Under the charter of Charles I that set up the assay office in Dublin in 1637, all Irish silver was to be sent to Dublin for testing and hallmarking.
However, Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries was a dangerous place, with robbery by highwaymen a real danger. Many silversmiths in provincial towns and cities decided to stamp their wares themselves rather than risk having them stolen.
The main centres of production were Cork and Limerick, though some silversmithing took place in other towns too, including Kinsale, Galway and Waterford,
Limerick pieces are extremely rare. It is estimated that the ratio of Limerick pieces to Dublin silver is approximately 1:100.
The main image above is an example of Limerick workmanship; a set of four bright-cut tablespoons, from the late 18th century. “Bright-cut” refers to the faceted engraving along the stem of the spoon, which was cut so as to sparkle in candlelight.
At the end of the spoons is an engraved crest, possibly that of the Butler family, owners of Kilkenny castle. It depicts a falcon rising from a ducal coronet.
At the back of the spoons are the marks; technically these are not hallmarks, as they were applied by the maker and not by the assay office. There is the word “Sterling”, with the maker’s initials “MFG” on either side. This for Maurice Fitzgerald, who worked from 1760 to 1817, and is buried at St. John’s.
Technically, much of the work produced in these towns would not be called silver, as they were never submitted to the assay office in Dublin for hallmarking. The word STERLING, or a variation thereof (examples we have seen include STER, STARLING and STERG) is not, therefore, a hallmark, but rather an interesting quirk of the normal practice at the time. From the start of the 19th century, most items were routinely sent to Dublin for hallmarking, and this practice faded out naturally.
So little Limerick work survives to this day that finding a set of four spoons is extremely rare. Indeed, single spoons or forks are hard to find. To find larger items, such as coffee pot, tea pots, bowls or other forms of tableware is a very unusual occurrence, such pieces are often seen only in museums.
To view our current selection of Limerick silverware and objets, please click on the following link: Limerick Silverware