A merchants’ mark was a distinctive symbol used by a merchant or trader for a variety of purposes, including to mark his goods and property, as a signature on documents and even on his personal seal.
Such marks were also used by non-merchants, and, for those below the level of the nobility, served as identification in a similar way to a coat of arms.
It is likely that some symbols that look like merchants’ marks relate rather to a religious or trade guild rather than a particular individual. This may be the case when the same mark is found many times in a particular church, or is seen in several churches in an area, and in some cases is differentiated by initials. They may also be seen associated with a side altar or guild chapel.
Merchants’ marks can be mistaken for masons’ marks although the former tend to be larger and more complex, may incorporate symbols and letters and are more likely to contain curved elements. They can also appear less professionally executed than a mason’s mark.
Many merchants marks incorporate what looks like a number 4 (sometimes reversed), which may have developed from a cross symbol, and there are other common elements.