Copyright © Hans Högman 2021-08-06
Apprentices and Journeymen
When a person began a career as a craftsman it
was as an apprentice (lärling) with a master
craftsman (mästare). The terms for the training of
apprentices, for example the period of
apprenticeship, was regulated by the Guild
enactments and varied between the different
crafts. Only boys were accepted as apprentices and
they must not be born out of wedlock.
According to the 1720 Guild enactments the
apprentices had to be 14 years of age and the
apprenticeship was between 3 and 5 years long.
The apprentices lived as lodgers at the master's
home and they could be used for all sorts of
household work. They were also obliged to help the
journeymen (gesäll) with different kinds of tasks.
The apprentices received little or no payment for
the work they did. It also happened that the Master
charged the apprentices for the training he gave
them, a so-called "lärpenning".
After the training period the apprentices became
journeymen. It wasn't until the end of the guild
period that the apprentices had to do a qualifying
piece of work (gesällprov) to become journeymen.
The qualifying piece of work had to be a product
within his field of craftsmanship, like a piece of
furniture. The product was evaluated by different
masters and had to be approved in order for the
apprentice to be accepted as a journeyman. In
other words, the qualifying piece of work was like
an exam. The acceptance as a journeyman followed
a ritual initiation ceremony. A proof that the
apprentice was a journeyman was the journeyman
An early term for journeymen (gesäller) was
"svenner" in Swedish. The system with journeymen
was also a way for the masters to get hold of skilled
laborers. The journeymen were almost always
unmarried and were lodgers at the masters’
It was common that the journeymen went on a
journey around the country or abroad to get
training with different masters, the so-called
"gesällvandringar" (journeyman - journey). By
working with different masters the journeymen got
skilled within their profession in the best possible
At the end of the period of guilds it became more
common that the journeymen married and had
their own homes. However, when the lodging
fellowship among the journeymen began to break
up, the strong solidarity between the journeymen
The workdays of the journeymen were controlled
by many rules and regulations. If a journeyman was
to break any of those rules he could be affronted by
the other journeymen. It was
considered that the affronted
journeyman had lost his status
and other journeymen could then
refuse to work with him. The
journeymen could also affront the
master himself if they considered
him being offensive to a
The photo shows a journeyman,
1860s. Photo Hans Högman,
2017. Repslagarmuseet, Gamla
Masters or Master Craftsmen
A journeyman had to become a master craftsman
before he could be his own employer. In order to
become a master he had to pass the examination
for the master craftsman's diploma/certificate
(mästarprov). Master craftsman or just master was
the term used for a craftsman with the highest
possible craftsmanship. The masters had the right
to independently practice their profession and
thereby also employ apprentices and journeymen.
The master craftsman's diploma (mästarbrev) was a
craftsman's proof of being a master craftsman and
skilled within his profession. Only master craftsmen
approved by the guilds could practice craft
professions. As master craftsmen, they could in
their turn train journeymen.
The craft guild regulations governed the terms for
the master craftsmen and varied between the
different craft professions. The master had to proof
his professional skill via the examination for the
master craftsman's diploma. Also other terms could
apply, like a certain fortune and personal tools, etc.
These regulations were also used by the guilds to
limit the competition within a trade. The master
craftsman was normally married with his own
household. This was more or less a necessity in
order to employ apprentices and journeymen. In
order to practice his profession the master
craftsman also needed to be granted a franchise
(burskap) by the city. See "burskap" further down.
When the act for freedom of trade was taken in
1846 the demand for examination for the master
craftsman's diploma was abolished.
There was a possibility for master craftsmen to
practice their profession outside the system of
guilds according to the so-called "hallordningen"
(dry goods legislation) or as a free master
By "hallordningen" means an older enactment that
regulated the manufacturing of handicraft products
and large-scale (factory-scale) production that
existed outside the system of guilds. The first
"hallordning" in Sweden was issued in 1722.
A free master craftsman (frimästare) means a
craftsman that had the right to practice his
profession outside the system of guilds. There were
free master craftsmen as early as the 17th century.
