H. Reydon – De Huismerken, Uitgevers-Maatschappij A. Rutgers N.V, Naarden, (1940), 30 pp.
This is a sought after little booklet that explains the history, background and use of so called “housemarks”. we have here on the website several brooches for sale. This little booklet is for those that seek more information on the background of it’s symbolism a very usefull researchtool!
Under here is a short history i wrote on housemarks and what they are, the Reydon booklet was very usefull when writting this!
In the centre of this brooch is a so called “housemark”. These are not the same as a rune symbol, although they are often confused. Housemarks are used as a symbol of the “Sippe” (the family). While this practice was regaining popularity in the years of the Third Reich, it was actually a much older phenomenon. Centuries ago these marks were already used to show ownership. Althought the Third Reich only lasted a relatively short period from 1933-1945, the search for a common destiny and Germanic history, led to a renewed popularity of housemarks, not in the last place promoted by the SS that dwelled in pagan history and sought for a legitimised common German history. Often housemarks consist of an actual rune, but with one or more stripes added to make an own new symbol. Often these unknown symbols are called runes as well, but they are not, as in fact they are thus housemarks.
While some of these marks resemble runes (and some are of origin runes too), other marks consist of a combination of runes and/or sometimes with even a little extra stripe added to thus create a special mark for personal (family) use. Yet other marks are no runes at all, but are over time self invented/developed marks. This makes it not always easy to find out what mark we are dealing with, as the older or younger Futhark (the eldest Germanic runic alphabets) don’t contain these symbols. To the untrained eye many housemarks and runes probably look the same as well. This explains why most of the time items with housemarks on them are called rune-items, which of course they are not.
Very helpfull in understanding housemarks is a little booklet from Hermannus Reydon (which is for sale elsewhere on the website here), who was in the Netherlands a prominent NSB leader and an avid defender of farmers related folklore and germanic national character, on which he wrote quite a few booklets and articles in the years up untill august 1943 (his death). Very interesting is the one called “Huismerken” (Housemarks), a small booklet in which he explains the use and meaning of housemarks. Although most publications from this period need to be seen through the eyes of their time, i think it’s a quite interesting little booklet that explains the phenomenon well and can also be used to understand in current times why such items were important (again) in the period of the 1930’s and early 1940’s.
According to Reydon, housemarks could in the late 1930’s be found particularly in/or on churches, e.g on the stone that a sculptor used for building or decorating a church, or on the churchbenches, doors or other (decorative) woodwork. Without any doubt very similar examples were also found at the same time as remains of the past, in Germany and even in England and several other western European countries. Some marks were officialy added over time to certain (official) objects like walls, stones or woodwork, like wooden chests that date back in the Netherlands and Germany to the year 1600 (maybe even older). Others have been carved or added in later years by visitors of for example churches that carved their marks in benches or stone walls. Reydon also comes to the conclusion that the practice of using housemarks was something that had been in use throughout the whole Netherlands (the same goes probably for Germany as it was not an exclusive Dutch thing), but that had in the 1930’s largely disappeared over time. In the centuries before the 20th century housemarks were used on guildletters and products made by a guild, but also e.g on sculptures. Furthermore housemarks were used on (old) wooden chests, silverwork, stamps, and actually all kinds of wooden items on which it was needed that the owner of such an item had to make clear that his ownership over said item had to be displayed. This shows the importance of the marks in the past, as they were widespread accepted as replacement for a (family)name or person. All this is said as being a phenomenon for a time before the year 1800. Of course it was in these times (going back all the way to the middle ages) a replacement for a a signature, as many people could not write (or read). It was important here that in case of official by marks signed documents, that someone wrote next to the mark that it was placed voluntarily by the owner. It was also some kind of simpler farmers mark, as opposed to the (family)weapons of the nobility. Going back in time the marks are a typical germananic phenomenon, that spread all over Europe after the germanic peoples moved since the beginning of our time 2000 years ago. As such the housemarks were a typical germanic phenomenon. Special importance was given to housemarks in the “Sachsenspiegel” (the Saksonian lawbook from around 1225), in which housemarks were used and for which their use was particularly important for farmers and farm law. In other roman languages the word “housemark” was known as well pre-1940, in French it was e.g called “Marque”.
