1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Banker-Marks

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BANKER-MARKS, or Masons’ Marks. The “banker” is the stone bed or bench upon which a mason works, hence the term (so well known to the trade) of banker-marks, which, as Mr Whitley has pointed out, is more appropriate than that of masons’ marks, since the setters, who are usually selected from amongst the best workmen, make no marks upon the stone (Leamington Spa Courier, 11th of August 1888). These must not be confused with other marks sometimes cut on stones as directions to the setters, and so used and employed to the present time. Banker-marks are met with throughout the civilized world, and in fact are to be found on all old buildings of consequence, ecclesiastical or otherwise. Professor T. Hayter Lewis well observed, “Go where you will, in England, France, Sicily, Palestine, you will find all through the buildings of the 12th century the same carefully worked masonry, the same masons’ tool-marks, the same way of making them.” Such masons’ marks are to be traced graved on all the chief stones of what is known as Norman work. Norman tooling, so far as Hayter Lewis could discover, came from the north and west of Europe. Since then we get marks made with a “toothed chisel,” but however or wherever chiselled the intention was the same. The system followed provided an infallible means of connecting the individual craftsman with his work, an evidence of identity that could not be gainsaid.

Naturally, because of their simplicity, certain designs were followed much more frequently than others, while occasionally some of a very elaborate character are to be detected. Undoubtedly not a few were suggestive of the initials of the names of the masons, and others were reminiscent of certain animals, objects, &c., but no proof has yet been offered of their being alphabetical in design, or arranged so as to distinguish the members of different lodges or companies; the journeymen selected any design they cared to adopt.

Singular to state, marks were chosen by gentlemen and others who joined the operative masonic lodges of the 16th and later centuries, and they were as carefully registered in the mark-books as those selected by operatives for trade purposes. The same marks are to be seen in the registers used by fathers and sons, and not always with a slight difference, as some have stated, to secure identification. What should be noted also is that other trades used precisely similar marks and for a like object, so that the idea of their having a mystical meaning, or being utilized for any other object but the one named, seems groundless.

The late George Godwin, F.R.S., F.S.A., &c., drew attention to the subject of “masons’ marks in various countries” in a communication to the Society of Antiquaries in 1841, and also at a little later period (vide Archaeologia, vol. xxx. p. 113). To him is the credit due of first drawing attention to “these signs” in England. It is noteworthy how little such marks are noticed, even in buildings which are visited by archaeologists quite frequently, until a few are pointed out, and then they meet the eye to an astonishing number. In the Sessional Papers, 1868–1869, of the Royal Institute of British Architects, No. 9, may be found numerous samples of the marks from various parts of Europe in illustration of the paper by Godwin.

No better plan has been followed in modern times to connect the work done with the worker in stone, and it is probable that a second mark, observable on some blocks, may serve to indicate the overseer. There are even three or more sometimes.

The same system was adopted at the building of Truro cathedral, only the marks were inserted on the bed of each stone instead of at the side as usual, the result being that they ceased to be seen after being placed in situ. Mr Hughan obtained copies of these marks from Mr James Bubb, the first clerk of the works, and from his successor, Mr Robert Swain, and had them published in the Freemason, 13th of November 1886. He remarked at the same time that “many of these designs will be familiar to students of ancient ecclesiastical and other buildings at home and abroad.” Some are interesting specimens.

A Historical Treatise on Early Builders’ Marks (Philadelphia, U.S.A., 1885) by Mr G. F. Fort, and Masons’ Marks from Buildings in the Counties of Lancaster and Chester, with Notes on the General History of Masons’ Marks (Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol. vii. N.S.), by W. Harry Rylands, F.S.A., may be consulted with advantage. The latter declares that “the Runic theory is as unlikely and as untenable as that which places the origin of these marks in the absurd alphabets given by Cornelius Agrippa, who died early in the 16th century.” Victor Didron copied some 4000 during a tour in France in 1836 and pointed out their value (Ann. Arch., 1845).  (W. J. H.*)