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The presented exhibit belonged to the Guild of Furriers, which has a centuries-old tradition in Myślenice, dating back to the Middle Ages. The guild chest was a richly decorated chest, whose decoration displayed elements usually associated with a given craft and which was used for storing valuable utensils, such as ceremonial cups, documents, and seals.

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The presented exhibit belonged to the Guild of Furriers, which has a centuries-old tradition in Myślenice, dating back to the Middle Ages. The guild chest was a richly decorated chest, whose decoration displayed elements usually associated with a given craft and which was used for storing valuable utensils, such as ceremonial cups, documents, and seals.
The chest is cuboid in shape; covered with a lid, supported on four legs in the shape of carved lions. The lid forms the covering panel, decorated with stepped slats. The lower edge has slats supported on the corners on carved lions. The sides and lid are decorated with colourful inlay. Hanging tiger skins and a man working at a table appear on the long side. The other sides and the lid are decorated with fruits, flowers, and a deer. On the lid, there are two tulips and—important for the identification of the exhibit—an inlaid date: "1775". The shorter sides have forged iron handles; the back wall is intersected by the lid hinges. The bottom of the box holds caches.


Elaborated by Bożena Kobiałka (Museum of Independence in Myślenice), editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums, © all rights reserved

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The history of furriery in Myślenice

Furriery in Myślenice, despite this region not being as rich in natural resources as Podhale, traces its history back to the Middle Ages. Over the centuries, the number of furriers in the town and the volume of their handicraft production were subject to fluctuations arising from many factors, for example, from natural disasters destroying the city or excessively detailed and restrictive statutes.

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Furriery in Myślenice, despite this region not being as rich in natural resources as Podhale, traces its history back to the Middle Ages. Over the centuries, the number of furriers in the town and the volume of their handicraft production were subject to fluctuations arising from many factors, for example, from natural disasters destroying the city or excessively detailed and restrictive statutes. Over the years 1882–1905 in the guild registers, six main principals (masters of the profession) were recorded, and over the years 1919–1939 there were as many as 30. The number of students (apprentices) registered in the same period reached 60.
Among the preserved privileges, there is not a single document referring to furriers. One can assume that this profession had become distinct and developed its activity in Myślenice by at least the 15th century. This is supported by the act of appraising Myślenice parish prepared by Jakub of Lubomierz in 1513, which does not include a furrier guild, but mentions tailors, and it is known that in the 16th century, the tailors of Myślenice formed a guild together with furriers. The fact that in the 16th century, there was already a collective guild of tailors and furriers in Myślenice, is clearly proved by the preserved document from 1638: a new statute of the guild of tailors and furriers, approved by Stanisław Koniecpolski. The year 1638, as the date confirming the existence of a guild of Myślenice’s furriers, is visible on their current guild banner. In the archives of the Museum of Independence in Myślenice, there is a copy of this statute. The joint guild of craftsmen of the clothing “industry”, that is tailors and furriers, did not live on friendly terms; in fact, they were frequently in conflict with each other. The consequence of these inter-guild disputes was the separation of furriers from tailors. In 1740, the council and county offices issued a separate statute for furriers, modelled after the privilege of furriers of the town of Kęty. The new privilege was confirmed in 1748 by King Augustus III.
Quite often, furriery was a family profession which was cultivated by successive generations of Myślenice’s craftsmen: Ambroży, Bała, Domanus, Janowski, Kutrzeba, Sroka, Syrka, Szeliga, Tula, Ulman, Zając.
A characteristic feature of Myślenice furriery in the interwar period was the dependence of the majority of craftsmen on Jewish entrepreneurs, who concentrated sheep skin trade in their hands. Furriers attempted to free themselves from the merchants in a variety of ways, including the establishment of the Association of Industrial Furriers and the Furriers-Dyers Cooperative. The years of German occupation hampered the activity of furrier craft workshops. They worked exclusively on the basis of individual orders. Part of their products went to forest guerrilla units. Many of the furriers were victims of the occupation, for example: Franciszek Syrek, Stanisław Syrek and Kazimierz Skóra.
In the post-war country, changes began with the new political system, which, after several years, led to the subordination of the craft to the interests of the socialised national economy and, in consequence, to the collapse of private craft workshops. In 1945, the District Union of Craft Guilds started operating in Myślenice. In 1951, the Guild of Various Crafts was created, to which all craftsmen managing workshops, including furriers, belonged. After the regulation issued by the Chairman of the State Economic Planning Commission regarding the allotment of fur skins, the state intensified its efforts to suppress private furriery workshops. The Myślenice militia and the Tax Office persecuted furriers suspected of the illegal continuation of their craft. In this situation, not seeing any chances for further craft activities in private workshops, most Myślenice furriers decided to work in state and collective establishments. The “Raba” Collective was founded in Myślenice, and gathered shoemakers and furriers, as did the Krakow branch of the “Białoskórnik” Collective. In the 1990s, these collectives were liquidated.
Currently, furriery in Myślenice is practised by only a few private workshops, whose owners continue the family tradition.


