Antique Silver and Gold Repousse Bracelet with Hallmarks
The term “pseudo-mark” or “pseudomark” literally means “fake mark”. However, this definition is somewhat broad and simplistic when applied to antique silver. In reality, many pseudo-marks were used on sterling silver and had been officially registered as genuine makers’ marks. Because they had an intentional and remarkable resemblance to British sterling hallmarks, their primary purpose was to make items appear as made in Britain.
Since it can be confusing at times as to whether an item with silver pseudo-marks originated from the UK or elsewhere, or if it is sterling or not, it is important to learn how to recognize these and know how this practice came about. Our marks4silver section of our marks4antiques.com research website lists authentic and imitation marks, including pseudo-marks, applied by various worldwide silversmiths and silverware manufacturers.
To gain some perspective on the history of pseudo-marks, consider that British laws were very strict in the use of official silver hallmarks, mostly to enforce and track that Taxes & Duties on precious metals were paid. For this reason, pseudo-marks were applied extremely rarely within Britain. Because some “silver” items made abroad had pseudo-marks, the law demanded that all precious metals, including articles of silver, are re-assayed upon entry to the UK and prior to sale. This is the law since the 1840s and remains in force to date. As a consequence, imported wares to Britain were required to have a letter “F” until 1904, which was then replaced by the numerical value of silver content, usually within an oval outline. This re-assaying of imported silver to Britain also ensured that none of these items bear any marks resembling the authentic British hallmarks that may mislead a potential buyer.
American coin silver pie & jelly knives bearing pseudo-marks
In fact, most silver pseudo-marks are found on items made outside Britain. Particularly, 19thC American silversmiths and silverware companies used them to quickly gain acceptance in the domestic US market, which at that time was dominated by British silver imports. This practice was by no means an attempt to sell an inferior product, although I am sure that some minor silversmiths may have tried. Their wares were of high quality and very comparable to their British counterparts. If anything, many early American silversmiths actually emigrated to the US from Europe, thus practically continuing their work and transferring their advanced skills and methods to the New World. The vast majority of these pseudo-marks were eventually registered, or at least documented, and have now become the primary means by which we recognize most early American silversmiths. However, a few short-lived silver companies or minor silversmiths that used pseudo-marks in 19thC America, remain anonymous. To add to this, some retailers, especially in New England & New York, also used pseudo-marks on silver articles that were made to order by various unnamed local silversmiths & workshops. In America, items signed with pseudo-marks date ca 1830s – 1920s, with a peak of around 1850s – 1890s.
Antique French Silver with pseudo-marks - ca 19thC
But the use of silver pseudo-marks was not limited to the US. Other countries and regions also imitated European hallmarks for the same purpose of inspiring confidence in the quality of their products. Canada was also prolific in using such marks and the official Canadian hallmark (a fire-tongued lion within a letter C), was actually not established until 1946, which encouraged the use of silver pseudo-marks in Canada for a bit longer as compared to the US, in this case until ca mid-20thC. It so happens, many "Canadian" silver manufacturers were American companies that had established operations and subsidiaries, particularly in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
Antique German Hanau silver with maker's marks
Another region, that of Hanau, Germany, is also notorious for using pseudo-marks on their wares ca 1850s – 1910s. Most of these marks were a mix of French, German and UK hallmarks, and are usually easier to recognize as non-British. Luckily, the number of silversmiths in Hanau was relatively small, so most of their marks are currently documented and correctly attributed.
In China, and particularly in the Canton region and Hong Kong, silversmiths and jewelers also produced items bearing pseudo-marks that resembled UK hallmarks. This was more prevalent around 1880s – 1910s, when most craftsmen in the area were either British expatriates or local apprentices trained by English artisans. However, many of these items also had a small mark in Kanji (simple Chinese) that identified them as made in that region. To a much lesser extent, pseudo-marks occasionally also appear on late 19thC – early 20thC silver coming from South Africa, India and Australia, who had a strong connection to the British mainland or are still part of the Commonwealth.
In terms of value, old silver with pseudo-marks can be appraised the same way as any other antique using comparables and condition reports. Although the use of pseudo-marks was very occasionally applied on inferior products by unscrupulous merchants, the vast majority are genuine works of art and have tremendous decorative appeal. The only exception is their use on Silverplate, which unfortunately is where we will find many such marks, especially on 19thC American specimens. Silverplated wares were systematically marked with pseudo-marks, but as mentioned above, most of these have been documented and are available in books or our Jewelry & Silver marks guides.
Check our research guides to help you in identifying and appraising your own collection at marks4antiques.com.