Silverworks

Dutch silver and taxes
The museum houses the collection of the Assay Office for Gold and Silver and manages it on behalf of the Dutch state. Up until 1987, the Assay Office fell under the Dutch State Treasury Agency and later under the Ministry of Economic Affairs. From 1814, Assay Office inspectors, known as assayers, inspected silver objects and stamped them with tax marks.

The assay offices not only tested the purity of the silver, but also collected the tax on precious metals that was introduced in the early 19th century (and abolished in 1953).

Part of our silver collection is on display in the permanent exhibition. This display, that also has a Pepper’s Ghost about assaying precious metals, shows how the work of gold- and silversmiths, assayers and tax authorities is connected.

Sugar caster from Haarlem

Object: sugar caster

This silver sugar caster (left) has a special maker’s mark: the ‘hammer’ of Dirk Meelant. It also has the crowned city mark of Haarlem, as well as a lion rampant, a date letter for 1713 and a tax mark of Delft.

Registration plate

Object: reference plate

A registration plate is a reference plate that bears all Dutch and/or French hallmarks that were in use at that time. The hallmarks of the Kingdom of Holland are stamped on this plate. In the French period, a tax on silverware was introduced in the Netherlands. Assayers used such registration plates when making external checks, for example at gold- and silversmiths, shops and auctions.

The governors of the Amsterdam gold- and silversmiths’ guild

Object: painting with silverworks

Silverworks are also depicted in this group portrait by Jurriaen Pool, dated 1701. Before silver assaying was taken over by the government (the Assay Office), this work was in the hands of assayers of the local gold- and silversmiths’ guilds. From the Late Middle Ages, it became mandatory to determine the purity of the silver of silverworks in order to correctly assess the value of objects and combat fraud. At that time, to demonstrate their wealth, people commissioned gold- and silversmiths to turn their coins into splendid objects. It sometimes turned out that at some stage of the process the purity level was interfered with by the addition of an amount of copper.

'Meester van de druiventros'

Object: miniature coffee urn

This miniature coffee urn has three taps and two handles. The body is decorated with vertical bands of acanthus vines and there are symmetrical, decorative leaves around the finial. The maker’s mark of the Meester van de druiventros (Amsterdam, circa 1700) is stamped on the underneath of the urn. Two retesting marks (tax marks) are visible on the rim of the lid. This miniature silver urn was purchased by the Friends of the Museum.