Birmingham Assay Office
|Birmingham Assay Office|
|Town or city||Birmingham|
|Design and construction|
The development of a silver industry in 18th century Birmingham was hampered by the legal requirement that items of solid silver be assayed, and the nearest Assay Offices were in Chester and London. Matthew Boulton and Birmingham's other great industrialists joined forces with silversmiths of Sheffield to petition Parliament for the establishment of Assay Offices in their respective cities. In spite of determined opposition by London silversmiths, an Act of Parliament was passed in March 1773, just one month after the original petition was presented to Parliament, to allow Birmingham and Sheffield the right to assay silver. The Birmingham Assay Office opened on 31 August 1773 and initially operated from three rooms in the King's Head Inn on New Street employing only four staff and was only operating on a Tuesday. The first customer on that day was Matthew Boulton.
The hallmark of the Birmingham Assay Office is the Anchor, and that of the Sheffield Assay Office was the Crown. A story about the origins of this hallmark goes that meetings prior to the inauguration of both Birmingham and Sheffield Assay Offices in 1773 were held at a public house called the Crown and Anchor Tavern on the Strand, London. It is rumoured that the choice of symbol was made on the toss of a coin which resulted in Birmingham winning the Anchor and Sheffield with the Crown (which has now been changed to a rose).
The Assay Office started in 1773 from leased rooms in the Kings Head Inn on New Street. It moved to Bull Lane in 1782, then to Little Colmore Street in 1799, Little Cannon Street in 1815 until its purpose built site on Newhall Street was built in 1877. It is now the largest Assay Office in Europe, hallmarking 13 million articles in 2003. It also claims to be the largest in the world.
Due to lack of capacity in its Newhall Street building it was decided that a new Assay Office would be needed. The new building is to be located on Icknield Street. Planning permission was secured in December 2012 and construction started in May 2014 for a scheduled completion in 2015. The construction is being project managed by Trebor Developments with Galliford Try as principal contractor, O’Brien as sub-contractors and Glazzard Architects as designers. The building will cost £10 million to construct with £1.2 million of that being provided by a European Union Grant. The new two storey blue brick building will provide modern offices, laboratories and conference facilities in a 5,000 sq ft building.
Services provided by the office include nickel testing, metal analysis, plating thickness determination, bullion certification, consultancy and gem certification. Platinum was brought within the Hallmarking Act 1973.
- All About Antique Silver with International Hallmarks, 2nd printing (2007), Diana Sanders Cinamon, AAA Publishing, San Bernardino, CA.
- Birmingham's Industrial History Website
- Birmingham.gov.uk page
- Birmingham Roundabout - Birmingham History Website