Enactments for free master craftsmen were issued
in 1719 and 1724. However, they were subjected to
harsh opposition from the craftsmen within the
system of guilds and the number of free master
craftsmen weren't that great. No free master
craftsmen were allowed to be appointed after 1731.
The Master Craftsman's Maker’s Mark
The maker’s mark (mästarstämpeln) that the
master craftsman did put on all his products was a
guarantee for high quality. The cabinet craftsmen
had an obligation mark their goods with their
master craftsman's mark. For the production of
gold, silver and pewter articles it was enough, at
least in the beginning, to stamp the articles with the
craftsman's mark. It was also common that the
masters stamped the articles with their initials
instead of the craftsman's mark, sometimes with
the addition of the name of the town where the
craftsman worked. In the 18th century they also
used the initial of the first name plus the surname.
It was also common with stamps on copper and
brass articles even if the masters weren't obliged to
stamp these types of metals.
On furniture the masters most often marked the
items with their initials. The initials was often
handwritten or written on a piece of paper that was
glued to the piece of furniture. From the middle of
the 1700s they used a special kind of metal stamps
which was heated and the mark was burn marked
to the piece of furniture. Later they used a so-called
"kallstämpel" (cold stamp) where the mark was put
on to the furniture with the stamp and a hammer.
Beside the master stamps there was also a type of
stamps called corporate stamps (korporativa
stämplar). They were guild office stamps that were
used together with the master marks as a proof
that the guild has examined the approved of the
product in question. They were foremost used
within the furniture and joinery (carpentry) guilds.
This type of marks was, for example, used by the
Stockholm chair making guild from 1765 and by the
Stockholm joinery guild from 1768.
Quality marks on items made of precious
metals—platinum, gold, silver gold and silver are
The system of Craft Guilds
The craft guilds were different associations
(unions) for craftsmen within a specific craft
profession and regulated internal conditions. You
could say that they were different trade association
and trade unions all in one and had a great power.
The guild's power position increased in 1621.
A craftsman had to belong to a guild. All practice of
crafts/trade outside the system of guilds was
forbidden in 1621. The monopoly of the guilds only
applied to the cities, not the countryside. The guilds
functioned as cartels and were controlling prices,
manufacturing processes, quality and crude
material. The guilds also had monopoly of
appointing new master craftsmen.
The first evidence of guilds in Sweden is from 1356
when the tailors in Stockholm got monopoly of its
exercise of the profession. There are kept guild
regulations from the 15th century. In the beginning
there were only developed systems with guilds in
Stockholm. Later it spread to the major cities in
Sweden. It wasn't until the 18th century the guilds
became frequent in all Swedish towns.
Within certain guilds there were restrictions
regarding the number of journeymen a master
could have employed. A master shoemaker
(skomakarmästare) for example could only have
three journeymen and one apprentice unless not all
master shoemakers in the town already had at least
on journeyman. A goldsmith could have two
journeymen, a butcher one journeyman. The
journeymen had the right to serve the master they
The regulations in some guilds also determined the
amount of work the journeymen had to do at the
most. A shoemaker journeyman, for example,
couldn't bark more than one hide every six months
and a skin dress journeyman couldn't dress more
than 30 skins per year. These facts are from to the
guild regulations in use between 1400 and 1600.
The guilds were however regarded inefficient from
an economical point of view and a hindrance for a
natural freedom of trade. During the 18th century,
the guilds were increasingly submitted to criticism.
However, the system of guilds wasn't abolished
A complete freedom of trade was introduced in 1864.
So, from 1864 anyone could freely practice a craft
The system with guilds was already abolished in
France in 1791 and the rest of Europe followed
during the 19th century.
However, even after the abolition of craft guilds
in 1846 in Sweden, the master craftsmen
continued to train apprentices and journeymen.
There was of course, still a great need for
professional training of craftsmen. The journeyman
title disappeared however, when everyone had the
right to practice craft professions in 1864.
Craft associations continued even after 1864 to
issue journeyman certificates (gesällbrev). Also, the
journeys the journeymen (gesällvandring) did to
train with other master craftsmen continued but
decreased at the turn of the century 1900.
