Basler Botenbüchse

Basle messenger's box

Possibly Hans Meyer I, known as Stempfer, Basle, 1553
Silver, parcel gilt, engraved
Basle crosier of black cement
height 9.4 cm, depth 3.8 cm, length with chain and rosette 26 cm
Inv. 1870.891.

2688px x 5330px
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A small stone figure in the inner court of the Basle town hall shows us what a C16 Basle runner or messenger looked like. He wore a doublet over his shirt and tight fitting leggings, with a bag for letters on his hip and on the left side of his chest a small messenger's box displaying the Basle coat of arms. A runner's most important external emblem was the messenger's box or chest badge with the arms of the local lord. These boxes should not be understood as containers - they are too small; rather, they were symbols legitimating the messengers and making them recognisable. Initially the badges and boxes were made of wood or leather; it was only with political emancipation, the extension of the administration and the greater need for show that these symbols came to be made in precious metals. Silver or silver gilt badges conferred distinction not only on the sender, but also on the recipient. Thus in 1499 the Swiss Confederacy complained that the Basle runners had delivered letters wearing wooden messengers' boxes rather than silver ones; the Basle council replied that up till then only wooden boxes had been in use.

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