Britannia Silver

Britannia Silver

Changing Standards in the Early 18th Century

Britannia silver was the government's answer in the effort to stop treasonous destruction of official currency during the silver shortage at the end of the 17th Century. In March 2023, our Silver & Objets de Vertu auction included two examples from this brief moment in silversmithing history.

Britannia silver existed as the United Kingdom's purity standard for wrought silver items from 1697 to 1720. A silver shortage at the end of the seventeenth century saw individuals across the nation clipping the edges of silver coins already in circulation and melting them down to create various types of silver objects.

157 A Queen Anne Britannia standard porringer Nathaniel Lock, London 1708



These objects were highly lucrative due to the nation's limited silver supply, but the government was challenged to find a solution to this widespread act of treason. In order to put an end to coin clipping, parliament passed a law that raised the legal standard of wrought silver items up to 95.84%. This became known as Britannia silver.

Britannia silver was marked with the image of Britannia, seated, thus replacing the symbol of Sterling silver, the Lion Passant. This purity increase allowed for silver goods from the United Kingdom to be exported to France, as the French government had historically adopted a higher standard of silver that former British silver works did not adhere to.


158 A William III Britannia standard tazza Samuel Hood, London 1699

A WILLIAM III BRITANNIA STANDARD TAZZA | Samuel Hood, London 1699 | Sold for £1,512*


That being said, Britannia silver was immediately unpopular with silversmiths because it was a more expensive raw material and the increased purity made the pieces softer and, as a result, less durable. Silver tradesmen pressured parliament to pass a bill restoring the former Sterling Silver Standard, and by 1720 Sterling silver was once again the minimum standard for wrought silver items in the United Kingdom. Britannia was left as an optional higher standard.


120 A mid-Victorian Britannia standard spirit kettleA MID-VICTORIAN BRITANNIA STANDARD SPIRIT KETTLE | Crichton Brothers, London 1856 | Sold for £1,260*


In March 2023, our Silver & Objets de Vertu auction includes a selection of examples of Britannia silver, including a William III tazza by Samuel Hood dating to 1699 and a later example of the continued use of the Britannia standard: a mid-Victorian spirit kettle by the Crichton Brothers, 1856.




Auction Information



Tuesday 07 March | Edinburgh & Online


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Silver & Objets de Vertu


Lyon & Turnbull’s Silver & Objects of Vertu department currently hold two specialist auctions per year - alongside the annual Scottish Silver & Applied Arts auction in August - dedicated to both British and foreign silverware from the 16th century to modern day.


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