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Ahmad Tabari





Joined: 15 Jun 2008

Posts: 148

PostPosted: Fri 16 Dec, 2011 11:41 pm    Post subject: Mail manufacture: Individual work or workshop production?         Reply with quote

Ever since I started learning about mail armour and the labour intensive nature of its manufacture, I assumed that it was produced in work teams rather than by skilled individuals alone. However after viewing several 15th century illustrations of mail making, I am beginning to have doubts about this assumption. All these (mostly German) illustrations show a mail shirt being made by a single individual, with no evidence of the presence of a work team. While this seems strange and rather inefficient, I suppose the idea of labour being divided into small specialized tasks is more a reflection of modern Taylorist industrialism rather than the realities of medieval arms manufacture.

Basically what I would like to know is whether there is any evidence of post-Roman mail manufacture being conducted in workshops by large teams. Obviously a mail maker would never conduct all the steps required to produce a mail coat by himself. There is no doubt in my mind that there were seperate wire makers and maybe even ring punchers. But once all the needed supplies were available, was each mail coat manufactured by a single individual (as the illustrations imply), or is it more likely that the making of each part of a mail coat was divided among teams and was then assembled by a skilled artisan?
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Dan Howard




Location: Maitland, NSW, Australia
Joined: 08 Dec 2004

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PostPosted: Sat 17 Dec, 2011 1:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mail making in Europe was highly specialised and each stage was done by different workshops with only a handful of workers in each. There were fairly strict guild regulations limiting the number of workers in a single workshop. The smelters would sell iron to wire drawers and plateners. The wire drawers would make wire and sell it to link makers. The plateners would make plate and sell it to other link makers. Two types of links were made - round wire ones and flat ones punched from plate. Other workshops made the rivets. Alll these were sold to mail makers who would weave the links into mail "fabric". The sheets of mail were sold to armourers who tailored it into armour. These armours were sent to other craftsmen for liners and decoration.
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Robert Brandt




Location: Virginia
Joined: 11 May 2010

Posts: 34

PostPosted: Sat 17 Dec, 2011 5:40 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Dan Howard wrote:
Mail making in Europe was highly specialised and each stage was done by different workshops with only a handful of workers in each. There were fairly strict guild regulations limiting the number of workers in a single workshop. The smelters would sell iron to wire drawers and plateners. The wire drawers would make wire and sell it to link makers. The plateners would make plate and sell it to other link makers. Two types of links were made - round wire ones and flat ones punched from plate. Other workshops made the rivets. Alll these were sold to mail makers who would weave the links into mail "fabric". The sheets of mail were sold to armourers who tailored it into armour. These armours were sent to other craftsmen for liners and decoration.

Conceding up front that you are probably the foremost expert on mail at this site, it would be valuable to me to have some sense of how you deduced all that. I have no reason to doubt your description, but the OP stated that he sees contrary evidence in period illustrations. An illustration of a man making mail seems very limited evidence of the realities of the process to me, but its more support than cited in your response. Are your conclusions about the process based on texts? Metal analysis of components? Where are these guild regulations enumerated? I understand that you have probably answered these questions many times before, so a link to a previous thread would be great.

Thanks.

History was certainly far more complex, varied, and intriguing than the blanket of generalities that we so often lay over our handful of surviving data points.
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Ahmad Tabari





Joined: 15 Jun 2008

Posts: 148

PostPosted: Sat 17 Dec, 2011 8:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks Dan, that definitely makes a lot of sense. If I remember correctly, the system of seperate link makers and mail makers was prevalent in Milan and in the other major cities of northern Italy. Is there any evidence of it being practised elsewhere in Europe?
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Gregory J. Liebau




Location: Dinuba, CA
Joined: 27 Nov 2004

Posts: 669

PostPosted: Sat 17 Dec, 2011 12:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here's a quote from the Italian author Galvano Fiamma's (d. 1340) Chronichon Extravagans discussing the armorers of Milan. It's cited in Oakeshott's A Knight and His Armor, p. 26.

"And there are a hundred hauberk makers alone, not to mention the innumerable workmen under them who make rings for mail with marvelous skill..."

Clearly, there is a distinction being made between ring makers and hauberk makers. Wire production is not mentioned.

In 1568 Hans Sachs wrote a poem entitled All the Trades on the Earth (currently published by Dover as The Book of Trades), in which he described many professions. Two on the list are wire-drawers and mail-makers, quite separate from one another.

In illustration, it is probably proper to consider the subjects of depictions showing men making mail as being masters of the craft. Masters would probably work alone on valuable commissions for the most discerning patrons in the business, and were craftsmen of respectable means. The age of the men depicted is the biggest giveaway for who they are supposed to represent - the elder, experienced men of their trade. Journeymen could not expect to become masters until they were into their 30s under normal circumstances, and only those men who had been plying a trade for a long time, with great numbers of journeymen and apprentices working under them over the years, would be worthy of praise.

Artisans were not the most appreciated lot in the world, after all. Cheers!

-Gregory



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Ahmad Tabari





Joined: 15 Jun 2008

Posts: 148

PostPosted: Sat 17 Dec, 2011 5:00 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gregory J. Liebau wrote:
Here's a quote from the Italian author Galvano Fiamma's (d. 1340) Chronichon Extravagans discussing the armorers of Milan. It's cited in Oakeshott's A Knight and His Armor, p. 26.

"And there are a hundred hauberk makers alone, not to mention the innumerable workmen under them who make rings for mail with marvelous skill..."

Clearly, there is a distinction being made between ring makers and hauberk makers. Wire production is not mentioned.

Greogory, thanks a lot for all this useful info. So it seems that mail makers generally did not produce the materials but recieved open and punched rings from link makers. I suppose it makes sense for the illustrations to focus on the chief mail makers who would assemble the shirts.
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Mark Shier
Industry Professional




Joined: 27 Mar 2005

Posts: 83

PostPosted: Sat 17 Dec, 2011 5:49 pm    Post subject: mail         Reply with quote

The pictures shown above are from the Mendel Hausbuch, which is a collection of "portraits" of retired craftsmen. Each one was painted on the death of the retiree, and shows the man and his tools, not his shop, journeymen and apprentices. http://www.nuernberger-hausbuecher.de/index.php?do=page&mo=8
Gaukler Medieval Wares
http://www.medievalwares.com
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Dan Howard




Location: Maitland, NSW, Australia
Joined: 08 Dec 2004

Spotlight topics: 2
Posts: 3,221

PostPosted: Mon 19 Dec, 2011 12:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Robert Brandt wrote:

Conceding up front that you are probably the foremost expert on mail at this site, it would be valuable to me to have some sense of how you deduced all that. I have no reason to doubt your description, but the OP stated that he sees contrary evidence in period illustrations. An illustration of a man making mail seems very limited evidence of the realities of the process to me, but its more support than cited in your response. Are your conclusions about the process based on texts? Metal analysis of components? Where are these guild regulations enumerated? I understand that you have probably answered these questions many times before, so a link to a previous thread would be great.

My post was a summary of many discussions that I've had with people who have studied the subject of guilds and armour manufacture in a lot more detail than I have. I've gone into it a little since then and haven't found anything to contradict what I was told. I have no sources to hand apart from little snippets such as the examples that Greg posted above. Some stages in the process I'm not certain about such as whether the armourer used his own apprentices to make the mail "fabric" or whether it was made in a completely different workshop. And who exactly made the rivets.
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Len Parker





Joined: 15 Apr 2011

Posts: 302

PostPosted: Mon 19 Dec, 2011 10:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just read that Thietmar of Merseburg heard that there were 24,000 byrnies in London in 1016.
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