learn more about marks on british silver thimbles
Compulsory hallmarking of British silver thimbles came into effect in 1884 when all silver over a certain weight had to be assayed for the purity of the silver used. Before this time is was optional to mark them, as thimbles weighed less than the required amount for assaying. Thimbles have to be 925 of 1000 parts silver (i.e. .925) to have an assay mark applied. The Lion passant is the hallmark symbol used to indicate this. For Dublin, the Lion passant is replaced with Hibernia.
When the silver is purer than sterling silver i.e. 950 of 1000 parts silver, the Britannia mark is used.
There is then a symbol for the town where the assay office is located: an anchor for Birmingham, three wheat sheaves for Chester and a leopard's face for London. These three are the biggest assay offices but there are several minor offices still in existence eg. Dublin and Edinburgh.
The last mark in a hallmark, is an alphabetic symbol which denotes the year the item was assayed. Look out for special marks on thimbles. From L t> R
(1) the millennium mark- Marks of the sovereign's head (2) 1953 Coronation year (3-5) 1977 Silver Jubilee with two examples off thimbles (6) 2002 Golden Jubilee
(7) 2012 Diamond Jubilee (8) For Fellows of the Institute of Professional Goldsmsiths. the IPG mark is added after the hallmark. An example is Harvey Sillis' thimbles.
In addition to all these marks, in the case of thimbles, there is an additional mark: the maker's mark (the subject of this page) and the size of the thimble. This size mark is not part of the hallmark, technically speaking.
Between 1904 and 1998 the Birmingham Assay Office introduced a mark to indicate that the sterling silver item was foreign made. There is no BAO anchor mark, but there is a date letter of manufacture. The other assay offices also used these type of marks for foreign made sterling silver than had been assayed in Great Britain.
about the listing
The following listing is for maker's marks found on British silver thimbles, arranged alphabetically by the maker's mark and not by the surname. It is miles from complete but culled from as many lists as I can find. In the 1980s Edwin Holmes noted there were over 1000 silversmiths in Birmingham alone and felt it would be a never-ending task to list the ones who had made thimbles. I have a listing from 1970 which lists all the Birmingham silversmiths and Norma Spicer has produced a list from the assay office in Birmingham which is included in this list. 420 marks are listed here, with many maker's names still to be identified or show an example of the mark.
"New" marks that come to light with maker's marks for the period 1890-1920, are usually not for the actual thimble maker but for whom the thimbles were made for - wholesalers or sponsor etc. So tho Holmes noted that there were over 1000 silversmiths, only a fraction would have produced silver thimbles and current thinking in 2007 is that the bulk of this listing are the names of wholesalers, factors or sponsors who had thimbles produced with their marks, but they did not actually make the thimbles.
With the closure of the last Victorian thimble maker (Ray Coggle of JS&S) in April 2005, it is gratifying to note the growing number of hallmarks for thimble makers at the end of the 20th century and even into the 21st century. These are the antiques of the future!!
I have had to ignore punctuation, as without seeing each thimble with its mark, this could never be accurate. There is no spacing between initials to make the maker's mark as compact as possible but some have a slight spacing that is not possible to reproduce here, but the photo of the mark where available. will show this more clearly.
I have included variations or additions to names, listing the silversmith under the most commonly found maker's mark. These maker's marks are usually found in a lozenge on the rim of the thimble and again these vary from maker to maker. Some marks will have been stamped directly onto the band, not in a lozenge; or into the indentations which makes identification more difficult.
As mentioned, some of these marks may not be for actual thimble maker but the marks registered for factors or wholesalers. It was not uncommon to have one of the four big Victorian silversmiths produce thimbles with maker's marks of the wholesaler or sponsor. The marks for these wholesalers would still have to be registered and this would usually have been done by the thimble maker who would have submitted the punchmark on behalf of the client. A dead giveaway is the Registration design number [RD] that belongs to one of these silversmiths on the rim along with the "mark" of the factor, who commissioned the thimbles to be made..
