Europe’s Guild Signs

By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, European Destination Specialist  & River Cruise Expert

We love visiting the old towns of Europe.  Many have preserved the old parts of their cities to include the guild signs hanging over the narrow streets.  These signs are usually made of wrought-iron and harken back to a time when many could not read but could recognize the symbols of a business.  While the exact origin of these signs is unknown, many think they originated in the Alps region of Germany.  There is actually a German word of these emblems zunftzeichen which implies these wonderful signs represent the pride and tradition of skilled craftsmen who provided quality goods to their town or village.  These wrought-iron signs were made by specialized blacksmiths, who along with helping advertise the business represented by the sign, also benefited by their artful signs and became sought after by local merchants. 

The wrought-iron signs were commissioned by local tradesmen who were members of a particular guild, such as bakers, shoemakers or tailors.  Guilds are associations of artisans or merchants who control the practice of their craft.  In medieval cities, craftsmen tended to form associations based on their individual trade or skill.  In the Middle Ages, all craftsmen were members of guilds.  The guild’s senior craftsmen controlled the working hours and conditions of work of their members.  They also made sure work was of proper quality by setting standards and using apprenticeships to teach younger workers the skills and techniques they would need to succeed in their chosen trade.  So, let’s see some of these wonderful signs through our photos.

For reasons unknown to me, there is a higher density of these signs in German-speaking countries but the signs were spread to other countries, especially near the German borders and by the Hellenistic League.  The Hellenistic League was a trade organization of guild merchants founded in Germany and they brought their influence to towns like Tallinn, Estonia, where there are excellent examples of these signs.  Typically, these signs extend four of five feet out from the building to which they are attached.  Here are some of our favorites in Tallinn

Here are some of our favorites from Germany :

Rudesheim 1

Rudesheim, Germany

Heidelberg 1

Heidelberg, Germany


Mittenberg, Germany

These signs evolved and continue until today.  We found this sign in Basel, Switzerland.


Here is one from Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic

Cesky Krumlov

The craftsmanship of these signs is special—a true art form!  This is just one more example why we like Europe so much—the old ways and traditions remain through their efforts for historical preservation.  For me, it is refreshing to see advertising that is artful, beautiful and meaningful.  We hope this will inspire you to consider a Europe Vacation for your next vacation and let our expertise help you find the right one for you.  Please give Hank a call at 713-397-0188 or email me at so we can help you:

Savor life . . . make memories . . . Visit Dream Destinations!  Your journey begins here!


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