Double Trouble

By Anthony Dove F.R.S.A.

Some members of the spoon club will already know that I have for some time had an interest in examples of hallmarking which involve the striking of assay marks twice, usually in error but sometimes, as I hope to show, deliberately. The majority of these arise with single punches but occasionally occur with a combined punch or 'stub'. This was a block of assay marks grouped together and struck as one first used at the London Assay Office in 1781 and followed by most of the provincial offices at various dates in the next century. The only assay office, which, to my knowledge never used a stub, was York.

Double Duty

Fig. 1a (Double struck duty head).
Tablespoon, Newcastle 1797 by Thomas Watson.

Fig. 1b (Trefoil duty mark).
Tablespoon, Newcastle 1797 by J. Langlands II.

The most common form of this when done intentionally was the so-called double duty mark. When duty on silver (and gold) was doubled in July 1797, certain provincial assay offices (Birmingham, Newcastle, Sheffield and York) struck the king's head twice for a period during the assay year 1797/98 ( This was a temporary measure until the trefoil punch had been received (fig.1b). In all the cases of genuine double duty that I have seen there have been three criteria which are invariably found to be present. The heads must be the same punch; they must be adjacent, with the extra duty appearing in addition to the other marks normally found on the item (cf. fig.1a).

Fig. 2 (Double duty, incorrect year - no anchor).
Salt spoon, Birmingham 1811 by W. Lea & Co.

The Birmingham salt spoon (fig.2) has two duty marks but of the wrong date (1811). It can be clearly seen that the two heads are from different punches. Comparing the blemish on the left hand duty, it is remarkably similar to that on the spoons in figure 7 below. As these are in sequential years they could well have been made with the same punch. This spoon is missing its anchor town mark. The set of marks on a patch box, also from Birmingham, (fig.3) are included here only because I have not seen them on a piece of flatware and represent an example of a double double. The two heads are identical and correct (for 1797), while the lions passant are different. Once again, the anchor is missing.

Fig. 3 (Double duty, correct year - double lion, no date/anchor).
Patch Box, Birmingham 1797 by Joseph Taylor.

If the guidelines given above are applied to the spoon in figure 2 the 'double duty' is shown to be incorrect on all three counts, even apart from the wrong date letter. The heads are not the same, they are not adjacent and the town mark is missing. Likewise the three criteria are all present to confirm that on the patch box in figure 3. The lack of a date letter in 1797 with double duty is not uncommon at provincial offices and would not be strictly necessary, as the two heads were known to signify only this specific year. The Newcastle tablespoon (fig.1a) is a rare example from this assay office, which also has a date letter. The Edinburgh dessert spoon of 1785 (fig.4) has the only example I have ever seen of a double incuse head. This could be for the sake of clarity as one of the heads has been badly struck and is incomplete. It is even remotely possible that the additional duty could have acted as some form of drawback mark on exportation of the spoon.

Fig. 4 (Double struck incuse duty)
Dessert spoon, Edinburgh 1785 maker's mark unclear.

Double Lion Passant
The London tablespoon by Paul Hanet (fig.5) has no date letter but two lions passant. This was one of three similarly struck originally owned by Martin Gubbins, the remaining two appearing in the sale of his collection (Lot 71) I have seen this duplication on both flatware and other silver and it appears to be a simple error. Examination of the marks will show that while they are similar they are not identical. This suggests that an incorrect punch was picked up and used rather than striking the same one twice, for which there would be no obvious reason.

Fig.5 (Double lion passant - no date letter).
Tablespoon, London c.1725 by Paul Hanet.

Double Town Mark
Two leopard's heads have been struck on the London tablespoon in figure 6, again with no date letter. It should be remembered that the leopard's head as well as being used to identify the London Assay Office was also used by the provincial offices of Chester, Exeter, Newcastle and York as a part of their town mark (figs.1a, 1b). I have heard of one other example of this particular error.

Fig. 6 (Double leopard's head - no date letter).
Tablespoon, London c.1725, maker's mark unclear.

The two Birmingham salt spoons of 1810 show that in this instance an error was not only spotted, but also corrected. The two anchors struck on the spoon (fig.7a) seem to be the same, suggesting that the marker was possibly temporarily distracted and picked up this punch again, not realising that he had already used it. He did, however, correct this error by striking the date letter alongside as can be seen by comparing the two spoons, the other being correctly marked (fig.7b).

Fig. 7a (Double anchor as an additional mark).
Salt spoon, Birmingham 1810 by William Pugh.

Fig. 7b (Companion to above - correctly marked).

Double Date Letter
An example of two date letters is shown on a London tablespoon of 1742 (fig.8) with no leopard's head. The absence of a town mark, even if noticed, would probably not have been regarded as a vital omission. Another curious example of a duplicated date letter is in figure 9 where a full set of Exeter hallmarks for 1802 has the 'F' repeated for no apparent reason. If any member has any suggestion as to why, I would be most grateful.

Fig. 8 (Double date letter - no leopard's head).
Tablespoon, London 1742 by Jerimiah King.

The Exeter spoon dated 1821 (fig.10) could have had the 'e' struck twice for a definite reason. It will be seen that the three marks (in a stub) were intended for use on a teaspoon as compared in the same photograph. The flaw on the right of the King's head can be seen on both punches, proving that the same stub was used. In common with other assay offices of the time, large flatware would have included the town mark. This extra date letter rather than being an error could have been picked up simply to conform with current marking regulations in having four marks with a date letter in the final position.

Fig. 9 (Double date letter - same punch - why?)
Serving spoon, Exeter 1802 by William Welch Sr.

The marks (fig.11) on the Glasgow sugar tongs of 1890 are interesting as the striking of the extra date letter may well have been deliberate. Glasgow sugar tongs are frequently hallmarked in the arch, with the four struck by the assay office surrounding that of the maker. As this letter 'T' was used in the year 1890, when duty on plate was abolished in May of that year, it is possible that it was felt that there ought to be a mark at the base. I feel it could be argued that the extra date letter was struck deliberately for reasons of symmetry (?) perhaps for a short time after the abolition of the queen's head.

Fig. 10 (Above - Teaspoon with identical marks to tablespoon below, Exeter 1821 by Wm. Welch Jr.)
(Below - Tablespoon with teaspoon marks + date letter 'e', Exeter 1821 by George Turner)

Fig. 11 (Double date letter - struck for symmetry?)
Sugar tongs, Glasgow 1890 by 'T&G'

Double Struck 'Stub'
The final example of double struck hallmarks shown here is on a London tablespoon of 1813 (fig.12) which was initially struck with the 'stub' too close to the right-hand edge. This was re-marked nearer the centre with a half-hearted attempt being made to score out the first set. I have seen a number of examples of this error on flatware (see The Finial, Aug/Sept 2003 - sale lot no 91 - for the same reason).

Fig. 12 (Double struck stub - one too close to edge)
Tablespoon, London 1813 by John Lias.

Although not actually a double strike, in The Finial, Feb/ Mar 2003 on page 22 is a photograph of what could be termed the ultimate in errors - namely the striking of an 18 carat gold stub punch on a silver spoon. This was corrected by striking the queen's head over the incriminating '18'. As mentioned at the same time this error had occurred on at least five separate occasions - was this solely due to lack of supervision at the Glasgow assay office or could there have been some other explanation?

If any members have further examples of double struck assay marks, including those of non 1797 double duty, I would be very interested to know.

I would like to thank David Beasley for his helpful and constructive comments on this paper and Michael Golding for the photographs.


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The Finial, December/January/February 2003/04

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