Dating Your Silver Pipes

May 2, 2007 on 8:35 pm by Michael Grey | In Tips | Comments Off on Dating Your Silver Pipes

That’s “dating” as in determing their age (anything else is just wierd!).  Anyway, there are loads of ways of figuring out the age of your pipes.  Some modern makers make it really easy and stamp the date of manufacture on a small area of the instrument.  But, really, it is the old, antique pipes where there’s as much art as science in the process of assessing age.

My blurb today, though, is about a relatively small group of pipe owners: those with silver mounted pipes (“mounted” a reference to the silver “adornments”).  Specifically, silver mounted pipes manufactured in the UK – I’d venture that’s the majority of silver sets.  The hallmarks on your pipes will tell you precisely how old the silver is on your pipes – and a fair idea of the probable age of the instrument.  

Since around 1300 the integrity of silver has been assured thanks to assay processes: metalurgical tests that confirm the purity of the metal.  The UK has a particularly long history of assaying precious metals with “assay offices” found across the country.  Current assay offices are located in London, Sheffield, Birmingham and Edinburgh; historically, there were many more including a Glasgow assay office (closed 1964) .  Each assay office is assigned a designated mark, or stamp, that appears on silver assayed as suitably pure. 

All silver, or sterling silver, applied to bagpipes contains a mark of assay (note sterling silver is 92.5 % silver and alloyed with other metals – usually copper).  Again, this mark is associated with the location of the assay office.

Other marks on UK sterling silver include year of manufacture and maker.

On old pipes, it is the year-of-manufacture mark that will tell the tale.  If you are lucky enough to have a silver set have a close look at the silver.  Note the marks closely (I suggest a magnifying glass – the marks change in a subtle way year-to-year and by assay office) and compare with a directory of hallmarks.  There’re a fair number of online resources, though you may find yourself needing to fork out for a reference book.

Regardless, your old pipes surely hold a lot of secrets, a lot of history and, if they’re mounted with sterling silver, a solid clue as to their vintage.


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