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Delving Into the Past of Sheffield's Silver Trade

Published: 14th June 2021

Following the various lockdowns over the last 15 months, visits to the Sheffield Assay Office archive, library and collection have unfortunately been put on hold. Many enquiries were successfully answered via telephone, email, zoom, however in the last week the Office was able to resume a couple of visits that had been cancelled way back in March 2020.

The name Jack Spencer (Silversmith) Ltd may be familiar to many, John Spencer, Jack’s son recently made a visit to research our archives as he is currently compiling his father’s memories of the firm, the people and the products. Jack Spencer and his firm were known for specialising in making modern, superbly crafted but affordable jewellery and silverware.

John and Assay Office Curator, Emma Paragreen were able to spend time going through a number of press cuttings, photograph albums and objects all pertaining to the history of Jack and his firm. Emma was delighted to share her knowledge with John and together they photographed specific articles and pieces and discussed stories and facts about the firm.

Within the Assay Office collection, there are a number of items designed and made by Jack Spencer and it was wonderful to hear John talk about the designs, the designers and the making process of these beloved items.

Three notable pieces in the Sheffield Assay Office collection are a pair of cufflinks dating from 1993, the hallmarks were used as a design feature. These shown in the photograph are made from Sterling silver, were iconic in design and were a development of an earlier version from the 1970s.

The bicentenary of the Sheffield Assay Office saw Geoffrey Allsop design and Jack Spencer make a particular design of goblet. The first, a sterling silver goblet, was limited edition - this one being number 1 of 200. Presented at the Guardians' Annual Meeting 1973 by the Directors of Jack Spencer (Silversmith) Ltd.

The second goblet is also limited edition, in the same design as the sterling silver version. This particular goblet displays the town mark of Sheffield (the crown) and the Bicentenary year of Sheffield Assay Office, created in the same year but in 18ct Gold.

This is a particular favourite of Ashley Carson, our Assay Master, who said ‘Jack was a very special customer of the Sheffield Assay Office. We are fortunate to hold a number of pieces in the collection by him and his designers’.

On the second of our recently rescheduled visits, we were delighted to welcome Francisca Onumah and Helena Russell - who have been recently awarded the 2021 Jerwood Art Fund Makers Open. As part of their research, they are documenting stories of ‘Little Mesters’ and capturing the living histories of a once-thriving silverware industry in Sheffield, to inform their practice today as they develop a new collaborative installation of tableware pieces made using traditional silversmithing tools that they have restored.

So where better to start than with some of the early silversmith records held here at Sheffield Assay Office?  Helena and Fran spent the visit looking at the names of the silversmiths and then handling many of the items in the collection that date from the first few years of the Sheffield Assay Office when it opened in 1773, including the first day cup and cover by Tudor and Leader, candlesticks by Thomas Law and a number of salts, snuffer trays and tankards.

We look forward to welcoming them back in due course to look at a further group of objects from the collection to aid their research phase of their project!

Finally, Jessica Jue visited from the Goldsmiths’ Centre, London having spent a three month placement with Sheffield Silversmith Brett Payne, at Yorkshire Artspace. No stay in the city would be complete for a jeweller / silversmith without a visit to the Assay Office!

Jessica enjoyed being able to get close enough to see the punches in punch control, seeing the assay process using the XRF testing close up and hand marking rings and laser marking jewellery.

Jessica said ‘Thank you so much for all your time and showing me around the Assay Office last week, I thoroughly enjoyed the tour! It was really great to see the whole set up of the place’.

The scholarship has been made possible by generous support of The South House Silver Workshop Trust, The Goldsmiths’ Company, The South Square Trust, Argex Ltd. The weaver Company, The Pearson Foundation, The Saunders Scholarship, Jamie MacDonald Kelly, Rod Kelly, Brett Payne, Karin Paynter and several other anonymous donations.

The Sheffield Assay Office was established in 1773, under an Act of Parliament and today the company assays and hallmarks the precious metals - silver, gold, platinum and palladium. Sheffield Assay Office is one of only four UK assay offices who all work to uphold the Hallmarking Act of 1973 and continue to ensure consumer protection for customers purchasing precious metals.

To find out more about the whole range of services offered by Sheffield Assay Office, such as our hallmarking and analytical services, please email us at or complete the contact form on our website at,

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