The maker’s mark of a silversmith on a silver object enables a collector to identify with confidence the actual maker of the object, just as with a painter’s signature on a painting. Unlike the painter’s signature, which can appear distinctly for all to see, the silversmith’s mark is usually discreet: on the under surface of a bowl, rather than on the rim, or on the rear of a spoon handle, rather than on the front. The collector has confidence in purchasing the object when he can verify the maker and with knowledge and experience know what a particular maker stands for; it is a form of guarantee that the smith stands by his work. The collector will judge the quality of this guarantee in a number of ways. However, there is a level of discernment required when purchasing work that no amount of marking will replace. First and foremost, when a silver object is assessed, it will be appreciated not only for its intrinsic beauty but also whether it ‘lights the fire in the heart’. Many other aspects come into play for the collector: the actual construction and craftsmanship; the design; the metal or metals used; and the decoration. With recognition of the maker another dimension of appreciation is added, which is further enhanced when the collector is able to find out more information about the actual silversmith.
There have been several attempts to set up hallmarking companies over the years. An example of this was the Commonwealth of Australia Hall Mark Company in the 1920s. These attempts have met with resistance from the industry and a lack of government legislation; all have been short-lived. Eventually, in 1978, an Australian standard specification was introduced, Composition and marking requirements for silver articles (AS 2141-1978). This laid down the marking requirements relating to the manufacturer’s name, a symbol for silver and the use of 925 for sterling silver. Some commentators speculate that these requirements were either neglected by makers or that there was general ignorance about the existence of the standard. In either case the standard was withdrawn in 1998.
Currently there is no marking requirement for silver in Australia. However, it is now common practice for silversmiths to use a maker’s mark voluntarily, along with a metal quality/purity mark, on their objects. Silversmiths rely on their suppliers to provide them with the purity standard of silver they order. The commonly used sterling standard contains 925 parts per 1,000 of silver- the other 75 parts of alloy usually consisting mainly of copper to give it the required qualities and hardness. Other levels of silver content are used, such as 800, 950 and 999 parts per 1,000; fine silver is the name given to 999.
Following existing continental practices of the time, Britain introduced regulations relating to the marking of precious metals about 700 years ago. These continue to this day and are overseen by the Goldsmiths’ Company. In general, four stamps are applied to silver in order to denote: the maker; the fineness of the metal (its purity); the place of assay; and the year of assay. The maker’s mark is applied by the maker and the others are applied at the Assay Hall. For special occasions, such as jubilees and the millennium, a fifth commemorative mark may be added. As assaying is conducted at a hall of the Company, the marks are called ‘hallmarks’. Hence, one can examine the marks on British silverware and, with the appropriate reference books, find out the name of the silversmith and details about his working life, the silver content, the year of manufacture and the hall where it was assayed. Other countries, such as Austria, Denmark and Finland, also have systems in place for regulated marking.
It is interesting to note that a number of the early colonial silversmiths used a series of marks on their silver that copied the style of the British hallmarks (Fig 9), which also occurred on other colonial wares of the time such as those from Canada, India and South Africa. The gold rushes of the 1850s and discovery of silver at Broken Hill in the 1860s provided the environment for an increase in creation of silverware in Australia. A significant growth in migration brought talented silversmiths to the country just when availability of local silver was increasing. South Australia, in particular, had a significant number of immigrant German gold and silversmiths, who established businesses and mostly marked their work. Names such as Henry Steiner and August Brunkhorst are obvious examples. Danish-born Joachim Wendt was another who, in 1854, settled in Adelaide and went on to establish a significant gold and silversmithing business. Sydney and Melbourne also benefited from this influx of trained gold and silversmiths from Britain and Europe.
After enjoying popularity and success during the latter half of the nineteenth century, Australian silversmithing declined somewhat during the first half of the twentieth century due to a decline in general prosperity, a changing social structure and a lack of training opportunities for silversmiths; all these factors contributing to the demise of the traditional role of the silversmith in the 1930s. In 1939, as businesses adapted to wartime production regulations, there was a cessation in the production of non-essential goods, including silverware.
The renewed prosperity of the 1950s saw fresh opportunities arise in Australia and silversmithing practices were revitalised, with great input from a group of European immigrants; notable names include Ernst (Ernest) Fries and Victor Vodicka. Technical colleges, arts and crafts societies and similar organisations provided avenues for the teaching of art/metalwork which incorporated silversmithing and jewellery, outside the trade apprenticeship scheme.
Individual silversmiths employed in silver manufacturing businesses were not allowed to mark their works, which came to market under the stamp of a manufacturing company and/or the retailer. An example of this situation is described in a recent article on W J Sanders, a Sydney-based manufacturing company, which usually applied its own four stamps to each object and/or a stamp for the retailer of the object.1 Retailers such as David Jones, Fairfax and Roberts, Hardy Bros, Pellegrini and Prouds were just a few of the wide range of retailers for which Sanders produced silverware. Similar manufacturing companies operated in the other States in the same way. Some retailers commissioned several different manufacturing companies to do work for them. Most of these manufacturing silversmithing businesses have now closed. However, a few were bought out by individual silversmiths and continue to operate to this day under the silversmith’s name.
