The Uncrowned Leopards Head
At The London Assay Office

By Anthony Dove F. R. S. A.

A question frequently asked is "When did the London leopard lose its crown?" The London assay office was conscious of having to protect the public against fakers and duly made subtle alterations periodically in the hallmarks to try to prevent this. In 1821 it was decided that the leopard's head should lose its crown and the lion passant should no longer be "guardant" (looking at the viewer)(1)

The first variation was for a teaspoon with "marks altered in the leopard's head and lion" [passant] engraved on January 5th 1822. This-was followed by further 'hand' punches and a tablespoon punch for use in the 'new press'. The crucial point with these marks in 1821 is that they were ONLY to be found on flatware. As this change occurred during the course of the assay year, flatware can be found with both crowned and uncrowned heads,(2) but the latter CANNOT be found on anything other than cutlery in the year 1821/22 (date letter 'f').

The campaign set of travelling spoon and fork (assayed at London in 1821/22) shown here, exhibits another interesting feature of hallmarking. The hallmarks on the fork and spoon stems are cutlery punches (all vertical except for lion passant)(3). It will be noted that the handles are marked with a horizontal stub and crowned leopard's head. The London assay office evidently worked to a strict set of rules as to which marks were placed on certain items. Handles are regarded as "non-cutlery" and marked accordingly. This must surely be the only instance where both a crowned and uncrowned leopard's head can appear on what is effectively the same item and could only occur in this one assay year.

The handle Hallmarks The spoon & fork Hallmarks

From 1822/23 assay year (date letter 'g') all plate assayed was standardised and all punches had uncrowned leopard's head and lion passant.

The above information refers only to the London assay office. The crowned leopard's head as used at certain provincial offices continued in use after 1821 and requires further detailed research to ascertain exactly when this occurred.

I am grateful to the late Fraser Payn for drawing my attention to the unusual hallmarking on these items and I would like to thank Simon Moore for the photographs used here.

1. "Touching gold and silver" by Susan Hare - Exhibition held at the Goldsmiths' Hall in 1978 page 91 where a detailed account of this is given.
2. "Touching gold and silver" (op. cit.) page 91 - exhibits 139/140.
3. This special form of punch was first introduced in the 1805/6 assay year (date letter "K") but was not in general use until 1810/11 (date letter "P"). Between these dates flatware can be found with both horizontal and vertical marking.


The Finial, February/March 2003

This site and images copyright © 1997-2003, by Daniel Bexfield Antiques