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3. The marker and the marks

The quality of manufactured precious metal pieces had long been controlled and guaranteed by the Assayer's Mark. There was a "Gold and jewel Marker", a "Gold Marker" and a "Silver Marker". These positions had their origin in the organisation of Spanish cities. Many of the titles of these positions that are still used today, such as almotacen and alamines , date back to Moorish Spain. Two Royal Decrees issued by the Catholic Kings in 1500 and 1501, provide details of the creation of the position of the assayer in Malaga. In addition to public verification of weights and measurements, the assayer is given the tasks of testing, verifying and fixing the quality, weight and value of coins, gold and silver, as well as stamping the latter with the city mark.

The assayer had to be "a good person, skilful, capable and of good reputation". He had to duly swear to "make good and loyal use of his position, and to make all efforts to prevent fraud, deceit or falsity". The Council, who was responsible for paying him a fair and reasonable salary, designated him. He had to have sets of scales and weights, which had been duly verified. He was obliged to have a mark of his own, registered in the archive of his Congregation and before the Council Scribe. Failure to use his mark, or varying it in any way was punishable to the same degree as using false weights or measurements. The silversmiths were always reticent to comply with these dispositions, which made them entirely responsible for any defects in their work. That is why marked pieces tend to comply with the rigour of the official dispositions.

Next to the silversmith's mark, the assayer personally engraved the mark of the city, town or bishopric. The regulations stipulate that once the silversmith has completed the work, it is taken to the faithful for them to engrave their mark. From this moment, the person responsible for any fraud is the assayer. This mark is of special interest to us today for the study of the origin, attribution, authorship and date of a piece. From the 15 th century onwards, silver and gold pieces bear the mark of the place where they were made.

The mark of a precious metal object was and still is like the branding on the cattle of a specific stock farm. There were official markers who checked the authenticity of the marks. For this task they charged a fee. They were in charge of preventing and controlling fakes. If the object had several pieces, the marker would verify if they complied with regulations and then mark each one of them. However, if they did not comply with regulations, firstly he would not mark them, but even more importantly, if a silversmith had brought them to be marked, he would destroy them.

The regulations required that the gold and silver pieces were stamped with the marks of the place, artisan and marker. But these requirements were not always met. In spite of the efforts of the guilds and the regulations, not all objects were marked. That is why many of the pieces in current catalogues do not bear any mark whatsoever. This makes it very difficult to identify the maker. Town marks normally included distinctive elements of the town, such as a representative part of its coat of arms.

The markers, accompanied by a law enforcer, had to make monthly visits to silversmiths, fairs, exchange houses and markets to verify whether the gold and silver objects were sold and exchanged in accordance with the law. At the same time, they had to verify whether the frames and weights where in accordance with those in the mint houses, as well as to check that they bore the stipulated marks. In case of failure to comply, they were punished in line with the punishments established by the Kingdom. Mayors and magistrates were obliged to issue a list of sanctions and sentences carried out in their territories.

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