BLACKMAILLE
Part 16 - SIGNATURE RINGS: THE ORIGINAL DESIGNER'S LABEL
by Lord Thomas the Black
 


BLACKMAILLE
 

SIGNATURE RINGS: THE ORIGINAL DESIGNER'S LABEL

            Welcome back to everyone's favorite mail-related monthly: Blackmaille!

            Nowadays one can hardly buy a single item of clothing without a designer label on it. Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Tommy Hilfiger, the list goes on. Medieval armorers did much the same thing, marking their armor with a unique "maker's mark". These marks were kept on record with the local armorers' guild, and were, in fact, the origin of the term "trademark"[i]. The best armorer's work was sought out by the wealthy, who looked for these "designer's labels" when being fitted for armor.

            What most people don't know is that maillers did the same thing! Often times, a brass ring cast with the mailler's name was woven into the brass trim along an item's edge[ii]. In countries such as Germany and Italy, where entire towns were involved in the production and export of mail, the local guild would usually also include a "place ring", that was cast with the name of the town the mail came from[iii].

            Another interesting stamped ring used in mail was the "talismanic ring" or "Ave Maria" ring.  This was a brass ring, much like the name and place rings, but stamped with "AM" (for "Ave Maria" or "Hail Mary"). This was generally woven into the right armpit of a hauberk, and was a sort of built-in prayer for protection. The right armpit was exposed whenever a knight raised his arm to order his troops or to deliver a blow, and the "Ave Maria" ring woven into this vulnerable point on his armor was believed to ward off sword and arrow strikes. The "Ave Maria" rings differed from the name and place rings in that the inscription was usually stamped into a regular brass ring, which was then woven into the mail and riveted closed. The name and place rings, on the other hand were generally cast, solid rings[iv].

            So why don't we see more examples of these rings being used? No one's really sure. The scholarly study of mail is still in its infancy, as opposed to plate armor, which has been thoroughly studied, classified, and catalogued[v]. The main reason may be that many mail items were recycled over and over. If a coif taken from a slain foe was too badly damaged to serve as a coif any longer, it could be cut apart and used in a different mail garment altogether. E. Martin Burgess[vi] and David Edge[vii] both make mention of mail garments that are constructed from pieces of older mail. It is entirely possible that in the process of recycling the mail, some of the signature or place rings were lost, or were simply discarded.

            Another theory for the absence of name and place rings in some mail may be that local maillers, unable to keep up with their demand, could have imported mail, then cut these rings off in an attempt to pass the product off as their own work. Without the name and place rings to say otherwise, no one would be the wiser[viii]. Still another theory holds that a mailler only signed his best work, or just his "master-piece" to be graded
by the local guild-heads[ix]. The truth is likely a combination of any or all of these factors.

            As it stands, little is really known about these signature rings or the artisans who used them. Perhaps further research will uncover more information about them, but only time will tell.

Thank you for joining me for another month. I hope you enjoyed this as much as I have. As usual, any mail-related questions (or more information about signature rings) should be sent to:

                                    Blackmaille
                                    c/o Tom Beckett
                                    6112 E 126th St, Apt 104
                                    Grandview, MO 64030

            Next month we'll discuss a period method of blackening and rust-proofing mail.

            See you next month!


[i] Karen Ralls  "Medieval Guilds"  Ancient Quest website,  www.ancientquest.com/embark/guilds.shtml

[ii] Brian R. Price  "Techniques of Medieval Armor Reproduction", Pg. 319

[iii] Oswald Graff Trapp  "The Armoury of the Castle of Churburg"  Pg. 4, Chapter "Mail and Brigandine"

[iv] William Reid and E. Martin Burgess  "A Habergeon of Westwale"  The Antiquaries Journal (#?), Pg. 48

[v] Erik D. Schmid, Mail Research Society  www.erikdschmid.com/TMRS_1.htm  Personal correspondence with Mr. Schmid

[vi] E. Martin Burgess  "Further Research into the Construction of Mail Garments"  The Antiquaries Journal 33. Oxford

[vii] David Edge  "The Construction and Metallurgy of Mail Armor in the Wallace Collection" www.the-wallace-collection.org/uk

[viii] Erik D. Schmid, Mail Research Society  www.erikdschmid.com/TMRS_1.htm  Personal correspondence with Mr. Schmid

[ix] Karen Ralls  "Medieval Guilds"  Ancient Quest website,  www.ancientquest.com/embark/guilds.shtml



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