News-Antique.com - Aug 13,2010 - The use of forgeries in order to deceive is as old as Man himself. Almost everything that has been produced by Man has at one time been forged in order for the unscrupulous to gain an advantage. Unfortunately silver has not been immune from this practice. However in the early days those convicted of the forgery of silver were subject to the most severe of penalties, for it must be remembered that this was an offence against the Crown and which could have a devastating effect on the fiscal well being of the country. Those convicted could have their ears or hands cut off, all their goods confiscated or the ultimate penalty of death. Even such severe penalties did not deter forgers for the remuneration was great if they were not found out. However such instances of old forgeries that may have escaped the authorities notice do present a problem for collectors and this is where alertness, close examination and experience come to the fore.
Forgeries, in respect of silver usually concentrate in the forging of the hallmarks. However there are exceptions in that the item itself is a forgery through it manufacture. There are three main ways in which hallmarking can be forged, namely
- Using false punches;
- Making a silver cast of an original, properly assayed silver item; and
- Electroplating a copy of an item cast in base metal.
The original punches used by the Assay Office are made of high quality steel dies created by a master craftsman. This means that each strike will be crisp and clean. False punches are usually made of brass and, being softer, after each strike the hallmark outline will deteriorate to a degree and the marks will be less crisp. Some false punches will be made of steel but the 'craftsmanship' used in their production is nowhere near the precision of those created for the Assay Office and therefore there will always be some tell tale sign in the actual strike that is not convincing.
In casting an original article there are also signs that will alert the collector to it being a forgery. Firstly the hallmarks may be a bit 'fuzzy' as some clarity of the original hallmarks will have been lost during the casting process. Secondly the position of the hallmarks may be the giveaway. For example in the late 17th century, hallmarks were usually struck on the shanks of spoons by using individual punches for each mark, which would be in different positions for each spoon. Consequently if one sees a set of spoons that all have the hallmarks in alignment and in exactly the same position if the spoons were placed side by side, then this would alert the experienced collector that all was not well as it would have been nigh impossible for a 'free hand' strike to give this regimented type of strike.
In casting an original silver piece in base metal and then electroplating it will give the impression that the resulting