Academic journal article The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.

Ancient Identity Marks

Academic journal article The Chronicle of the Early American Industries Association, Inc.

Ancient Identity Marks

Article excerpt

By the fourteenth century the middle- and upperclass citizens of the largely illiterate European society were using strange symbols to identify their families, themselves, their trades, their homes, their tools, or almost anything that needed individual recognition. Writers of the recent past often refer to them as "merchants' marks." Such marks did serve necessarily as merchants' shipping addresses, and merchants' marks are indeed identity marks, but not all identity marks are merchants' marks.

The practice continues today; the marks are now called icons. Colonial Williamsburg uses as its icon an eighteenth century merchants' mark from a shipping crate board found during restoration work, quite probably that of late-eighteenth-century Alexandria, Virginia, property owner, Peter Cassenove.

I became interested in identification marks with the purchase in Regensburg, Germany, of a very early roughly forged bigorne anvil (Figure 1). Such anvils were made as early as the fifteenth century. The bigorne carried an identical, apparently stamped, identification mark on both sides. If one can determine whose mark is on an object, perhaps an old tool, they may be able to date the item and discover its point of origin.

My interest was further advanced during a visit to the modern, excellent, large museum inside the city walls of NUrnberg, Germany, and to two old cemeteries just outside the walls. …

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