Branding tool for marking deserters, London, England 1810-1850
Branding tools stamped the letter ‘D’ on the skin of army or navy deserters. The adjustable points, which still bear ink traces of ink, were pushed through the skin by a sprung-powered mechanism. This unpleasant device was made by Savigny & Co, better known as a major London maker of surgical instruments in the 1700s and early 1800s. Branding as a form of punishment and a mark of ownership exists throughout history. The Greeks and Romans branded slaves and runaways by stamping the skin with hot irons. In England during the 1500s, Edward VI decreed gypsies and vagabonds could be stamped with a ‘V’ on the chest. Branding was abolished in 1829 with the exception of army deserters. After this time, the mark was tattooed on the body. The practice was totally abandoned in 1879.
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Glossary: branding iron
Iron rods which terminate in a flat surface on which is a device or letter set in relief; used after heating to mark livestock, tools, or manufactured goods with indelible evidence of ownership.