The History Of The Metal Guild Sign

Signage is a critical part of businesses, and companies spend huge amounts of money and conscript excellent designers to create eye-catching logos to bring people into their establishments.

This is true for high street retailers and farms alike, with the black metal signs of the latter an iconic part of countryside villages and towns.

However, both high street signs and the farm signage we know today share an ancestor in the form of the zunftzeichen: the German guild sign.

After the Norman Conquest, Britain adopted the guild system, a society of merchants who had the exclusive rights to do business in a particular town or city and would in exchange support each other. This principle shapes a lot of modern crafts and the progression of apprentices to masters.

In Germany, one of these acts of support would come from the blacksmithing guild, who would design elaborate signage made from wrought iron that would vividly advertise a particular place of business.

They typically overhung the main street and would often swing or move with the wind. They also were primarily visual, with signs displaying the tools of the trade to help people who could not read find the shop they needed.

For example, a hairdresser may have a pair of scissors to advertise their trade, a locksmith a set of keys, a painter might have a brush and so on for every merchant trade one could imagine.

Whilst the guild system as it functioned back then no longer exists, many of these signs can still be seen in historic German towns, as well as some in Austria and Switzerland. Some new signs in that style have also been made to celebrate the heritage of a historic area.

In that respect it is similar to other forms of traditional signage that still survive to this day, lingering thanks to the work of skilled heritage craftspeople and people who value the skills of the past.