Examining the Hallmarks on the Machine d'Argent

Most gold and silver objects are stamped with small marks. Called hallmarks, these symbols give us information about the origin and purity of the metal object. They are often struck in places that are difficult to see.

The Machine dArgent has four different stamps that are typical of those applied to silver objects at the time. Three of the marks are on the underside of the object.

As precious metals, silver and gold are forms of currency, and their value therefore depends on their purity and the metal's market rate. Decorative objects made of these metals are valued both for their materials and for their workmanship. European craftsmen and governments have used hallmarks on metal objects for over 600 years to guarantee the purity of the metal, to indicate where the object was made, and even to record that taxes were paid by the maker of the object.

Maker's Mark
The mark of the maker, François-Thomas Germain, includes his initials, FTG, with two small grains and a crowned fleur-de-lis. The crowned fleur-de-lis indicates that Germain was a Parisian silversmith.

Warden's Mark
This crowned letter O is known as the warden's mark. It shows that the silver was assayed, or tested, to ensure it met the correct standard. In Paris, for every 1,000 parts of metal, 958 parts had to be pure silver.

The O also indicates when the object was made—in this case, between July 13, 1754 and July 12, 1755. Marks from different years would be of different letters.

Charge Mark
A charge mark proves that Germain registered the piece at the tax office. This mark, in the shape of a cow's head, was used in Paris from 1750 through 1756 under the fermier-général (tax collector) Julien Berthe.

Discharge Mark
A discharge mark, here in the shape of a small cow marked on the front edge of the Machine d'Argent, indicates that export taxes were paid on the silver and that the object was released for sale abroad. This mark was used from 1733 through 1755 on works intended for export.

The weight of the Machine d'Argent is incised underneath in German: 22 m[ark] // 7 L[o]th, which translates into 11.57 pounds. The weight of the silver determined its cash value if melted down. The weight mark is in German because the Machine d'Argent was to be exported to the Duke of Mecklenburg in Germany.

Artist's Signature
In addition to stamping it with his maker's mark, Germain engraved the sculpture with his name and full title: F.T. GERMAIN. SCULPTEUR ORFEVRE DU ROY FECIT. 1754 A PARIS (F. T. Germain, sculptor goldsmith of the king made 1754 in Paris).