The four big English silver thimble makers were Charles Horner, James Swann, James Fenton and Henry Griffith.
silversmith & location
The name is the most difficult to complete; the place is the principal office, factory or shop of the silversmith. As we can see from above tho, many of the names on the list are not for silversmiths but marks for wholesalers.
This is the assay office/s used by the silversmith, taken from examples found on thimbles. Most of the original lists, compiled by thimble collectors since the 1980s, separate the Chester and Birmingham silversmiths by assay office, but the thimble makers tended to use the one most convenient at the time. They had to be registered at both assay offices, to use the specific assay office mark.
In 2015 , the Sheffield Assay Office opened a sub-branch in Malpensa Italy, and items assayed in Italy will bear the identical assay office mark for Sheffield (rose). In 2016 the Birmingham Assay Office followed suit and they opened a sub-branch in Mumbai India. The Birmingham anchor will appear on sterling silver items assayed in Mumbai.
These are actual hallmark years as found on thimbles. I have not included dates on thimbles for Horner, Fenton, Griffith or James Swann as they are too numerous.
Often we only have a registration date from an assay office to guide us; or, dates of operation; or, dates they lived. These may help in dating a thimble when there is an indistinct hallmark or two possible dates.
I have included any additional information here that can be of use including where we know who ACTUALLY made the thimbles.
This listing of British Silversmiths does not purport to be complete or accurate in all aspects.
Rather it invites comment and contribution to add to our knowledge of British silver thimble makers.
My thanks to the contributors.
Bradbury's book of hallmarks: a guide to marks or origin on English, Scottish and Irish silver, gold and platinum
and on foreign imported silver and gold plate 1544 to 2001 / Robert Hale, 1999
British registered design thimbles / Norma Spicer Diane Pelham Burn, 2003
The Silversmiths of Birmingham and their marks 1750-1980 / general editor, Kenneth Crisp Jones. N.A.G. Press, 1981
James Swann: maker of gold and silver thimbles / Norma Spicer, 1997
Marks of Birmingham thimble makers: 19th and 20th century / Norma Spicer, 1998
A very rare thimble: the Lincoln Imp thimble / Norma Spicer TCI Bulletin winter 2004
Thimble maker: Jane Chantler, England / TCI Bulletin summer 2008
The Thimble Society [of London] catalogues
Thimble collector's encyclopedia / John von Hoelle. 3rd ed. 1986
Thimble notes and queries / Edwin F Holmes. 1989-1993
Keith Airey | Nigel Allum | Dr Sally Baggott/BAO | Cliff Barber | Phyllis Benedikz/BAO | Clarice Birch | Mike Bridgett | Sue Burt | Sue Christensen | Brian Clark | Elaine Graveston Karen Green (LAO) | Lydia Hamilton | Margaret Hendriksen | Kelvin Hopkins | Richard PJ Huijing | Jaap Huysman | William Isbister | Alison Ive | Mick John | Ann Laibe
Andrew Long | Carolyn Meacham-Elegant Arts | Lynn Mills/LAO | Elspeth Morrison/EAO | Wynneth Mullins
Ray Nimmo [many times!!]
Emma Paragreen/SAO | Di Pelham Burn | Judy Pollitt | Andy Poole | Jenny Schwind | Sheila | Sue Pickles | Wolf-Dieter Scholz | Jenny Schwind
Norma Shattock | Norma Spicer | Jean Taylor | Paul Thomas | Sophia Tobin/LAO | Joanna Waciorski-Sew Many Bits | Mark Wilson | Yvonne
© Sue Gowan
DO YOU KNOW ANY MORE DETAILS ABOUT ANY OF THE SILVERSMITHS LISTED ABOVE?
DO YOU HAVE PHOTOS OF THE MAKER'S MARKS NOT PICTURED?
DO YOU KNOW OF ANY OTHER British SILVERSMITHS WHO MADE THIMBLES?
EMAIL email@example.com TO SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE.