A big part of my job is sorting through boxes of jewelry from estate lots or personal collections that come into the store where I work. The boxes are meant to contain only Native American jewelry but often there is southwest style costume jewelry and Mexican jewelry mixed in.
I set aside the jewelry with Mexican hallmarks and when I get a batch, I research and list it in our Mexican Jewelry section.
I thought it would be helpful to outline what I have learned about Mexican silver jewelry hallmarks.
First of all, deciphering Mexican hallmarks is an imperfect science. That is, while I will try to provide some guidelines, the system is not black and white, is not accurate. Hallmarks are sometimes used improperly or fraudulently, old hallmarks are mixed with new hallmarks, so in general, the results are often unreliable.
With that said, there is a very good reference book that will give you some help. The Little Book of Mexican Silver Trade and Hallmarks by Bille Hougart.
OK, forging ahead – here are some very general Mexico Silver hallmark guidelines from 1900, which is the age of most of the Mexican silver we get in our store:
During 1900-1948, there was no eagle hallmark. Most pieces were stamped MEXICO and either SILVER or STERLING. They might also have the name of the region such as TAXCO stamped as well as a silver purity such as 925, 950 etc.
From 1948-1980, eagle hallmarks were used to signify sterling content. If there was a an eagle, it was to guarantee the piece was at least of sterling content (.925). The eagle stamp was used with a number to designate origin. For example, 3 for Taxco, 1 for Mexico City (Distrito Federal). Numbers were also assigned to established silver shops.
In 1980, the eagle system was replaced with a Registration Number system. The number stamped on the items consisted of two letters, a dash, and a number.
The first letter represented a place, such as Taxco or another area or city.
The second letter represented the name of the maker, but it could be either the first of last name.
The number after the dash is simply that person’s registration number. Numbers were assigned in order of application for each 2 letter combo.
In recent years the registration system has deteriorated – through lack of enforcement and misuse – so many makers no longer use it and instead sign their pieces with their own hallmarks – in my opinion, that is as it should be.
Below I am going to show some hallmarks from items that have passed through our store. Using the guidelines above, try to place them in the proper time period. Underneath them I will give my best guess of their age but I welcome input and feedback.
Because of the unreliable nature of Mexican stamps, we have found quite a number of items stamped Sterling or 925 do not test positive for sterling silver using a simple acid test. Therefore we test all items in spite of their hallmarks before we list them in our Mexican Shop. We provide all the hallmark information we can discern from each piece even though we are often not able to attribute it to a particular individual.
A side note – another common metal used in Mexican jewelry is alpaca which is an alloy made of nickel, zinc and copper. Often you will see the work ALPACA stamped on such items. But I’ve found that alpaca items are sometimes stamped 925, thus our rigorous testing policy.