When it comes to determining the value of precious metals and silver, it’s incredible just how much influence a few small punches can have on the desirability and collectability of a piece. Hallmarks are of course the all important defining birthmarks that allow us to understand the quality, birth place and age of our most treasured items. Over the years, the UK has been home to numerous assay office’s including Birmingham, London, Sheffield, Edinburgh and Chester, however in 1962, Chester closed its doors for good. Not only did this closure whittle the number of assay office’s in the UK down to four, it also increased the desirability of pieces previously hallmarked in Chester considerably.
Chester Assay Office
Chester's long history in relation to the Chester Hallmark dates back nearly 600 years with official records dating as far back as the 17th century.
Chester had it's own Guild of Goldsmiths from the early 15th century however records from the Chester Assay Office only begin to surface two centuries later due to tighter legislation being introduced.
The earliest pieces of Chester silver were struck with a hallmark depicting the three wheatsheaves and a sword in a shaped shield. In 1701 the assay mark changed to the Arms of Chester impaling those of the Earl of Chester (three lions), however it reverted back to the earlier mark in 1779, this assay mark remained the same until the offices closure.
Photographed below is the Chester Assay Office which was located on Goss Street in Chester.
An Introduction to Hallmarks
- Hallmarks were first introduced in 1300 and were used to denote that the standard of the item was of the King’s standard, i.e. sterling silver. This system was introduced in London first and soon spread across thresholds of the United Kingdom.
- In 1363 a second mark was introduced to identify the maker of the item.
- In 1378, a mark was introduced to indicate which town the article was assayed in (the term hallmark comes from the assay halls where they were marked – literally ‘the mark placed at the hall’).
- Finally in 1478 a final mark was added indicating the year the item was hallmarked and after each year that passes the style of the letter would change making it easier to identify the correct year.
Prior to the Lowe family becoming exceedingly well known for their silverware in the late 18th and 19th century, it was in fact the Richardson family who were most prolific in the North West. The three generation family began with Richard Richardson (1674-1729) and their speciality was silver tumbler cups. The Grosvenor Museum here in Chester has a silver display dedicated to the Richardson family for those who are itching to learn more! You will also find a display dedicated to the Lowe family, featuring a selection of Lowe & Sons, Chester Hallmarked silverware. One of which includes a very special bowl named 'The Spirit of Chester' that was designed by Rachel Walton and commissioned by the shop to commemorate the opening of the Ridgway Silver Displays at the Grosvenor Museum.
The Lowe family, like the Richardson's before them, dominated the silver trade. George Lowe I set up his business in the 1790's on Watergate Street, later moving into their new and current premises on Bridge Street in 1804. George Lowe had twelve children with his wife Mary, three of whom became goldsmiths in Chester.
In 1791 George Lowe I was admitted to the Goldsmiths Company and was elected Warden in 1794. In 1840 George was elected as Assay Master replacing John Walker. George was Assay Master for 1 year before being succeeded in office by his son Thomas.
We are proud to specialise in Chester hallmark silver, we are continuously sourcing pieces for our collection however these pieces are becoming more scarce and or unobtainable. Our online collection is available via the link below although we do recommend visiting us in-store to see our ever changing inventory.
Within our shop, tucked away upstairs is a mini-museum featuring an array of Lowe & Sons artefacts and historical pieces. The museum is regularly open for viewings however we do reccomend checking prior to visiting just to ensure we are able to accommodate. Contact Us.