For many centuries tradesmen learned their craft via apprenticeships. In Britain they were generally contracted outside the family to widen the skills taught and if a master died, the newly qualified journeyman might marry his master’s widow to continue the business and prevent the family becoming bankrupt. This meant it was rare for people in towns to marry someone close to their own age.

The apprenticeship was a legally binding contract which the parents paid for and which the master undertook to provide clothing food and lodgings. At the end of training the apprentice produced a masterpiece to convince the guild he was competent to practice. Yet masterpieces are rare. The only 2 I know of are in the V&A Museum.

This is a writing cabinet from Mainz, Germany c1730-1770

masterpiece cab fr

I love this: a silver clock c1665-70 It was made in the Hague by Breghtel, and kept in the master’s shop for many years to advertise his work, with the hourly chiming drawing attention to it. ¬†Apparently several copies were made. Apprentices were not paid so they could be used on intricate detail to save costs.

master clock

There is an incredibly ornate pillar in the Rosslyn chapel near Edinburgh which is called the apprentice pillar which was made as a masterpiece.


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