Depending on how much information you want, your choices in reference books are wide-ranging.
A hefty book with a hefty price (£99.50), but if you’re serious about metals of the British isles Jackson’s Silver & Gold Marks of England, Scotland & Ireland (Antique Collectors’ Club, reissued 1990) edited by Ian Pickford, should be on your library shelf. Jackson has been the standard for over 80 years, with a total of 15,000 marks shown in its 766 pages. Each mark is identified as to maker, with a date applied and additional information as known. There is a Pocket Edition of Jackson’s Hallmarks (Antique Collectors’ Club, 1993), showing about a thousand marks, but in my book, it’s a waste of money beside its big brother.
Three other truly “pocket” size (2 I/2″ x 5″) books about marks are a better buy. Try English Silver Marks by Judith Banister (Foulsham, 1990), Hallmarks on Silver, Gold & Platinum by Eric Bruton of Hallmarks (NAG Press, 1990), or Bradbury’s Book of Hallmarks (privately published, 1986).
The next step for the dealer or advanced collector is the purchase of John Culme’s two-volume Directory of London Gold & Silversmiths, Jewelers & Allied Trades 18381914 (Antique Collectors’ Club, 1988). The first volume is a encyclopedic style reference, arranged alphabetically by last name, to all persons registered at the London Assay office during this period. It’s kind of a “who’s who” of the trades. The second volume is the marks reference, with 15,000 shown. (Jackson & Culme do not duplicate each other; remember the books cover different geographic areas and overlap in dates covered.)
Books with the name “Miller’s” in the title are in England like books here in the U.S. with “Kovel’s” or “Warman’s s” in them. Miller’s Silver & Sheffield Plate Marks by John Bly (Antique Collectors’ Club, 1993) is a book in their “pocket fact file” series. It’s an OK starter, but main course to the subject it isn’t.
Speaking of “continental,” one of the best moves in antiques specialty publishing this past year was the reissue of Silver International Hallmarks Collected By Tardy (Tardy Publications, 2000). Published in France, written in English, this 550-page paperback is truly a gem and covers marks of silvermakers in Russia, Portugal, the Baltic States, 40 countries in all, information you will not find elsewhere. Don’t delay on acquiring Tardy; in one of the strangest distribution moves I have ever seen, the company acquiring the distribution sold their entire stock (or so we hear) to one customer. When 100% of the stock is held by one person, buy while the inventory is there and the price not dear.