Like or dislike of silver is subjective and will be dependent on how it is used and what the finished product looks like. However, many items of silver are collected on the basis of the creator-the silversmith.
For centuries silversmiths have created works or art with silver. Complicated uses of silver to embellish the shaft or cleverly manipulated the metal to crisply blend the joining of the handle to the shaft. Silversmiths have to be applauded for their near magical skill.
Properties of Silver
Silver is a precious metal which is harder than gold, but still relatively soft to other precious metals. A metal that is a better electrical conductor than copper, but its high cost makes it less attractive for electrical wiring. Silver is a metal that dependant on purity, in addition it is strong, malleable and ductile. A precious metal that can endure extreme temperature ranges and has the advantage of being able to reflect light to a high degree. The list of silver properties are endless and worth your time to explore.
Grades of Silver
British silver arrives in a range of distinctive grades. Firstly, ’fine silver’ or 99.9%. This is a soft metal that tends to be used in the bullion bars for international commodities, trading and investment. Although not prone to tarnishing this grade is too fragile a grade of silver for the application within the manufacture of a walking stick.
The second grade is’ Britannia silver’. This grade of silver is much softer than sterling silver at 95.83%. With the hallmark of 958. Again, this a grade of silver that is generally too soft to be applied as a decorative metal applied to walking sticks.
The third Silver graded as 925 or sterling silver, This is the grade commonly used to embellish walking canes . Sterling silver is 92.5% pure silver and 7.5 per cent copper or other metals. The existence of copper and other metals will induce the tarnish when exposed to the atmosphere but does have the advantage of increasing the strength of the metal.
Where tarnish is present on the metal, inevitably there becomes the need for the individual to get out the polish. However, too much or too regular polishing will wear away the surface of silver. In addition, the grease, salts and friction of a hand on a walking stick handle on a regular basis, will induce wear to the metal. This explains why the detail on old silver walking stick handles or assay punches become worn and indistinguishable over time.
Standardisation of Silver
We are extremely lucky having a standardised control mechanism for silver within the UK. This guardianship and control held with the powers and provision of the Assay Offices located throughout the country:
- Birmingham Assay Office-
- Edinburgh Assay Office
- London Assay Office
- Sheffield Assay Office
Current Irish Assay Office
- Dublin Assay Office
Theoretically, for silver to be regarded as authentic then the item should hold the relevant Hallmarks. These marks include the Assay Office that has issued the marks. Secondly, the date mark which indicates when the item was stamped by the Assay office not when the item was manufactured. The third punch will define the metal and the purity.
The final stamp may or not be present. The Assay office define this final stamp as the ‘sponsors’ punch. A means to identify the maker and or origin of the item. For the premium silversmith, this is marketing tool to differentiate their creations in order the avid followers buy. Hence a cane with the Howell makers punch will not only be sought by the general cane collector but by the collector of specific silver embellished canes holding the ‘Howell’ stamp.
To Assay or Not
However, although we have one of the best means of controlling the quality of silver being sold and manufactured, silver does not need to be hallmarked under 7.78 grams.
Nevertheless, over the decades there are many items in excess of the 7.78g weight in the market place that are not hallmarked. The reasoning for this in part is simple. Order a bespoke item from an individual stick maker and require a silver collar then there is a high possibility that the cane may not be hallmarked. The buyer may not be prepared, or have the time to wait for the stick maker to contact a silversmith to make and further organise the hallmarking, nor be prepared to pay a further amount for the process. Achieving a hallmark on an item does incur a range of costs.
A further view is given in an article written by Roland Arkell for the Antiques Gazette, stating:” For many reasons town silversmiths in Ireland and Scotland seldom sent their plate to Edinburgh, Glasgow or Dublin to be assayed. Here, often for reasons of security and economy, it was prudent to operate outside the jurisdiction of the metropolitan assay houses of Dublin and Edinburgh.
Instead, they stamped the silver themselves with a maker’s mark, a town mark or combinations of these and other marks.” (1)
Silver & White Metal
Legally, silver above the 7.78g weight, cannot be sold as silver but must be described as ‘white metal’. Possibly, a collector with a beautiful cane with a ‘white metal’ silver embellishment would decide to visit the nearest Assay office and have the unmarked silver, on a walking stick Hallmarked. The stark reality is, that to do so would possibly reduce the value of the walking stick as assay stamps are not retrospect. Imagine, a beautiful Georgian walking cane holding a silver collar bearing the hallmarks for 2017!
Silver is a very large field to explore but is one of the most fascinating. If you have five minutes, sit at the computer with a cup of coffee then explore the field, you will be surprised with what you can find.