Irish silversmiths have to register with the Dublin assay office, and submit an example of their maker’s mark; this allows one to research who made a particular piece, and when.
Many records were lost during the civil war, but various researchers have assembled lists of makers, giving us an almost comprehensive list of all the Irish silversmiths over the last 300 years. There are also several reference books which are very helpful, though sadly some are out of print and have become collectors items in their own right!
Reading hallmarks is very easy with practice.
Below is an example of 18th century hallmarks, and below that is a guide to interpreting them.
From left to right is the maker’s mark, the date letter, the harp crowned and Hibernia.
The maker’s mark is TJ, for Thomas Jones. Our page with a photographic record of many maker’s marks should help you to identify the maker of your piece of silver.
The next mark is the date letter, in this case M with a small dot underneath. The date letter is a different font or shape in every cycle. The cycle runs for 24 years, covering the letters A-Z, excluding J and V. The cycle from 1773 to 1793 was in a shield outline, and the years from 1776 to 1784 (D to M) had a small dot below the letter. This helps distinguish from the previous cycle, which was very similar. Generally, there will also be a date letter; occasionally, (often in the mid-1700s), the date letter was omitted, for reasons not fully understood! This is normal, and not a cause for concern. The latter changes every 12 months, and either the font of the shape of the mark changes every time a new cycle starts.
For a list of Irish silver date letters, please see this page: Antique and Modern Silver Date Letters
The harp crowned is the symbol is the Dublin Assay office and tells us that the piece was assayed there. As with date letters, the shape of the surround of this mark can change from cycle to cycle, and indeed in some cases even mid-cycle. In the last few years, due to EU regulations, a mark of “925” is also a sign that the piece is sterling silver; however, one needs to take care that this is not confused with a mark of 925 on its own, which would not necessarily guarantee that it would pass assay. Hibernia, a makers mark and a date letter should be present in conjunction with a mark of 925.
The Hibernia was introduced on the 21st of April 1730, and was a duty mark. All Irish silver made since then should bear this mark, even up to today.