#1
Old 10-28-2004, 02:25 PM
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Medieval Signs

OK, We all know that barbers have the barber pole as their traditional sign. The red stripe signifies the bloodletting they used to do. Pawn shops have three yellow or gold spheres which obviously stand for money (gold). Both of these signs came about in the middle ages when few folks were literate.

What I'm wondering is what kinds of signs did other professions use? I imagine a cobbler or cooper could simply hang up a sample of their wares, but did they? What about tailors, weavers, or other shops that a medieval consumer might frequent. If anybody knows books on the subject, I would really enjoy a cite. I love learning history about common folk.

H-T
#2
Old 10-28-2004, 02:47 PM
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IIRC, at Pompeii there is a mosaic of a penis in front of the brothel doorway.
#3
Old 10-28-2004, 03:19 PM
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At both Pompeii and the lesser-known Herculaneum, there are phalllic symbols EVERYWHERE. But until recently, it was just never talked about in popular documentaries out of prudishness.
#4
Old 10-28-2004, 03:21 PM
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Sorry for the hijack, but that makes me think of this old joke (copied from this site):

A man needs to have his watch fixed in a small town he’s visiting in pre-World War II Poland. He walks down the main street and finds a shop with a window full of timepieces. Inside, there’s an old Jewish rabbi bent over a book, lost in his studies. The man with the watch approaches the storekeeper, "I need to have my watch fixed."

"I’m sorry," the old man answers, "I can’t help you." He goes back to studying.

"What do you mean you can’t help me?" the man with the watch is angry, "Are you saying you don’t want my business?"

The old man glances up and says with a tired sigh, "Look, I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do."

"There’s nothing you can do?!" The guy with the watch is now livid. "This is a watch shop. My watch is broken. I want you to fix it, now!"

Without looking up, the old man says, "It’s not a watch shop."

"It’s not? Then what are all those timepieces doing in the window?"

"Look, mister," the old man answers, "If you performed circumcisions for a living, what would you put in the window?"
#5
Old 10-28-2004, 03:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hypno-Toad
Pawn shops have three yellow or gold spheres which obviously stand for money (gold)
Actually, the sign derives from the coat-of-arms of the Medici family. Supposedly.
#6
Old 10-28-2004, 03:46 PM
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A subcategory you might want to look into is the pub sign. Rather than being the same for all pubs, pub signs, at least in the future UK, varied widely. Pubs were required to display a sign by an act of Richard II in 1393. At first, many 'public houses' were just an ordinary person's house; many medieval peasants brewed ale and sold it to their neighbors in their own homes. When the ale was ready, a sign would be displayed, and the house would become a tavern until the ale ran out. Ale-brewing was generally considered a woman's job, and it was not taxed in England. I don't know what kind of signs would have been displayed when pubs were temporary taverns in peasants' houses, but remember that most peasants would have been illiterate and would have drawn a picture that would attract passers-by or say something about the quality of their ale.

Later, keeping a public house became a profession. Many pubs from the medieval era still exist, and have names today that often say something about the pub's history. Some names are fanciful or geographical, but there are names that are historical or even political. A name like 'The Rose & Crown' or 'The Lion and Unicorn' might mean the owner was loyal to the King (no matter which king; generally a safe thing to do). Others have more political names signifying allegiance to a particular faction from English history, such as one of the sides in the War of the Roses.
#7
Old 10-28-2004, 03:47 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hypno-Toad
Pawn shops have three yellow or gold spheres which obviously stand for money (gold)
Actually, the sign derives from the coat-of-arms of the Medici family. Supposedly.

Also seehere for more information.
#8
Old 10-28-2004, 04:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roches
At first, many 'public houses' were just an ordinary person's house; many medieval peasants brewed ale and sold it to their neighbors in their own homes. When the ale was ready, a sign would be displayed, and the house would become a tavern until the ale ran out. Ale-brewing was generally considered a woman's job, and it was not taxed in England. I don't know what kind of signs would have been displayed when pubs were temporary taverns in peasants' houses, but remember that most peasants would have been illiterate and would have drawn a picture that would attract passers-by or say something about the quality of their ale.
I believe that a female brewer is called a Baxter and is the source of that name. One of the "government jobs" in medieval villages was Ale Taster. They were chosen each year, by village vote. Ale Tasters were in charge of ensuring quality and stopping dishonest practices such as serving small portions. Many of the fines listed in medieval rolls involve Brewing infractions. Some historians note with surprise that beer wasn't really taxed. It seems to be too big a source of revenue for a lord to ignore. But some folks have pointed out that this was mitigated by the plentiful fines for quality infractions.

As for Pub signs, you can still hear Pubs referred to by their sign. "We're going down to the Sign Of The Green Griffon for a pint." The wording betrays the history.
#9
Old 10-28-2004, 04:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hypno-Toad
I believe that a female brewer is called a Baxter [...]
I thought a "baxter" was a female baker? Or, just a baker of any sex?
#10
Old 10-28-2004, 04:52 PM
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Female for brewer is brewster.
#11
Old 10-28-2004, 06:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by F. U. Shakespeare
Sorry for the hijack, but that makes me think of this old joke...
Also, most sorry to interrupt, but...