The meaning of the marks: many nations use marks, for example to mark livestock, or tools. These have a personal meaning (ownership). Quite confusing is that also marks exist(ed) to depict a certain group of people in a village or sometimes even to brand a farmhouse. Especially this last example should not be confused with housemarks! There is a profound distinction between personal or collective marks and the real housemarks, as we can observe in the Germanic law (see for example the Sachsenspiegel) and in the law of our ancestors. Short said, in the word “housemark” has “house” the same meaning as in “reigning royal family” or “The House of Orange (The Dutch Royal House)”. It is not a building, but a genus (or “Sibbe”). This is already apparent from the above usage, that by using a housemark as a private label is mentioned, that this is the “innate” brand, or the “hereditary” brand. One finds among old charters, which were sealed by a nobleman, similarly, that the seal is his “congenital” weapon. Iceland, which has not had a Knight nobility, but remained a country of free Germanic farmers, also mentions in it’s law a congenital brand/housemark.
In this area we have to look to understand how the housemark became a heriditary mark. The German writer Karl Gustav Homeyer (who is particularly known for his edition of the Sachsenspiegel (in 3 vols, 1827, 3rd ed., 1861, containing also some other important sources of Saxon or Low German law), and who also wrote and published in 1870 a book on “Die Haus- und Hofmarken”, in which he has given a history of the use of trade-marks among all the Teutonic nations of Europe, and which is full of important elucidations of the history of law and also contains valuable contributions to the history of art and civilization. Homeyer explains in his work how a housemark-pedigree on the island Hiddensee, that spans five generations of a sippe, is used and may change. The oldest son carries the unchanged mark of the father, the younger sons slightly change this mark by adding an extra little stripe. In one glance one can then see, what the mainstem of the sippe is, and which sidebranches there are. As such are housemarks thus a sign of the germanic sippe. Homeyer goes further to explain how not every member of the sippe has the right to carry a housemark. Only he, who is also a family man (householder), has the right, because he is the head of those who descend from him. He is the father of a new “house” of the sippe, his oldest son will carry on the unchanged mark of his father, as soon as he succeeds him as head of the house. This practice is related to a quirk of the law, which is essentially Germanic tribal law. The tribe is made up of sippen, groups of relatives, all of whom derive their descent from a common ancestor (father). This ancestor now plays a large role in the legal and religious life. He is and remains the head of the sippe and is represented in and through the Housemark. The patriarch is head of sippe, his farm, the family Homestead of the sibbe, is the inalienable property of the sippe and steered by the male relative, who is the closest relative to the ancestor in blood. The housemark of the sippe is as such also his mark. (Not wanting to go too much offtopic but we all know of the Erbhof and Erbhof signs and the Odal rune that represents sippe-property, i think this explains their use and origin somewhat too!). Of course there is a lot more to say about this matter, as it explains Saksonian law as well, but this is probably all food for another discussion and goes too much in other areas of discussion. For now it is hopefully clear what a housemark is and how it developed. Over time many sippe housemarks of free farmers were replaced by the quickly since the late middle ages in popularity rising heraldic shields. Often housemark and shields were combined, enabling as such the housemark to exist still today in certain heraldic shields too. Especially at the countryside, housemarks can still be found, even today, in the heraldic shields of farmers.
The above is perhaps quite heavy (historical) content for someone who is not familiar with the subject of the cultural backgrounds of runes and housemarks (and broochcollecting!). I tried to make it all not too difficult. There are a few very usefull tools online to consult for the collector who runs into collectibles with these symbols/characters on them. The easiest part is probably always to first check if a character is shown in the futhark, if it’s not in there it’s probably not a rune and maybe a housemark. The next step is then to check a book like Walter Blachetta’s “Das Buch der Deutschen Sinnzeichen” or any period booklets that deal with this matter. It is a fun subject to dig more into and once understood better it gives an insight in social history and e.g. genealogy.