Making One’s Mark

The present day expression ‘making one’s mark,’ implying some special achievment, is based upon traditions that date back at least 700 years. In the Middle Ages, a craftsman producing a product marked that product with a special symbol denoting that he or his shop (or she or her shop –more on women metal workers of the middle ages later) made that product. The mark varied and could denote many things: Royal licensce, guild membership, purity, city of origin, etc. The marks did generally stand for quality and reliability; the maker was not afraid to back his products with his good name.

We at NAGLE FORGE & FOUNDRY feel that this practice of making a mark is as important today as it was hundreds of years ago. Our company mark appears wherever we can fit it on the piece! Our smaller NF&F stamp appears when the piece is not large enough for our full stamp, and our smallest pieces often carry only the split N. These are all marks that tell people we made it and we stand behind it.

Sometimes, in addition to the foundry house mark, other marks will appear. These are the individual marks of the person who worked on the piece or component. Several of our master craftspeople (such as our prized miniaturist and model carver, MKJ) have their own marks. (Michelle, aka MKJ actually has several marks of her own –if you design your own, why limit yourself to one?) Occasionally a piece will also bear the signature of the designer. Some of our limitted edition or one-of-kind pieces will also bear the individual signature of the artist/maker and, if it is a limitted edition, the number of the piece and the total number of pieces made in the run. (This is true in the case of Brian Nagle’s limited edition greenpeople.) This tells everyone who made the piece, and who is responsible for it. In any given year we use at least 6 different versions of the company mark as well as several different versions of the personal marks of our craftspeople. We are proud of our work and mark every piece. If something is special enought to make, it is special enough to mark. By making our marks we acknowledge our work, our labor, and our responsibility. To make a mark on one’s work is, as the term implies, special.

Depending on the amount of space available on a piece an entire story can be told and read from the marks of the maker. Entire books have been written about the history of makers’ marks. The marks of metal workers, particularly pewter and silver workers, can be particularly intriguing. Because of the number of marks used over time, and the combination of generic and personal marks, learning to read the marks on a piece of jewelry can be a life’s work. No one ever knows every mark. But, be assured, every mark means something.

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