American Coin Silver

American Coin Silver

From colonial times trrough the Civil War period, Americans followed the tradition of commissioning silversmiths to create items of utility from their silver coins.  Silversmiths acted as assayers and bankers for most of this time period.  Until the discovery of Nevada’s Comstock Lode in 1859, there were few American silver mines.  Coins were the main material available to produce their works of art.  Because most coins used were foreign, the silver content varied.  It wasn’t  until the 1830’s that the U.S. Mint and most silversmiths settled on .900/1000 or “Coin” as a standard.  At times, two localities used higher standards.  Briefly, Baltimore adopted the English tradition of date letters and the higher Sterling standard (.925/1000) for much of their work.  In the 1850’s, a number of New York City silver companies— such as Tiffany’s and Ball & Black—also adopted the “English Sterling” standard.

After the Civil War, most silversmiths and silver companies began to change to the higher “Sterling” standard, and it was finally made law with the Stamping Act of 1906.

With the exception of Baltimore, there were few restrictions on silversmiths concerning their touch marks.  Colonial silversmiths normally used initials or last names. Later, many silversmiths added their city, sometimes an address.  In the 19th century, the words “Coin” and “Standard,” “Dollar” or an eagle were used to denote the .900 silver content.

What is frustrating about the Coin Silver period is that many pieces are totally unmarked.  This is not uncommon into the 1850’s!


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