Jim van der Meulen (University of Oxford) and Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz (University of Amsterdam)
Marks, Social History, Early Modern Europe
This session explores the research potential of a well-known yet relatively overlooked historical phenomenon: the merchants’ and makers’ mark. These marks were ubiquitous in premodern Europe and were used by townsmen and townswomen from various socio-economic backgrounds. Townspeople alternatively carved or wove these identifying signs into their manufactures and consignments of trade goods, or they etched, stamped, or penned them onto written documents, both within official contexts and in pieces of informal correspondence. While urban historians of the premodern city have long recognised the importance and the diverse functions of these marks, as well as their relationship or contrast with such things as modern brands and trademarks, there has been little attempt to explore the broader social significance of this phenomenon either cross-regionally or in a systematic fashion.
The aim of this session is to fill that gap in the historiography by demonstrating diverse ways to study these marks, and by discussing how scholars from different historical sub-disciplines may integrate their approaches. To that end, the papers explore premodern merchants’ and artisanal marks from a combination of investigative perspectives. With a broad regional focus on the Low Countries, the British Isles, and the German Empire, these contributions range from examinations of innovative methodologies, such as digital identification, to more theoretical considerations on the ways in which these marks may have simultaneously functioned as tools of identification and as expressions of social identity in the premodern city. The source material is equally varied, ranging from archeological evidence found in cesspools to personal correspondences, and from paintings to the bylaws of handicraft industries. Similarly, the contributors consist of a combination of early career scholars and specialised researchers, who come from different universities and disciplinary backgrounds. This diversity of approaches and contributors promises to result in a lively discussion, which, furthermore, offers grounds for cross-germination with related research themes in social and economic urban history, such as the study of trade networks and the history of migration.
“...and Used it Next to his Coat of Arms": Marks and Burgess Identity in Sixteenth-Century Germany
Marcus Meer (German Historical Institute London)
Visual Culture, Visual Communication, Family History
Research on visual signs of identity in the late medieval and early modern period has often more or less explicitly assumed that the marks of merchants and craftsmen were seen as inferior to and often – as soon as possible – replaced by heraldry. This talk sets out to challenge this assumption and highlights the immense value attributed to marks as means of self-representation by sixteenth-century contemporaries in German cities, especially Cologne and Augsburg. Of central importance are the family or house books left behind by German-speaking burgesses. Their ego-documents not only illustrate the practical uses and representational functions they served in the urban space as versatile tools of visual communication. These sources also testify to the contemporary perceptions of these signs by their owners in relation to their family identity in general and matters of family history and genealogy in particular. In this sense, the functions of marks and arms were as entwined as their iconography: townspeople in late medieval and early modern Germany liberally and elaborately combined both sign systems without an inevitable preference for one or the other as a matter of course and tradition, creating a specifically urban dialect of heraldry unhindered by any heraldic authority or the nobility. In the pre-modern city, this talk will conclude, marks and arms thus shared central communicative functions and held comparably high esteem in the eyes of pre-modern burgesses.
Merchants’ Marks and A Database: Reconstructing Premodern Urban Connections
Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz (University of Amsterdam) and Anna Paulina Orłowska (The Institute of History/ Polish Academy of Sciences)
Merchants’ Marks, Communication, Networks
Merchants’ marks were an efficient way of commercial and personal identification and communication in premodern Europe. They were relatively simple graphic emblems which could be painted, carved or branded on packing units, included in letters or administrative lists, or used for self-representation on buildings or tombs, in paintings or stained glass. The analysis of their use discloses commercial, urban and familial networks. In this presentation, a conflict case (1533-134) which has bestowed us with a large number of marks will be the point of departure for the discussion of their wide application in premodern cities. The sample has been the foundation for the design of a pilot data base of merchants’ marks, which can be expanded in the future to include marks from all over Europe. The session provides an opportunity to discuss how various scholarly perspectives on marks can be best integrated into a growing database.
Coopers’ Marks, Merchants’ Marks and Gaugers’ Marks, the Archaeological Perspective: Marks on Barrels and Casks from the Low Countries
Jeroen Oosterbaan (Leiden University/Saxion University of Applied Sciences)
Archeology, Coopers, Packing Material
The Low Countries developed into one of the most urbanized regions in Europe in the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Period, with trade as a main source of this development. Netherlandish towns and cities played an important role in partly overlapping international trade networks. Every trade network was characterized by specific trade products. For example, wine dominated the Early Modern trade of the Rhine-IJssel network, while the export of herring and dairy products was most prominent in the cities from Holland in the sixteenth century. Regardless of the nature and destination of merchant shipping, merchandise such as wine, beer, and herring was packed in barrels and casks. Hundreds of these barrels and casks have been excavated in recent years in urban archaeological research. After disposal, the packaging material was often reused as a shaft of a water well or cesspit. In the underwater archaeology, barrels are also regularly found in shipwrecks, sometimes even with the original content. On these divergent types and sizes of excavated barrels and casks, one often encounters marks. Archaeological reports usually mention these marks, but it remains an open question when, why, and by whom these markings were put on these containers.
In this paper, I assess the relationship between the formal rules of marking premodern packing material, and how marks were actually used in practice. The paper first provides an overview of the marks found on Netherlandish barrels and casks within the archaeological context. These marks consist of merchants’ and makers’ marks, which are often referred to in archival sources. However, other types of marks are also found on the barrels and casks, such as counting' marks and gaugers' marks which were used to quantify premodern cargoes. Using archival sources, I will examine the regulations and intended function of such marks. I will subsequently compare this historical data with the archaeological data. Thus, I will assess in what extent the official rules were complied with in practice.