There is only one word for town or city in Swedish
and that is "stad". The definition of a "stad" in
former days was a larger built-up area with the
"right" to practice trade and craft professions. A
town charter (Stadsrättigheter) or urban character
(stadsprivilegier) could only be granted to a town by
Normally, a town back then was surrounded by a
town wall with a number of guarded gates. In order
to bring merchandise into a town, you had to pay a
customs duty (tullavgift). This customs duty was
introduced in 1622 and wasn't abolished until 1810.
The town customs duty was a fee that every one
who brought commodities to the city for selling had
to pay. In the towns there were a number of
customs stations at the town gates where you paid
the duty. In Stockholm the names of the customs
stations still exists as district names like Norrtull,
Roslagstull, Danvikstull, Skanstull och Hornstull (tull
The craftsmen could only practice their
professions in towns and cities (stad), not in the
countryside. In order to do so they needed
permission from the town, in other words, they had
to apply for a "burskap" (franchise).
The "burskap" was granted by the town's body of
borough administrators (stadens magistrat) via a so-
called burbrev (franchise certificate). By receiving
"burskap" you also were accepted as a burgher
(borgare) in that town with all the privileges that
brought. By burghers you mean the craftsmen and
tradesmen that lived and worked in towns. Only
burghers could become members of the town's
A subdivision of the Swedish towns into stapelstäder
and uppstäder was introduced in the 1610s but the
latter type of town's unique position was reduced
A stapelstad was a town with the right to do
trading and shipping with foreign countries and a
uppstad was a town that only had the right to do
domestic trading and shipping.
When the act of freedom of trade
(näringsfrihetsförordningen) was introduced in 1846
the burghers right of precedence to practice craft
professions and trade was restricted. When Sweden
got a new law for local administration
(kommunallagarna) in 1862 the burgher's special
privileges to the administration of towns were
abolished. Also, with the act of freedom of trade
in 1864 the need to obtain "burskap" in towns in
order to practice a craft profession or trade was
The burgher's unique position as a privileged group
thereby came to an end.
Craftsmen in the Countryside
Trade and craft professions weren't accepted in the
countryside, so craftsmen and tradesmen worked
in the towns. However, also farmers were occupied
with craft, not the least for household purposes but
also to a certain amount with trade in the
countryside (saluslöjd) - selling woodworks at
markets etc. In some areas this was quite
In the 1680s, a few craft profession were allowed to
practice their professions on the countryside in
some limited extent. This was foremost tailors,
smiths/blacksmiths and shoemakers.
They were referred to as "socken" craftsmen
(socken hantverkare - rural craftsmen) since they
were only allowed to work within a socken. A
"socken" was an area for local administration, after
1862 called "kommun".
It was the socken council (sockenstämman) that
appointed the craftsmen that could work as socken
craftsmen within the socken. Also the nobility were
allowed to employ craftsmen.
During the 18th century the different types of
craftsmen that could work in the countryside
increased. In the act of freedom of trade introduced
in 1846, all types of craftsmen were granted the
right to settle down and practice their profession in
The socken craftsmen weren't associated with crafts
guilds which were the case with craftsmen in towns
and there weren't either any demand for
qualifications like the journeymen certificate
(gesällbrev). The socken craftsmen were also called
The tailors and the shoemakers ambulated from
farm to farm, where the farmers themselves
supplied the material, often from their own
production of textiles, hide and leather. The
payment was first of all bed and board while the
craftsman did his professional job at the farm.
The smiths and blacksmiths on the other hand
were in greater need of larger tools worked in their
smithies. They kept their own supply of raw
material and this together with their greater
demand of tools and equipment and professional
skills meant that they were more like self-employed
craftsmen. Therefore they had a higher economical
and social status than the other socken craftsmen
(rural craftsmen). Thereby the socken
smiths/blacksmiths were more close to the guild
craftsmen in the towns.
Craftsmen's naming custom - Surnames
Source of References
Mästarna och deras gesäller, Stockholm 1400 -
1600, Dag Lindström
Lärling - gesäll - mästare, Lars Edgren, 1987.
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Swedish / English Dictionary
Master Craftsmen -
Swedish Craft Guilds