Highlights of the British Collection:

Merchants in Monumental Brasses

During the medieval period a wealthy class of merchants emerged, who like the nobility, wished to be commemorated on monumental brasses. This is particularly evident in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The marks present many different forms, several of them being variations of an early device resembling a cross with two short legs, and a streamer attached to the shaft. This sort of mark is common on the brasses of woolmen.

The merchant's marks, a prototype of the modern trade-mark, were used by the merchants of the various guilds who sent goods abroad and were a guarantee that, whatever the items were, they were sound and good.

Their brasses often carry some form of identification of their trade, for instance vintners, or wine merchants, are showing with wine casks and wool merchants are shown with sacks of wool or sheep as their footrest. Other occupations can be identified through inscriptions and documentary evidence, such as ship-owners, grocers, drapers, tailors, brewers and ironmongers.

Medieval merchants also used trademarks to identify themselves. These were sometimes incorporated into their brasses, often in the form of small shields with the initials of the merchant as part of the design. Merchant marks mainly date from the fifteenth century when the merchant classes were expanding.

Most brasses commemorating merchants are found in medieval trading cities, with concentrations in wool producing districts, such as Gloucestershire and Lincolnshire.

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Woolman(click to enlarge)

Rubbing of a Woolman (wool merchant), dated 1400, from Northleach, Gloucestershire. His trade is depicted by the wool sack at his feet.

Brass of Sir William de Beaumont

Rubbing of the brass of John Eldred, merchant and alderman of London, dated 1632, from Great Saxham, Suffolk.  John Eldred was a great traveller and entrepreneur. This brass has the arms of the arms of the East India Merchants, the Levant or Turkey Merchants and the Russia Merchants Companies.

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Sarah Glover
January 2012