24th January 2023

The work of a lifetime

Robert Grice MBE is a familiar face to many in Trading Standards. His latest book on hallmarking takes a trip through time to examine a rich and fascinating subject that still resonates today,

By Richard Young
I am very privileged in that I had access to the libraries of each of the Assay Offices, which go back hundreds of years

Hallmarking has been enforced in Great Britain since the 14th century. CTSI Fellow Robert Grice has not been around for quite that long, although he is a longstanding stalwart of the Trading Standards profession. His work to raise the profile of hallmarking was instrumental in the founding of the Touchstone Awards, and he was recognised for his efforts with an MBE in the 2020 New Year’s Honours List.

Grice has written several books on Trading Standards topics, but his latest is in many ways the summation of a life’s work. “The book really came out of my entire professional career as a Trading Standards Officer for 50 years,” he explains. “I realised that hallmarking, although a fascinating subject, is something many people don’t know a great deal about. I wanted to write a book that would bring the subject to a wider audience.”

Touchstone, Trade and Transgression – A History of Hallmarking, Fraud in Silverware and Precious Metals is a significant contribution to the available literature on the subject, a carefully researched, lavishly illustrated book which reveals Grice’s passion on every page.

“Hallmarking is seen by many as a rather complex, dry subject – neither of which is the case, of course,” he says.

“My objective was to write a book that was interesting, informative and enjoyable to read.

It took four years to write  and many more years in research. I tried to bring together a list of prosecution cases and enforcement action relating to the precious metal trade. These records are kept in the vaults of different institutions and no one, as far as I could discover, had ever tried to bring together a comprehensive list.

“I am very privileged in that I had access to the libraries of each of the Assay Offices, which go back hundreds of years. It was also a privilege to carry out research into Trading Standards records of enforcement action and newspaper archives. It was a long, slow, sometimes very difficult process – but extremely enjoyable as well.”

Those years spent in the vaults have culminated in a work that reveals some eternal truths about human behaviour. “I wanted to show that, as always in life, the majority of people are good and law-abiding,” Grice says. “I felt that I needed to balance the list of transgressions with compliments to those who portray the honest aspects of trade. So there’s a section about traders who’ve tried to do that, hence the book’s title.

“A touchstone is an ancient method of determining the purity of precious metals; ‘trade’ brings into play those traders both good and bad; and ‘transgression’, of course, is about those people who are not so good.”

Charitable causes
As well as spreading knowledge, Grice wrote Touchstone, Trade and Transgression with the intention of helping people in a practical sense; copies are available through CTSI, with all proceeds going to the College of Fellows for its charitable activities. The book is also available through The Silversmiths and Jewellers Charity, with all proceeds likewise going to help those in need.

So what is the key message Grice has learned from all that sifting through the archives? “The lessons of hallmarking apply right across society,” he says. “It’s always better to include people when you want them to comply with the law. If you can do that, in many cases enforcement action is unnecessary. By gaining their agreement and discussing things, compliance comes about.

“There will always be a minority of people who, regardless of what you do, will not want to comply. In those cases you have to seek enforcement action. But if you explain what the law requires and how that’s good for business and consumers, it’s a win-win situation. That’s the message that comes down through the centuries.”

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