PROVINCIAL HALL-MARKS.

In the Provinces there were many old towns in which plate was formerly hall-marked, and from time to time new assay offices were opened up, some of these halls rarely exercised their rights and few pieces are extant bearing such marks. Judging from the number of pieces seen in private collections, and on sale in the shops of London silver-smiths, among the earlier Assay Towns, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Chester and Exeter may be mentioned as very active. Of more recent times, however, that is since 1773, large quantities of domestic and presentation plate have been hall-marked in Sheffield and Birmingham, the marks on which are very easily recognised-indeed every village silversmith can point with certainty to the ,Crown," the Sheffield mark, and the " Anchor " for Birmingham. The assay offices in the older cities usually adopted the arms of their respective corporations. These were appropriate marks, especially as much of the plate so marked was made locally for local use. As an instance of the ease with which such plate could be identified in olden time and can still be known, may be given in that a somewhat puzzled stranger pausing outside an old inn in the County of Chester looked up at the sign on which were painted three sheaves of wheat with a dagger dividing them. " Why three sheaves of wheat to indicate an inn called ` The Wheatsheaf ? " he asked of a rustic, pointing to the overhanging sign with the name of the house in big letters of gold over it. With a smile of contempt at his ignorance the rustic promptly replied, " They be the City Arms, and " he added, " I ought to know them for they be on grandfather's old silver spoons." Again, we can understand that when a castle was used as a mark there was a difference in its form-towers or gateway would be known to residents in the neighbour-hood ; they are known to collectors of plate to-day. Mr. Octavius Morgan, when speaking of the silver plate hall-marked at Newcastle-on-Tyne, says " The arms of Newcastle, the distinguishing mark, are three castles.-There are writers who have made enquiries about the marks in some of the out of the way villages in England and have given forth to the world the result of their discoveries (?) in blissful ignorance that such matters were but common knowledge not only to people living in the districts where such hall-marks are known and seen every day by those who still use plate marked in halls of assay once working near them, but to others far afield who have inherited plate from these lesser known districts where silversmiths flourished. It is not at all an infrequent thing to read of the sales of old silver in the London auction rooms bearing marks and maker's names which are well known to many and yet thought to be secrets known only to a few. The hall-marking of plate is a popular subject of research and much more is known about it than is generally thought to be the case. To those who wish to follow this interesting subject further the comprehensive work and tables of Mr. Chaffers, first published in 1864, many additions having been made in later editions, will be invaluable. There are handbooks of tables, too, published at moderate prices, available.