Hallmarks are notations stamped into the surface of silverware or other precious metals. They indicate the purity of the silver and, depending on the mark, can give information on where a piece was made and who made it.
While a hallmark can identify a silversmith, hallmarks and maker's marks are not the same thing. Maker's marks identify the silver manufacturer. Silver hallmarks, which are also known as assay marks, are chiefly concerned with the silver content of a product. These marks differ depending on the silverware's country of origin. For example, French hallmarks are made in the shape of animals, birds and insects; they indicate where a piece was made, its quality and whether it was made for import or export. The Paris Assay Office uses the image of a crab to indicate silver jewelry of 800 fineness or more. Most other European countries use numerals to indicate fineness and purity, although Sweden and Austria also use symbols. One Swedish symbol for 830 silver is an S in a hexagon. British silver features the image of a walking lion; this famous symbol indicates sterling silver.
In America, many silversmiths imitated British hallmarks to make their products appear to be of higher quality. For example, Towle Silversmiths, an 18th-century American manufacturer, used the mark of a walking lion. However, Americans did not use the assay system and often only stamped maker's marks onto their products. Paul Revere, a famous American silversmith and goldsmith, stamped his last name in block letters onto his silver.