Elaborated by Bożena Kobiałka (Museum of Independence in Myślenice), © all rights reserved

See: Furriers’ guild chest in Myślenice

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Guild chests

Guild chests were particularly valuable — they were also called counters or mothers and were treated with high respect.
Particularly celebrated was the moment of raising the cover and opening the chest, which was always accompanied by an atmosphere of concentration and solemnity. Administrative and legal activities...

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Guild chests were particularly valuable — they were also called counters or mothers and were treated with high respect.
Particularly celebrated was the moment of raising the cover and opening the chest, which was always accompanied by an atmosphere of concentration and solemnity. Administrative and legal activities could be conducted only when the chest was opened.
The usual contents of such chests were privileges, books, stamps, all important documents as well as guild insignia. No wonder then that the chests were always carefully secured with special devices and locks (cryptological path).
Chests were often equipped with secret compartments; they had semi-chests in which writing accessories were kept. A vital element of guild equipment was stamps with which important documents were confirmed. The oldest ones, belonging to a tailors’ guild, had a symbol of scissors. Guild accessories also included obesłania (wooden or metal plates bearing the emblem of the guild, used to confirm guild documents) and statutes.

Elaborated by Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

See also:
Chest of the furierrs’ guild in Kęty
Chest of the millers and bakers guild in Kęty
Chest of the shoemakers’ guild in Kęty
Chest of the tailors’ guild and related guilds in Kęty
Cooper’s guid chest
Counter of the guild of red tanners, leather dressers and glove makers
Counter of the surgeons’ guild

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Guilds

The main aim of the existence of guilds was to ensure that the associated craftsmen would have exclusive rights to practice their craft in town (craftsmen who did not belong to guilds were called botchers). But the role of guilds was not limited to administrative functions...

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The main aim of the existence of guilds was to ensure that the associated craftsmen would have exclusive rights to practice their craft in town (craftsmen who did not belong to guilds were called botchers). But the role of guilds was not limited to administrative functions (representation before the town authorities, acquiring new qualifications, ensuring standards of workmanship, caring for equal chances of sale by limiting the production and sale), the organisations also fulfilled religious and culture-forming functions.
Did you know that guilds were the courts for the first instance, resolving all disputes among craftsmen. In case of brawls, gambling, disputes connected with debts, or work outside of guilds (botchers), guilds imposed fines, which were usually paid with candles or wax.
Guild organisations still function, for example, the Polish Association of Stage Actors, although, under somewhat different names today.
In the past, a craftsman membership was obligatory; today guild associations only encourage voluntary association because thanks to this “the plant gains prestige and a craftsman does not feel lonely in the trade“. This is particularly significant when certain professions are dying out.
The mechanisation of many professions that used to be made by hand in workshops has resulted in a marginalised role of guilds and also in the disappearance of many guild rituals and celebrations.
Guilds which work to this day (there are 479 registered guilds in the structures of the Polish Craft Association) fulfil a communicative function – they settle disputes that may arise between a client and a craftsman; its members sit on examination boards before which young apprentices of the craft take a master’s exam to receive the title of master or journeyman).
The activity of guilds was not limited only to administrative and professional matters. Guild meetings and also rituals interfered in the zone of guild brothers’ spirit. Every member of the association was obliged to participate in religious rituals and ceremonies (masses, Corpus Christi processions).

Participation in ceremonies was often an occasion to show other people the affluence and wealth of a given association (banners embroidered with a gold thread were exhibited).
After the death of a guild brother, a funeral service was celebrated in a particular solemn way.
Members of guilds also founded altars, in which they placed valuable jewellery, treating them as a kind of treasury protecting them from being robbed.
Did you know that guilds were equipped with instruments of punishment, also called good advice?

Elaborated by Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

See also:
Chest of the tailors’ guild and related guilds in Kęty
Cross of tailors’ guild in Kęty
Stamp of the drapers’ guild
Obesłanie” – metal plate bearing the emblem of the grand guild of Tarnów
Welcoming cup of Sword Bearers' Guild
Manuscipt Charter of shoemakers’ guild

Read more about guilt chests.

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Furriers' guild chest in Myślenice

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