During the 1960s studio craftsmen started to emerge from the manufacturing business scene that had predominated during the first half of the twentieth century. While apprenticeships declined, courses began to be offered at number of tertiary institutions. Early students from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) gold and silversmithing course, the first of its kind in Australia, began graduating from the mid 1960s. Some certainly marked their own work with a maker’s mark in this era. Others used only a stamp which indicated the metal purity. Prior to the use of 925 stamping in line with the 1978 standard, there were a wide range of sterling silver stamps in use. Examples such as: STERLING; STG SIL; ST. SILVER; Stg Sil; STERLING SILVER; and STG.SILV abounded, either incuse or in cameo (Fig 11). Similarly, now there is a range of 925 stamps used (Fig 12).
Immigration from Europe, notably from Scandinavia, in the 1960s brought silversmiths such as Helge Larsen, Tor Schwank, Walvaren van Heerecken and Wolfram Wennrich, each of whom had an enormous influence, as have others of their ilk such as Hendrik Forster and Ragnar Hansen who arrived in the early 1970s.
The mid 1970s and 1980s saw a blossoming of the arts with increased funding from government and an expansion in the number of tertiary courses. As individual studio silversmithing began to flourish, makers used their own marks more consistently-the majority of marks being representative of the smith’s initials or full name with or without the addition of an appropriate symbol. Currently these practices continue. The kangaroo appears frequently and one also finds, although less often than the kangaroo, the koala, the Tasmanian tiger, the emu, the (black) swan and the piping shrike. The boomerang also appears, as do native plants such as gumnuts and gum leaves (Fig 13). A map of Australia is used by some, conjuring up the notion of ‘proud to be Australian’, as do the names of places of manufacture (Fig 14). Smiths with Germanic roots may include the moon and crown, symbols used traditionally in Germany.
Without a mandatory dating system, some smiths have formulated their own: Michael Wilson instigated his own system in 1978 (Fig 16c) as did Ray Stebbins in 1981 (Fig 16d); the late Dan Flynn marked the year on some of his objects (Fig 16f). One needs to be aware that some smiths change their maker’s marks during their working lives; knowledge of this will help to give a clearer suggestion of the date of creation of their objects. Sturt Metal, the workshop set up in Mittagong, New South Wales in 1969, had its own workshop mark (Fig 16e). It was a significant training ground for many silversmiths, as were the Jam Factory Workshops in Adelaide, the Meat Market Craft Centre and the Access Metal workshop in Melbourne (1984-1990).
The Guild of Gold and Silversmiths of Australia was established in 1988 and its members are eligible to use the guild stamps. The stamp itself uses the head of a kangaroo within a diamond lozenge (Fig 16a). A guild year stamp is also used in line with the year stamp used in Britain, with the approval of the London assay office. The guild year stamp is always in a diamond lozenge. To mark the occasions of the Bicentenary of Australia in 1988 and the Centenary of Federation in 2000, the guild year stamps for those years were “200” and ‘CF’respectively.
Very rarely one may find an Australian silversmith registered with a British assay office. In these instances, objects made in Australia are sent to a British office for marking, and are marked as foreign silverware (Fig 16b). The London assay office has marked the object with its lion passant, year date and then its foreign stamp LAO (its initials).
In recent times there has been a distinct move by a number of smiths in Australia away from the traditional sole-use of silver. While still using traditional silversmithing techniques, they have experimented successfully using a range of other metals: stainless steel; aluminium; monel; niobium; and titanium being some of the favoured metals. One of the many advantages of this development has been that a range of colours has been introduced by such means as using anodised aluminium, titanium or niobium. German-trained Johannes Kuhnen has been a key figure in introducing and teaching techniques of anodising aluminium in Australia. Making objects of several metals instead of the traditional ‘one metal only’ rule has enabled smiths to create more varied works. The challenge for these silversmiths/metalsmiths has been to refine the use of new materials and techniques without the loss of traditional values. Greater understanding of techniques of combining metals, layering metals and texturing surfaces has given metalsmiths unparalleled options for innovation. Each metalsmith has his own method of marking such works as there are no legal standards to be followed. It is not usual for objects made with metallic connections of different metals (for example, by soldering) to be marked for metal content.
Silver is a lustrous, exciting metal with its own special tactile qualities. Skilled silversmiths can transform it into objects of great beauty. There is ample scope for the promotion of metalsmithing in general and of silversmithing in particular to a wide audience in Australia. In fact, broader patronage needs to be encouraged. It is timely to look closely at the silverware we have in Australia; to seek further knowledge about the smiths who have created these works and to be able to identify their work, not only by a characteristic style but also by verification through identification of their makers’ marks.
Other than jewellery, there is no reference book available which covers such work made over the last 50 years. This has become my challenge and currently I am undertaking the research necessary for the publication of such a text.
Australian Standards, Composition and marking requirements for silver articles (AS 2141-1978)
Anne Schofield and Kevin Fahy, Australian jewellery; 19th and early 20th century, (Sydney: David Ell Press, 1990).
David Williams, ‘Silversmithing in Australia’, in Contemporary Australian hollow ware = Zeitgenossisches australisches Gerat, curated by Daniel McOwan, (exhibition catalogue), ([Melbourne]: Australian Exhibitions Touring Agency, 1991).
Kenneth Cavill, Graham Cocks and Jack Grace, Australian jewellers: gold & silversmiths makers & marks, (Roseville, NSW: CGC Gold, 1992).
Grace Cochrane, The craft movement in Australia; a history, Sydney: University of New South Wales Press, 1992.
Incuse: an impression produced by a punch having a mark on it in relief
in cameo: an impression produced by a punch making a relief impression
1 ‘Restoring silver skills: W J Sanders nears its centenary’, World of Antiques & Art, no. 66, (February-August 2004), p. 79.