Birmingham Assay Office was founded in 1773 to provide assaying (testing) and hallmarking of precious metal items (gold, silver, platinum and palladium) as required by the Hallmarking Act.
Back in 1773 It had become clear to the silversmiths of Birmingham, especially Matthew Boulton, that their trade would never truly prosper without an Office of their own. Boulton lobbied Parliament vigorously and was finally rewarded by the granting of an Act of Parliament, which founded the Birmingham Assay Office.
The Act of Parliament stipulated that the Office should be controlled by a Board of thirty-six Guardians of the Standard of Wrought Plate in Birmingham, of whom not more than nine nor less than six might be connected with the trade.
Matthew Boulton made a major investment in his family business, relocating it from Snow Hill to the purpose-built Soho Manufactory in Handsworth, then just outside the Birmingham boundary. The new factory employed over 700 people, but Boulton soon discovered that having to send all his items to Chester Assay Office for Hallmarking was a serious obstacle to the development of his business. An instinctive marketeer, Boulton made much of the difficulties of transporting his goods 70 miles each way on horse drawn carriages, the expense and delay and the perils of attack by highwaymen. He also claimed that careless handling and packing at Chester Assay office caused damage to his goods.
However, the original archives, owned by the Assay Office Birmingham show no record of such “feckless carelessness”. It is now apparent that Boulton’s biggest concern was that Chester silversmiths would copy his designs and innovative manufacturing techniques that gave him a competitive advantage.
Boulton resolved to take action on behalf of all Birmingham silversmiths and fight for the foundation of an Assay Office in Birmingham.
During his long stay in London, Boulton stayed at the Crown & Anchor Tavern in the Strand, a popular haunt for politicians, where much of the business was transacted. Quite how the decision was made is unclear, but it was probably the toss of a coin which determined that Birmingham, in the heart of the country and miles from the sea, should adopt the Anchor as its hallmarking symbol, whilst Sheffield took the Crown (subsequently changed to the Rose).
To celebrate the Her Majesty the Queens Platinum Jubilee, the body which oversees UK hallmarking, the British Hallmarking Council, has sanctioned a commemorative component mark.
Designed by Thomas Fattorini Ltd, the mark depicts an orb, and can be applied to precious metal, alongside a hallmark.
Commemorative marks have proved popular with UK consumers. In 1934 a voluntary mark celebrating the Silver Jubilee of H.M. King George V and H.M. Queen Mary was available to silversmiths for two years between 1934 and 1935. Its popularity led to further commemorative marks: for the Coronation of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 and 1954; for the Silver Jubilee in 1977; for the Millennium in 1999 and 2000; for the Golden Jubilee in 2002 and the Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
Jewellers, silversmiths and retailers can request the mark from the Birmingham Assay Office throughout 2022.
See it on these walks
A medal was purchased for this point by: The Weston Foundation