Like many of the laws that were passed to regulate the production of silver items, the introduction of Britannia Standard Silver was motivated by a desire to protect the country’s monetary system. Towards the end of the 17th Century, Parliament became greatly concerned about the scarcity and deplorable state of the silver coinage. Most of the coins in circulation had been minted before the introduction of edge milling. The edges of these coins could easily be clipped and the clippings melted down and used to make silver objects. Although ‘coin clipping’ was classed as an act of treason and punishable by death, the extreme shortfall in supply of new silver made the process very lucrative.
In order to discourage coin clipping, the government passed a law which raised the legal standard of wrought silver items to 95.84%. This new standard was denoted by new hallmarks. The Lion Passant, the symbol for sterling silver, was replaced by an image of Britannia seated and the Leopard’s Head for London was replaced by the Lion’s Head Erased.
The new standard was not popular amongst many of the silversmiths because the purer metal was softer, making it less durable. In 1719, pressure from the trade led to a bill being put before parliament which included a clause to restore the Sterling Silver
Standard. The bill was passed and in 1720 Sterling Silver
returned as the minimum purity allowed for wrought silver items, with Britannia Standard Silver kept on as an optional higher standard.
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