Merchants' Marks

Merchants’ marks were graphic emblems intended to identify a person or property in premodern Europe. They were used in written documents (in inventories, schedules of losses, lists etc. or in letters as additional signatures), in personal seals, and on packing units like barrels, bundles, stoneware, chests and so forth which were to be transported to another place. Moreover, they appeared on buildings, tombs, stained glass or were incorporated in paintings as an expression of identity. Merchants’ marks resembled to some extent makers’ marks like masons’ marks or pottery marks, and they were part of the premodern visual symbolic culture, which included seals or coats of arms. When we follow the use of merchants’ marks, we can uncover networks spanning large parts of Europe, the migration of people, goods and ships, the exchange of information between individuals and institutions, and their role in conflicts.

How can we identify a mark, its owner and users, as well as the context of the use? Sometimes, sources disclose the complete information, for instance in correspondence. More often, however, we only have fragmentary data – hardly more than the mark itself. Can the rune-like emblems consisting of strokes, geometrical figures and letters, offer the first clue in the puzzle?...

In this growing database of merchants’ marks from all over premodern Europe, marks can be entered and found through their elements (see search instructions), and relevant information can be added from archival records and material culture. We hope to recover some of the lost wealth of premodern communication networks.

Would you  like to contribute your finds? Please contact Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz j.j.wubs-mrozewicz AT

The point of departure for the database was the pilot project related to: Jenks, Stuart, and Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz, Message in a Bottle: Merchants’ Letters, Merchants’ Marks and Conflict Management in 1533-34. A Source Edition (Turnhout: Brepols 2022).