottish sterling silver. Bullet teapots have a spherical form, and are mounted on a footing. They were popular during the Georgian period, with some of the finest examples being made by William Ayton and Edward Lothian.
The Harsh Spoon is a serving spoon, normally 30-40 cm long, used to serve meat and potatoes.
Scottish Silver Hallmarking
Scottish hallmarks originated in small towns, and were later freely created by both individuals and clans, resulting in a rich array. In addition, many silversmiths often travelled from town to town, meaning that it is now common to see the initials of silversmiths next to various town marks. Hallmarks tended to be based on a city’s coat of arms, but they sometimes also originated from Scottish legends. Up until 1964, there were two assay offices in Scotland, one in Edinburgh and one in Glasgow.
Learn more about Scottish silver hallmarks.