Dumfries Silver Marks

The earliest reference to a silver trade in Dumfries occurs in 1504 when James IV paid "the Drumfires goldsmyth" 14 shillings for falconry equipment. The term "goldsmith" was used for both gold and silversmiths. Between 1500 and 1900 there were over 30 silversmiths living and working in Dumfries. Few could rely on sufficient business to make only silverware, and most of them also worked at other trades such as gunsmithing or clockmaking. Their output was mainly cutlery and other tableware, but they also made curling medals, communion cups and snuff mulls.

A career as a gold or silversmith was not to be undertaken lightly.  An apprentice had to serve for seven years, followed by one year as a journeyman working for someone else.  He was also required to own £500 in goods or land, a considerable wealth at the time, and had to demonstrate his skill by making two pieces under the eyes of two master craftsmen. Membership of the Goldsmiths' Company allowed a silversmith to register his maker's mark and to set up his own workshop. 

Pure silver and gold are soft, so they must be mixed with harder metals and worked as alloys.  Consequently standards of purity are necessary to establish their value.  The purity is confirmed by the hallmark, a series of small stamps made on the item at an assay office.  These often include an assay office mark, a date letter, a standard mark, a duty mark and the mark of the assay master.  Some Scottish towns, including Dumfries, had their own marks for silverware made locally, but not sent to Edinburgh or Glasgow for assaying.  The silversmith would also add a maker's mark, usually their name or initials.  Occasionally a maker's mark occurs without any other marks.

By 1836 all Scottish silver work had to be sent to Edinburgh or Glasgow for assay, and the trade of silversmiths in smaller towns went into a decline.  In 1963 Glasgow's assay office closed.  Now all silver and gold made throughout Britain is assayed in Edinburgh, London or Birmingham.

The town marks used by Dumfries silversmiths were an  anchor, a  stag's head and a  unicorn's head.

Other marks sometimes occur on silver made in Dumfries.  These include a wheat sheaf, a shell, various letters such as "D", "e", "G", "K" and the letter "S" in a serrated shield.

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