The other day I went to the Goldsmiths’ Fair at the Goldsmiths’ Hall in the City and happened to drop in on a demonstration of hallmarking. The Assay Office is located there, and I find comfort in the idea that stuff being made today can be brought along to have its gold or silver content checked and be stamped with marks that link it to the 14th century and days of guilds and livery companies, when the wardens of the Goldsmiths’ Company used to do the rounds of the silversmiths, testing for quality.
The whole system was introduced by Edward I, who decreed that all items sold as silver had to be of at least the same quality as the coins of the realm… or else the goods would be melted down and, in a smart move on the part of His Majesty, forfeited to the crown.
By 1478, the wardens had become tired of doing visits of inspection and instead craftsmen brought their items to the Goldsmiths’ Hall, hence the derivation of the term hallmark.
It is almost enough to have me commission an item of jewellery just for the pleasure of taking it in to be assayed, and I am thinking of devising a Swellboy hallmark, which is apparently one of the services offered by the Assay Office.