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What's In Store: Silver

Pair of standing cups, Silver-gilt, Dublin, 1674-80, marks of Edward Swan and Thomas Tennant

Visitors to the What's In Store? gallery can explore Museum collections normally kept in storage. Read more about the collection of silver featured in this gallery, which is largely Irish and English hallmarked silver, ranging in date from the 17th Century to the present.

Irish Silver

The Dublin Goldsmiths Company was established under a charter granted by King Charles I in 1637. This gave the company the right to control the sale and manufacture of gold and silver in Ireland and to stamp those wares that were up to the required standard. In practice the company’s authority would appear to have been largely confined to Dublin and its hinterland until the 19th Century. Several other cities and towns, most notably Cork, Galway and Limerick, produced high quality silver, especially in the 18th Century. They employed town marks and sometimes indications of fineness, but not date-letters.

The Irish silver collection includes religious, ceremonial and domestic objects and has been acquired under several headings such as type, style, function, period and place of manufacture. The styles of Irish silver conform on the whole to those in vogue in contemporary Britain and Europe. There are, however, some articles and features considered to be distinctively Irish, such as the dish ring, the three- legged sugar bowl and certain decorative motifs. These are well represented in the collection. Silver from outside Dublin is also well represented and some of the finest examples of Cork, Limerick and Galway silver are to be found not only here but also in the exhibition Irish Silver in the South Block.


The Museum’s collection consists largely of Irish and English hallmarked silver, ranging in date from the 17th Century to the present. It also includes a small number of European pieces, acquired mainly between c.1890 and 1910 as examples of design and craftsmanship. The core of the collection dates to the period c.1700 – 1850 and includes religious, domestic and ceremonial objects. It is an important collection, not only in terms of style and design, but also in the context of social and economic history. It provides us with an insight into the world of the social classes who used silver, how they lived, what they ate and drank, how they showed off their wealth.

Since the majority of the pieces are hallmarked, struck with special marks indicating the quality of silver, initials of maker and place and year of manufacture, it is generally easy to assign very precise dates to silver objects. This is particularly true of Dublin, London, Birmingham, Sheffield and the larger cities with official assay offices. Smaller centres, such as Cork, Galway and Limerick, as well as numerous English provincial towns, used a variety of town marks, initials and symbols. These fulfilled essentially the same function as hallmarks but the absence of date-letters makes it more difficult to date material from these towns.

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