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Sterling Judaica --> Origin of the alloy metal --> "Easterling" theory
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"Easterling" theory

An alternative explanation put forth by Walter de Pinchebek circa 1300 is that sterling silver may have been known first as "Easterling Silver". The term "Easterling Silver" is believed to have been used to refer to the grade of silver that had originally been used as the local currency in an area of Germany, known as "The Easterling".

See: Jewish Jewelry

This "Easterling" area consisted of five towns in northern Germany that banded together in the 12th century under the name Hanseatic League. The Hanseatic League proceeded to engage in considerable commerce with England. In payment for English cattle and grain, the League used their local currency. This currency was in the form of 92.5% silver coins. England soon learned that these coins, which they referred to as "the coins of the Easterlings", were of a reliably high quality and hardness.

King Henry II set about to adopt the alloy as the standard for English currency. He recruited metal refiners from The Easterling and put them to work making silver coins for England. The silver these refiners produced came into usage as currency by 1158 in the form of what are now known as "Tealby Pennies", and was eventually adopted as a standard alloy throughout England. The original name "Easterling Silver" later became known as simply "sterling silver".

The original English silver penny was 22 troy grains of fine silver (as pure as can readily be made). 22 troy grains is equivalent to 30 so-called tower grains or one tower pennyweight. When Henry II reformed the coinage, he based the new coinage on the then international standard of the troy pound rather than the pre-conquest English standard of the tower pound. A troy pennyweight is 24 troy grains. To maintain the same amount of silver (and thus the same value) in a coin that weighed more required less silver. It required that the alloy be only 92% pure.

Though coin weights and silver purity varied considerably (reaching a low point before the reign of Elizabeth I, who reinstated sterling silver coinage for the first time since the early 14th century), the pound sterling was used as currency in England from the 12th century until the middle of the 20th century. Specifically this was in the silver coins of the British Empire: Britain, British colonies, and some former British colonies. This sterling coin silver is not to be confused with American "coin silver".

Sterling silver, no longer used in circulating currency, is still used for flatware, jewellery and plate, and is a grade of silver respected for both relatively high purity and sufficient hardness to form durable objects in daily use.

A century of dining regalia: the silver craze of 1840 to 1940

 

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