Mexico’s tradition of magnificent silverwork dates as far back as the 1530s. Mexico has abundant deposits of precious metals, so it was natural that a thriving jewelry and hollowware market would evolve there. But establishing authenticity, purity and age – especially for vintage and antique pieces – can be challenging.
Silver hallmarks stamped on a piece are supposed to signify a certain minimum purity – i.e. .925 and higher – and indicate that taxes and duties had been paid on the materials. Precious metals are linked to the currency reserves in many nations, so it’s imperative that nations keep a running inventory of available resources and an accounting of what’s been used. This process has been followed in Great Britain and France since the 14th century, and hallmarks can be used to accurately date silver pieces from there. However, these standards have not been strictly enforced in Mexico – or in the U.S. for that matter.
Since the 16th Century, this duty mark has been the image of the Mexican eagle. It often was referred to as “El Quinto Real,” or the one-fifth of the value of the silver used in the piece that was paid as taxes.
During the first half of the 20th century, the eagle disappeared. Mexican silver was generically marked with a SILVER or STERLING stamp.
The use of a newly-designed Mexican Eagle silver mark with outstretched wings appeared in 1948. It was meant to strictly represent a minimum of .925 silver content, but this was not always enforced. It also was used in association with specific numbers to indicate a manufacturer. There are numerous lists available online and in reference books to help you trace specific makers.
From 1955-80, the shape of the Mexican Eagle silver mark became more abstract, almost triangular. (See photo.) These marks were also assigned a specific number corresponding to a maker or the location.
Since 1980, the official notation is a registration code. The first letter denotes the location, the second denotes the workshop and the number denotes the actual silversmith. For example, MT-01 would indicate Mexico City, Tane (a famous workshop) and the person who registered it. Many studios also stamp a separate trademark or logo to help establish authenticity.
Alex and Elizabeth are WorthPoint Worthologists.