Hallmark Research Institute
 Dedicated to education and understanding in precious metal hallmarks around the world

The difference between a Hallmark and a Trademark

A Hallmark is a country sanctioned, independently tested, guarantee of metal purity mark
A Trademark is the insignia, logo, or brand of a maker that acts as a responsibility mark


Refining of gold dates back thousands of years.  In more recent times the mixing of other metals into pure gold and silver defined karat gold and the purity of silver.  Late in the 13th century, in an effort to protect the public from misrepresented wares made of these precious metals, England introduced into law a basic marking system that would test to guarantee an item's minimum purity to be better than the coinage in use at the time. This would also eliminate the unlawful practice of melting of coinage to produce such wares.  The first mark in use at that time was the leopard's head.  With time, more marks were added identifying the assay office, year of manufacture, maker, purity and on special occasion even a commemorative mark.  England was first and most systematic in their method of hallmarking from the beginning through to today.

The term Hallmark came about from the English who were required to seek an assay mark for their items of precious metal from 'The Goldsmiths Hall' one of the first assay offices in England, before offering it for sale. The repeated visits to the 'Hall' to get their item 'marked' and pay the required duties resulted in the shortening of the name of the process to getting "hall-marked" and thus the word hallmark evolved.  In time, other countries followed with the practice, each having their own methodology of "Hallmarking". 

As a note, the United States has never instigated a law or process that would require the independent testing and (hall)marking of precious metal items to the appropriate fineness standard.  The USA places the responsibility of marking precious metal items with their purity or fineness on the maker of the piece.

Here is an example of an English made item that shows (from left to right)
a maker's mark or trademark "W C" for W.
Comyns & Sons in London, the
lion passant representing the country's sterling silver standard for England at the
time, the leopard's head representing the London assay office (where this mark was
stamped) and a uniquely stylized "R" that is a date mark that represents
the year of assay ~1892-3.


In the United States a company or person (maker) could register, for a fee, their brand or logo with the US Trademark & Patent Office. This then would be called a registered "trademark". Trademarking is the practice of marking an item made of any material with the signature or logo of the maker, manufacturer or sponsor (Tiffany & Co, Mattel, Levi, etc.).  In the U.S.A., it can be referred to as the brand or logo of the company which makes the consumer rely in the guarantees of that maker for consistency in quality.  In many countries, the maker's mark is called the responsibility mark representing the important responsibility the maker has to guarantee the quality of the item they have marked. 

Here in the United States it is not required to mark an item of precious metal. If a maker chooses to place a fineness or standard mark (10k, 14k, 18k, 950pt, etc) on an item, then it is then mandatory that there be a responsibility mark, from the maker or sponsor, to show who is responsible for guaranteeing the claimed fineness. In most other countries, a responsibility mark required as well.  In countries that hallmark most but not every country requires a responsibility or sponsor's mark to be present along with the hallmarks in accordance to their system of hallmarking.

This is an example of a "trademark" and fineness mark from the
famous house of provenance "Tiffany & Co.".  Tiffany's, as well as other
houses of provenance are sponsors of the piece and will mark r the item
with their name and the fineness of the metal.


To see more examples of hallmarks,
visit our Archived Hallmarks Page

The Hallmark Research Institute concentrates on hallmarks. Due to large numbers of sparsely
documented and accessibly challenged manufacturer's markings, it is difficult
to trace many maker's marks. Our services are limited in this area.
For other sites that concentrate on maker's marks, please visit our Links page.


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