Withdrawn from sale at Golding Young & Mawer, a 120oz silver tankard with marks for London 1696. Much of the applied decoration is later.

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In conjunction with The Antique Plate Committee (APC), the Assay Office is to publish a brochure and organise a new series of conferences on the rules surrounding hallmarks.

It is a criminal offence under the Hallmarking Act (1973) to sell items of silver with unauthorised marks or unauthorised alterations and additions.

Dr Robert Organ, deputy warden of the Goldsmiths’ Company Assay Office, said: “There is less expertise in silver than there used to be in the trade. The purpose of the APC is to help the trade understand what a fake is, as it is illegal to sell these objects. We help dealers and auction houses to not fall foul of the law. He added: “We will be much more proactive now – both in terms of educating the trade and increasing our surveillance of the market. Our activities will be increasing.”

New brochure

Dealer Alastair Dickenson, a member of the APC, has penned the new brochure of guidelines that will be available before the summer. He said: “Members of the APC look through catalogues and online and if anything appears to be of a suspicious nature, it is reported to the Goldsmiths’ Hall and discussed among the committee.”

At least three members of the plate committee must agree an object looks suspicious before a recommendation is made to withdraw it from sale. The owner then has the option to send the item to the APC for a verdict.

“All appeared to have extensive later additions

The latest questionable silver appeared at Golding Young & Mawer in Grantham. The lots – pulled before the sale on January 24 – included three pieces of Britannia standard silver with William III and Queen Anne marks.

A monteith, a covered tankard and a chalice all appeared to have extensive later additions. The APC had contacted the auction house about its concerns.

Lots withdrawn

Golding Young & Mawer said it had already withdrawn the lots after the vendors had a change of heart.

Colin Young, managing di rector of the Lincolnshire auction house, said other items potentially in breach of the Hallmarking Act had already been identified and the firm had sought permission from the vendor to submit these to the APC.

“The system is very good and the LAO is extremely helpful,” said Young. “Anyone with genuine concerns over a particular lot should advise the LAO immediately and they will liaise with the auctioneer.”

He added: “To aid the process it would be a common courtesy to let the auctioneer know that you have passed on your concern as an early alert.”

The Antique Plate Committee (APC)

  • Four times a year items sent to the assay office for investigation are inspected.
  • When problem silver items are spotted for sale, The London Assay Office, acting on the advice of the APC, contacts the seller. Local Trading Standards will take action if the seller does not withdraw them.
  • An unauthorised piece will have its hallmarks cancelled.
  • An item with cancelled marks can – if the owner wishes – be submitted for hallmarking as a new article. In this event, a charge is made.
  • The LAO has the power to destroy items but it now rarely uses this power and instead cancels the marks.