A new book explores medieval merchant marks

Logo Rewind shows the links between trademarks drawn up hundreds of years ago and modern logo designs

Logo Rewind, a new book by designer, researcher, and educator Darren Leader, brings together over 200 trademarks from medieval-era Norwich in England and studies their impact on modern logo design.

“The rediscovery of Norwich merchant marks from the 13th to the 17th century is a graphic gem and an important piece of the puzzle in the early history of the development of the modern logo,” writes Jens Müller in the book’s foreword.

Photo: Andi Sapey
Photo: Andi Sapey

Beginning with the history of modern graphic design, Logo Rewind looks at the often overlooked impact of these trademarks, taking readers on a journey through medieval-era Norwich and exploring their use as symbols of trade and business.

Another of the book’s contributors (and CEO of the Design Council), Minnie Moll, explains how these symbols needed to separate their creators from the competition, as well as appeal to a largely illiterate population for whom the use of wordmarks would be ineffective.

She writes: “The city’s artisans – woollen and tapestry weavers, drapers, tanners, saddlers, cutlers, goldsmiths, grocers, bakers, brewers, printers and bookbinders – attached their own logo devices to their products in order to promote customer recognition.”

Looking through the host of trademarks featured in the book, it is immediately obvious how strikingly contemporary many of them are, bearing the angular lines and geometric shapes that we so often see used in modern logos.

For clarity, Leader has recreated each one digitally, making them accessible through providing the merchant’s name, occupation, location, and year of identification. As a result, readers are able to understand the context for each mark, and can witness the evolution of these designs as time passes.

There are also accompanying essays by Leader and other experts in the field that offer further insight into how these marks were made, the purposes they served, and the crucial – yet often overlooked – impact they had on logo design.

The book finishes by paying tribute to the work of antiquarian John Kirkpatrick, born in 1687, who in the 1700s created one of the most comprehensive surveys of these trademarks, laying the foundations for later studies and, ultimately, this publication.

“In many respects, then, Kirkpatrick’s slips of paper – open-ended, fragmentary, subject to no one order – feel to be an invitation to future generations to interpret and make meaningful,” write Dr Tom Roebuck and Dr Sophie Butler of the University of East Anglia. “Perhaps no-one has done that with greater ambition than Darren Leader in the present book, where Kirkpatrick’s combination of documentary research, visual artistry, and fascination for merchants’ culture, is reimagined and brought back to life.”

Logo Rewind: Trademarks of Medieval Norwich by Darren Leader is published by UEA Publishing Project; ueapublishingproject.com