I still remember the combination of frustration and confusion I felt when examining my first piece of Dutch silver, turning the piece over and over and over in my hands straining to find anything resembling a hallmark. Eyes more experienced and better trained than mine could easily pick the marks out of a sea of hand chasing and engraving, but as a beginner I was overwhelmed.
The challenge of decoding Dutch silver hallmarks is that, unlike their English counterparts who generally stamp all the hallmarks in a fairly conspicuous location and all in a neat row, the Dutch scatter their marks throughout the entirety of the piece, often embedding them in the most densely decorated areas.
If I could offer some simple advice regarding Dutch silver hallmarks, it is this:
familiarize yourself with the four basic types of marks in the Dutch hallmarking system,
and don’t give up searching until you have found all four! The marks are inter-related.
A clue found in one mark may help you interpret the other marks. You must interpret all
four marks together, so persevere until you find the complete set of hallmarks.
Occasionally you will find a piece that lacks one or more of the four basic hallmarks.
Perhaps it is an especially small item such as a buckle or a spoon (in which case it
may bear only one or two hallmarks). Or maybe some of the original hallmarks were
obliterated by damage or a sloppy repair. These cases are rare. Particularly if you are
dealing with a piece of hollowware, you should assume that all four marks are there, and
just keep looking until you find them all.
The four basic categories of marks in the Dutch hallmarking system are described below.
This hallmarking system was instituted in 1814. If you are lucky enough to own a piece
of Dutch silver dating to the 17th or 18th centuries, you will need to consult Tardy’s
International Hallmarks on Silver as the information that follows will not apply to you.
Usually the largest and easiest to spot of all the hallmarks is the standard (or purity)
mark, which is in the shape of a lion. If your piece has the lion rampant (standing on its
back legs with its front paws in the air) and the number one in the bottom right corner,
the piece is done in 935 purity silver, a slightly higher purity than sterling silver. More
commonly you will find a lion passant (in a walking pose with one front paw raised) and
a number two at the bottom of the mark, indicating the lower 833 purity silver.
Next you may find the maker’s mark, a series of two or three initials. There is a very
helpful searchable database of maker’s marks here. The website is in Dutch, but it is
pretty easy to interpret. Just type the initials of your mark into the bar that says “Letters”
and click “Zoeken”. You will be able to see pictures of the marks, names and dates for
the makers, and other useful information.
The Minerva’s head duty mark shows a figure in side profile wearing a helmet. The
letter imprinted on the helmet, if you can make it out, tells in what city the piece was
The most difficult mark to locate is usually the date letter. Once you do find it your
troubles have only begun. Now you must decipher a bizarre script in which many of
the letters used look almost identical and it is difficult to tell whether the mark is right
side up or not. Compare your mark with the chart of date letters here to determine the
most likely choices. If you are trying to decide between multiple possibilities, consult
any information you gleaned from the maker’s mark. For example, if you were able to
identify the maker, and track down the dates when that maker was working, you may be
able to narrow down your options.
Mastering the Dutch hallmarking system may require extra work, but there are some
beautiful treasures in the world of Dutch silver for those who put forth the effort.
Your determination will not go unrewarded!