Insignia of Brewers

by Mike Retzlaff

Many brewer emblems and symbols have existed over the years.  In addition to the classic tools of the brewer such as the malt scoop, mash fork, and beer tumbler, was the hexagram; a six pointed star or “brewing star”.  It is the oldest guild emblem of brewers.

Only wine tappers, brewers, and doctors had insignia probably because these trades were relevant to the health of citizens.  These “professionals” also faced more scrutiny and control by city governments.

The hexagram was a bierzeiger or beer indicator in a time when most people were illiterate.  The bierzeiger graphically indicated to the public where beer could be found.  Some establishments extended a broom over the door.  This signage was found throughout Europe and Britain.  Some old German texts refer to besenwirtschafts or broom taverns.  Many old depictions in Britain show the same broom symbol.

Here are some modern renditions of these symbols:

If you think that symbolism of this sort is archaic and of no use today, think again.

These are things we see every day and are part of our lives.  Each of these symbols is related.  The Caduceus and Asclepius symbolize the healing arts while Rx is from Latin for recipe and is a symbol for a pharmacy.

What about the Barber Pole?  In years gone by, Physicians did not perform surgery and in many areas, it was the local barber who was the town surgeon; afterall, they had the sharpest tools.  In addition, barbers performed bloodletting and tooth extraction.

The 3 ball symbol of the pawn shop is attributed to the Medici family in Florence, Italy who were pawn brokers and started what was later called “Lombardi Banking.”

Such graphic symbols are part of our daily lives.  Just imagine a time when virtually everyone was illiterate and such symbols were all you had to lead you to do your shopping.  Street names and house numbers were being introduced at the end of the 18th century.  In many cities, houses weren’t numbered but had a fish, bird, circle, star, etc. painted over the door.  Mail was picked up at the post office instead of home delivery.

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