Crafts and Trades

Basel’s craft guilds were founded by its ruling bishops in the 13th and 14th century in an attempt to offset the power of the nobility. The number of guilds was set at 15 – a maximum that was respected right up to the demise of the guilds in the 19th century. To practice his trade, every craftsman and every trader first had to join a guild. Most guilds embraced several different trades. Basel’s guilds were not just professional associations but an extremely important political force as well. For several centuries, the city’s Ruling Council was made up of 15 councillors and 15 guild masters (one councillor and one master for each guild); this was the period of guild rule known as the Zunftregiment.

Memories of the period of guild rule were still very vivid at the time Basel Historical Museum was founded in the late 19th century. Its “Crafts and Trades” section therefore reflects the traditional trades of past centuries. The exhibits include not just the tools of each trade – in some cases whole workshops – but finished products and semi-finished products as well; also exhibited here are various badges and signs, including shop signs and a large collection of inn signs, as well as one or two guildhall fixtures (crests, guild chests etc.) and some journeymen’s and master craftsmen’s certificates.

In recent years the museum has acquired several estates from a wide variety of craftsmen and small businesses including a comb-maker, chaser, coiffeur, confectioner, hatter, cabinetmaker, shoemaker, the elastic manufacturer Goldzack and a dyer. The impressive array of laboratory apparatus also exhibited here attests to the rise of Basel’s most important industry of the 20th century: the chemical industry.

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