A mystery solved

Many people have enquired about why the Birmingham assay office’s official hallmark symbol is an anchor. Through curiosity and a logical thought process, coupled with reasoning, you may not fathom why this is the symbol for the Birmingham assay office – after all, it is as far from any of our coast lines as you may possibly get.

But the reasoning for the symbol is far from a mystery, but explained with a simple solution. Let me take you back to a bygone era, at the dawn of the industrial revolution, when men dressed in Georgian attire gathered at a renowned London drinking establishment The Crown and Anchor on the Strand in London.

The finest entrepreneurs of the age gathered to conduct business, and by the later end of the 18th century the silver industry was a valued commodity.

The legal requirement was that all silver required assaying for common sale, assuring the public that the goods were of the UK silver standard of 925 per cent purity.

The silver industry was booming in Birmingham and Sheffield; however, the problem was that the nearest assay office was either in Chester or London.

Mr Matthew Boulton gathered some of the most influential businessmen of the era at The Crown and Anchor drinking establishment. In attendance were fellow Birmingham industrialists James Watt and William Murdoch – the three of them were later to be known as the founding fathers of Birmingham. All agreed to lobby parliament for a solution. The petition wished for the establishment of assay offices in each city to further trade from the heartland of our nations. In spite of determined opposition by London silversmiths, just one month after the original petition was presented to parliament, an Act of Parliament was passed in March 1773, to allow Birmingham and Sheffield the right to assay silver.

The assay stamp still had to be approved via the central assay office in London. London had the leopard’s head as its symbol, Dublin the harp, Edinburgh the castle, Chester the triple wheatsheaf. but what should be the new marks for both Birmingham and Sheffield? As they gathered at the Crown and Anchor public house, a throw-away gesture suggested: ‘Why not choose the pub’s sign hanging above the entrance?’

It is believed that the option was put to the vote and clear majority passed the symbols, but which one for what city? Again, a somewhat crude method was chosen – a coin toss.

The legend goes that Mathew Boulton took a gold guinea from his pocket and flipped it into the air, Sheffield won the call and opted for the crown, leaving Birmingham with the anchor symbol.

The city of a thousand trades is still leading the way for our nation’s jewellery industry. The Birmingham assay office is by far the country’s most prolific and productive assay office covering nearly as much as the assay offices in London, Edinburgh and Sheffield combined.

The anchor is the symbol of the Birmingham assay office, despite it being landlocked

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