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Characteristic features of the Amber Manufacturers from Gdańsk

23 March 2020

Amber manufacturers from Gdańsk are a special type of manufacturers who specialize in the processing amber and the production of various products from that precious stone. This profession was created in 1477. It functioned until the XVII/XIX century.

Some history

Along the southern shore of the Baltic Sea (especially next to the Sambia Peninsula and the coastal region of the Gulf of Gdańsk) huge sources of amber are located. Amber in this area was gained and processed by people already in the Middle Stone Age (Mesolithic). In ancient Rome time, the raw material was exported from the Baltic to southern Europe, so-called amber road (more about the Amber Route). Additionally, many various ornaments were created from amber until the creation of the Teutonic state in Prussia.

From 1264, the Teutonic Knights gradually limited the freedom of amber explanation and amber manufacturing, then introduced a total ban on people owning this noble raw material. What’s more, they monopolized its acquisition (creating an amber buying network), as well as trade-in it. They collected the entire raw material collection in Königsberg and sold it to various European craftsmen there. In particular from Lübeck and Bruges (this influenced the specialization of these centers in the amber industry). The main center of the amber trade was in Königsberg, which became the capital of the amber trade. Only the Teutonic Order benefited from the trade of amber.

The situation changed after the Teutonic Order lost Gdańsk Pomerania as a result of losing the Thirteen Years’ War and signing the arrangements of the Toruń peace of 1466. Those events led to the development of amber trade, manufacture, and exploitation. In 1477 a group of craftsmen specializing in amber began to form. Surprisingly, this group was such a number that on March 31, 1477, they founded their guild. The conclusion of contracts (in 1480 and/or in 1496) resulted in long-term mutual negotiations of the guild, the king of Poland and the Gdańsk city council, and the grandmaster of the Teutonic Order. Due to all these actions, a huge number of Sambian amber was bought by the Gdańsk guild. From 1699, further contracts were regularly concluded for the purchase of large numbers of Sambian amber (they were signed until 1705). The Vistula Spit was another available source of amber deposits. The guild of Gdańsk amber craftsmen obtained a monopoly from the Gdańsk authorities for amber purchases from these sources. This took place in 1571.

The second half of the 17th century is considered the peak of the flourishing of the Gdańsk amber guild. The guild had 50 masters and lasted until 1725. In 1726 was critical for the guild. The crisis in amber industry was cause by growing problems with gaining raw amber material and also the lost of interest by amber buyers in Europe (in the XVIII century). This happened due to the development of the rococo style in the art. The crisis led to the imminent decline of the amber masters in Gdańsk. The guild of the Gdańsk Amber Manufactures was canceled in the XVIII/XIX century. After many years a special organization – International Amber Association was established. Their goal is to regain interest of potential buyers and regain amber popularity.