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Historically the standard mark for sterling (.925 purity) silver in Britain has been a lion passant and this will be found on the majority of pieces.
However, in 1696, rising concerns over the amount of coinage being melted down and used to make silver items meant that the required fineness was raised to the higher Britannia standard (.958 purity).
It was Edward I who first passed a statute requiring all silver to be of sterling standard – a purity of 925 parts per thousand – ushering in a testing or assay system that has survived for over 700 years.
The excise duty on gold and silver articles was collected by the assay offices and the mark was struck to show that it had been paid. Special commemorative stamps have been added to the regular silver marks to mark special events.
This measure was continued until 1720 and all silver marked between those two dates bore a lion’s head and the figure of Britannia in place of the lion passant.
Britannia marks may still be found on special pieces made to the higher standard.
In addition to the four examples shown below, the head of Elizabeth II facing right was used to mark her Golden Jubilee in 2002 and another set in a diamond was used from July 2011 to October 1, 2012, to mark the Diamond Jubilee.
Since 1972 the United Kingdom has been a signatory to the International Convention on Hallmarks.