Chester has a long history, dating back to medieval times of making beautiful and valuable objects. The City marked its silver with its own assay mark until 1962.
Silver hallmarks in the UK date back to the medieval period and the practice of applying them as a guarantee of the purity of the precious metal represents Britain’s oldest form of consumer protection.
A Guild of Goldsmiths existed in Chester in medieval times, but it was not until 1701 that Chester was officially established by Act of Parliament as an assay town. From the early 1700s new date letter punches were introduced in July each year. The Chester Assay Office closed on 24 August 1962.
Most British and Irish silver carry a number of stamps indicating not just the standard or purity mark but also the initials of the maker, a date letter and the place of assay. Chester’s mark is three wheat sheaves and a sword.
Silver in Chester’s Grosvenor Museum
Silver is one of Chester’s greatest contributions to the visual arts in Britain, and the Grosvenor Museum houses a nationally important collection. It’s Ridgway Silver Gallery displays Chester hallmarked silver, dating between the 16th and 20th centuries in the form of Chester race trophies, Cheshire church plate and secular silver as well as silver from the Marquess of Ormonde’s collection.
The greatest Chester silversmith was Richard Richardson II, and his table basket of 1765 typifies the delicacy, lightness and elegance of the Rococo style. The official Chester Assay Office was established in 1701 and Silver in Georgian Chester was produced by a number of makers in addition to the Richardsons. A wide variety of domestic silver is displayed at the Museum, including a finely engraved two-handled cup, a pretty cream boat and a handsome pair of Gothick table candlesticks.
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Photo credit: West Cheshire Museums, Ridgway Silver Gallery