Collecting Irish silver is a fascinating and intriguing endeavor! It can give one a wonderful insight into Irish social life through the ages. But I must warn you identifying hallmarks on a piece can seem like a daunting effort for even the most seasoned collector! So first of all, a short lesson…
Since 1637, there has been a legal requirement to hallmark all silver sold in Ireland. King Charles intended this to be a form of consumer protection. The primary aim of a hallmark is a guarantee that the piece is sterling silver quality , 92.5 % pure silver. The hallmarks also allow one to tell by whom the piece was made, and the city in which the piece was assayed (qualitative analysis of a metal to determine its components).
The first hallmark to identify is the harp crowned:
This tells you that the piece assayed in Dublin, and has been struck on all Irish silver since 1637.
The second mark to look for is Hibernia, which is a duty mark, introduced in 1730. This mark is still in use today, and will always be present.
Identifying hallmarks is much too long a subject to cover on this post, however, if you have a piece of silver you would like to identify, I would recommend a book on silver hallmarks. I find it great fun to establish the history of a piece of silver, yet these dish rings can often be a challenge.
Irish Sterling Silver Dish Rings are one of the most sought after Irish silver forms and I am most fortunate to own two.
Mine both have very romantic pastoral designs. Mistakenly called “potato rings” by some, these dish rings were used like trivets to protect a table from a hot dish or bowl. The piercing on most of these pieces is not only beautiful, but serves the functional purpose of dispersing heat. During the 18th century, the finest homes in Ireland might use many dish rings at once creating a grand effect while dining.
These images show hallmarks that are always on a dish ring indicating it’s origins.
The details on these dish rings are incredible and have a rather wide variety of decorative motifs. So of the later pieces were fitted with cobalt or cranberry glass liners , but these additions were only for decorative purposes.
These delightful Irish dish rings are a favorite for me and I often add some type of liner and use them as containers for floral arrangements as in the photos above. A collection of these sterling pieces would be very interesting and yes…a bit of an investment! More about antique Irish silver later…
From my book, The Collected Tabletop