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The History of Glasgow Assay Office

The History of Glasgow Assay Office

While many link the assay office with the past, they are still around today.  They serve a vital function to hallmark precious metals. The Glasgow Assay Office has been closed for more than a half-century. While open it served the public interests in the region thanks to its work in testing and hallmarking noble metals.

This means for silver smiths and makers, using precious metals that have been officially recognised for their purity is an important part of their business. From England to the US and around the world, assay offices are critical quality control of precious or noble metals.

Today, there are assay offices around the world. In the UK, there are four assay offices that serve the public testing and identifying noble metals.

Function of an Assay Office

The basic function of the assay office is to test the purity of noble or precious metals. Noble metals are usually removed from the earth, although the testing can be on items that simply contain precious metals. The assay office is generally most associated with the UK and the Old West in the United States.  However, the Goldsmith’s Statute of 1260 actually created the first assay office in France during the 13th century with .

Assay offices were established to provide protection for those who purchased either raw precious metals or those used in manufacture. Using standardised guidelines, the testing of the metals is performed to confirm to the public that metals are as advertised.
The metals are tested for purity by the assay offices, those that meet or exceed the standards are marked. Manufacturers who create products from precious metals will only take those that that have been hallmarked by an assay office.

What is Hallmarking?

Hallmarking is the official stamping of precious or noble metals such as gold, silver, and platinum. It is an official mark that designates the metal to be of noble nature. This means metals that have an inherent value well beyond how they are used to create many different products.

The Glasgow Assay Office had a unique hallmark that distinguished the noble metals that were stamped.  It also denoted where the metals were hallmarked. From 1819 to its closing in 1964, this hallmark was distinguished by the inclusion of a tree, fish, and bell.  These denoted the location as being Glasgow. Such hallmarking efforts before 1819 included these items in other Scottish towns as well.

Early History of Assay Office in Glasgow

The Glasgow Assay Office was officially established in 1819. However, there is a lengthy history well before the office was established that reaches back to 1681. Official hallmarking was performed in Glasgow from about 1681 to 1710 although the Glasgow Assay Office was not officially recognised.  This sorted the noble metals for proper identification.

Then, a date letter was placed on wrought silver that was produced and used for making in the area. The date letter usually consisted of the letter “S”, often reversed, along with the letters “E”, “F”, and “O”.   Such date letters changed in July of each year. From 1681 to 1710, the assay office in Glasgow used this approach.

Official Establishment of Glasgow Assay Office

1819 was the year that the assay office in Glasgow became official. Serving the Glasgow area, the assay office routinely inspected, tested, and hallmarked precious metals. Over that time, there was a growth in making and the rise of the middle class.  This resulted in the use of precious metals in more applications and an increase in work of the assay office.

As more people grew wealthier, the demand for precious metals increased as well. The Glasgow Assay Office served an important function during the growth of the industrial revolution and continued to serve the public through the Victorian era.

New Challenges

The dawn of the 20th century brought new challenges.  Ship building, making, and the increase of the middle class progressed even further. The period of the first and second World Wars was a time of great tumult.  The Glasgow Assay Office closed in 1964, there are four assay offices in the UK – Birmingham, Edinburgh, London, and Sheffield. The testing of so much precious metal was a source of pride for the Scottish people. This was especially true for the silver smiths who made their home in the region.

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