A guy goes into a brothel and approaches the madame at the front desk. He wants a girl, but he's kind of in a hurry. The madame tells him that all the girls and rooms are full, and he'll have to wait. The fellow is very impatient, so she offers to take him up on the roof where they have an extra mattress, and take care of him herself.
They go up, but somehow during the course of "action", they get too excited and careless, and end up rolling off the roof, splatting onto the pavement below.

A little while later, a drunk stumbles into the brothel, where another gal is behind the front desk. The drunk slurs something to her, but she tells him they can't serve him because he is too drunk.

"That's okay," he says. I just came in to tell you your sign fell down."


Ba-dump!!!
#12
Old 10-28-2004, 06:58 PM
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I always thought Baxter was an alternative derivation from an old pronunciation of baker - but I'm happy for eythologicadopers ( hmmm that might not be a word ) to prove me wrong. (Google didn't help.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Hypno-Toad
One of the "government jobs" in medieval villages was Ale Taster....
Like many roles in a village, this will have hardly been a full time post. Think of it more like a parish councillor

Quote:
As for Pub signs, you can still hear Pubs referred to by their sign. "We're going down to the Sign Of The Green Griffon for a pint."
I've never heard anything like that before. What region are you referring to?
#13
Old 10-28-2004, 10:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GorillaMan
I always thought Baxter was an alternative derivation from an old pronunciation of baker - but I'm happy for eythologicadopers ( hmmm that might not be a word ) to prove me wrong. (Google didn't help.)
Check it out, from the American Heritage Dictionary entry for "Pollster" (bolding mine):

Quote:
The suffix –ster is nowadays most familiar in words like pollster, jokester, huckster, where it forms agent nouns that typically denote males. Originally in Old English, however, the suffix (then spelled –estre) was used to form feminine agent nouns. Hoppestre, for example, meant “female dancer.” It was occasionally applied to men, but mostly to translate Latin masculine nouns denoting occupations that were usually held by women in Anglo-Saxon society. An example is bæcester, “baker,” glossing Latin pistor; it survives as the Modern English name Baxter. In Middle English its use as a masculine suffix became more common in northern England, while in the south it remained limited to feminines. In time the masculine usage became dominant throughout the country, and old feminines in –ster were refashioned by adding the newer feminine suffix –ess (borrowed from French) to them, such as seamstress remade from seamster. In Modern English, the only noun ending in –ster with a feminine referent is spinster, which originally meant “a woman who spins thread.”
#14
Old 10-28-2004, 10:21 PM
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So it's all down to northern ponces, is it? **Exxxcelllenet....**
#15
Old 10-28-2004, 11:40 PM
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The English suffix -ster is an Indo-European cognate of the Sanskrit word for 'woman': stri.
#16
Old 10-29-2004, 12:45 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GorillaMan
I've never heard anything like that before. What region are you referring to?
I've heard it used commonly in literature many times. Not really a regional thing in as much as an archaic usage.

Baxter, Baker, brewster.... Guess I had them confused.

Ale taster wasn't likely a full-time job, but it was an official one. Like Hay Ward or Wood Ward.

But so far no one has answered the OP. What kind of signs did medieval "Professionals" use?
#17
Old 10-29-2004, 01:02 PM
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Another take on the pawn shop sign is the intervention of St. Nicholas in the plights of three desperate girls. In one, Nicholas when he was still alive saved three poor girls from being forced into prostitution by selling his possessions and "buying" them for three bags of gold; in another, three similarly distressed girls pray to St. Nicholas and he turns their bundled bags of worthless belongings into gold.

A lot of religious and Masonic imagery dates to medeival times (though the Masons of course do not). Epaulets on military dress uniforms are vestiges of medeival armor (as are gorgets) and according to some (but not all) sources the military practice of saluting dates to the raising of the visor on a helmet.
#18
Old 10-29-2004, 01:16 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hypno-Toad
But so far no one has answered the OP. What kind of signs did medieval "Professionals" use?
From the site I mentioned previously: (Doesn't anybody read the cites?)

The 14th to 18th Centuries
In the 14th century, signs were optional in England except for the pubs.In 1393, Richard II required publicans (tax collectors) to exhibit a sign, but it was not compulsory for other business locations. By the 17th century symbol signs became common in Europe such as:


Bible.....................................Bookseller
Civet Cat...............................Perfumer
Key......................................Locksmith
Mortar & Pestle.....................Apothecary
Red & White Striped Pole............Barber
Shoe......................................Shoemaker
Sugar Loaf..............................Grocer
Three Golden Balls.................Pawn Broker

Seventeenth and 18th century England was an endless vista of colorful signboards hanging from shops and banking houses along narrow streets. The signs were quite artistic and even the posts of supports were elaborately worked in wrought iron or in wood carvings as tradesmen competed with each other for better and more distinctive identification for their place of business. When increased travel led to several shops in the same area, signs were accompanied by a name which could be identified by customers. Symbols remained important, however, for many years because many people could not read
#19
Old 10-29-2004, 01:31 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by silenus
From the site I mentioned previously: (Doesn't anybody read the cites?)

Nope, skipped right past it. Now I have though.
#20
Old 10-29-2004, 01:42 PM
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:d
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