Art. III. Marking of Pieces, by J. Gottfred.
Many of our members use reproduction pieces to carry their gear (and to hide ice chests &c.). Adding markings to your reproduction pieces really adds to the overall impression. In this article I will present what scant information we have been able to dig up to help you mark your pieces as authentically as possible.
Pieces were marked by the various trading companies to keep track of the materials moving throughout the system. In general, the marks would state who owned the piece, where it was going (usually by code), perhaps an indication of what the piece contained, a bill of lading number, perhaps the weight, and in many cases the year in which the goods were packed.
Naturally, this information was usually encoded on the piece, and the codes varied between companies.
North West Company Markings
The North West Company indicated their ownership of pieces by marking the piece with a slightly stylized ‘NW’ or ‘NWC’ (see below). The letters themselves may be block or italic, in script or simple strokes depending upon the clerk who marked them.
Below the company marking would be a letter code indicating the destination of the piece. The codes changed regularly as posts opened and closed. (Even the same post might have a different code letter a few years later.) The table below illustrates how quickly the posts and codes changed in just three years. The general rule seems to be that the posts were labeled alphabetically starting with the post farthest inland and working downstream to Lake Superior.
In fur trade journals, certain posts were referred to by short abbreviations. These abbreviations might have been used on pieces.
Sometimes the piece was marked to show its contents. This was especially true for casks containing different liquids. These marks would be underneath the destination code .
Below the content code (if any) would be the number of the piece, prefixed by the symbol '#' or ‘No.’
Finally, many pieces were marked with the year that they were packed, e.g. 1798 or just 98.
Bale Markings — These reproduction fur bales at Old Fort William show typical North West Company markings. These bales are marked with a piece number, the NW company symbol, the year that the bale was packed (1815), and the weight of the pack in pounds. (Photo by R. Chappel)
Bale Markings — These reproduction fur bales at Grand Portage also show typical North West Company markings. These bales are marked with a piece number, the NW company symbol, the year that the bale was packed (1797), and the weight of the pack in pounds. The similarity of the markings on the reproductions both at Grand Portage and at nearby Old Fort William should not be taken as an indication that this was the only way to mark pieces.
Cask Markings — This reproduction cask at Old Fort William show typical North West Company markings. Care must be taken in looking at markings at Old Fort William, as goods going to Fort William from Montreal by ship were packaged and marked differently than those moving inland. The primary reason for this was that the typical packaging and quantity of goods for regular commerce was far to large and heavy for transportation by canoe.
Cask Markings — This reproduction cask at Old Fort William shows North West Company markings for liquor. Again, barrels coming from Montreal were all marked on their heads as large numbers of them would be packed on their sides in the ships hold. Smaller casks made up for transport to the interior seem to have been marked in the most convenient location, whether on the side or head.
Cask Markings — North West Company markings on a reproduction cask at Buckingham House Fort George Provincial Historic Site. Note the destination code for Fort George.
Gun Case Markings — This reproduction gun case at Buckingham House Fort George Provincial Historic site shows North West Company markings. Note the destination code for Fort George.
Marks of the Hudson's Bay Company
The Hudson's Bay Company used the company marking 'HB' to designate its pieces. It also numbered all pieces. The only destination code that we were able to find was a styled 'YF' used for York Factory:
Research done by the Provincial Museum of Alberta also turned up two contents codes, a simple 'A' and 'B' which seemed to serve only to identify a collection of material marked for one specific purpose or post. One curious marking did turn up in a 1796 letter from Hudson's Bay House in London to the London tobacco merchants of Lucana & Crawford to provide 20-400 pound rolls of Brazil tobacco and to ship it with the following mark:
These rolls of tobacco were shipped from Lisbon to London England for transport to Hudson's Bay. It is doubtful that these marks would have remained on the tobacco beyond that shore. (One other example of a similar mark appears in the Summer 1968 issue of The Beaver magazine. It shows the same general mark except that the circle is missing, the stem of the 4 is longer and is crossed by a small letter 'c'. This would seem to fit the description of a 4 hundredweight (4 cwt.) roll for HB house.
Marks of other Companies 
A Note on Style
When working up marks for your reproduction pieces, keep in mind that it seems to have been the style of the day do make abbreviations by contracting the letters together. David Thompson's journals show many examples of this technique. The two examples below stand for 'Apparent Altitude' and 'True Altitude':
The HBC's abbreviation for York Factory is another clear example of this stylistic technique.
The North West Company code for Peace River in 1798 was AE, and was abbreviated:
A Note on Packaging
Fur bales were wrapped in 'Russia Sheeting' which is a light twill woven cotton canvas. The bales were tied with rawhide cords (babiche).
The largest casks sent inland were firkins (9 Imperial gallons). Pins (4 1/2 Imp. Gal.) were common, as well as other smaller sizes.
Wooden crates were nailed together using wrought nails (or cut nails with wrought heads after 1810). Stamped nails did not appear until the 1820' or 30's. Rose head nails were the most common .
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> From data supplied by Provincial Museum of Alberta referencing National Archives of Canada MG19 B1 Vol. 1 p 18f.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Henry I:133
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> From data provided by the Provincial Museum of Alberta.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> From data supplied by Provincial Museum of Alberta referencing Quaife  pp. 91, 146, 156, 162 & 201.
<![if !supportFootnotes]> <![endif]> Dempsey, 124-137
Dempsey, Hugh A. 'A History of Rocky Mountain House,' in Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History, no. 6, pp 8-53. National Historic Sites Service, National and Historic Sites Branch, Dept. of Indian Affairs and Northern Development : Ottawa, 1973.
Henry, Alexander (the Younger). The Journal of Alexander Henry The Younger 1799-1814. Barry Gough, ed. The Champlain Society/University of Toronto Press : Toronto, 1988. ISBN 0-9693425-0-0.
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