Monday, September 24, 2012
Hex Signs have been the subject of a lot of misinformation, myth, and confusion. They're the colorful round Pennsylvania Dutch decorations we all recognize, but most people know little about them. The artwork is German or "Deutsch" in origin, involving symbols of nature, colorful birds such as the Distlefink, and German words such as "Wilkommmen."
Most information available about Hex Signs is not historical; it's little more than speculation, based on legends and folklore instead of fact. The truth is, the first Hex Sign was The Barn Star. In the early 1900's in the southeastern area of Pennsylvania, the first and only property insurance company selected a logo for itself: The Barn Star.
The company painted their logo on all of the barns they insured. They did this for business reasons. It easily identified their customers for them and served as free advertising.
Since the insurance company had to pay for loss, they'd often let local fire departments know that it was imperative that they extinguish any fire in a barn displaying a Barn Star as quickly as possible. In return, they took good care of the firefighters that saved them money by saving the barn.
Some symbols were used to relay an obvious message. For example, a Hex Sign that says "Wilkum" means "Welcome." There's no big mystery there. A sign with a cow or horse head, means there are cows or horses or livestock in that barn. This might be akin to hanging a "Please Rescue my Pomeranian In Case of Fire" yellow diamond sign we might hang in our window today.
The first reason for the misinformation about Hex Signs is speculation based on the idea that no one would go through all the trouble of painting a perfect symbol like these Hex Signs for merely aesthetic purposes. They thought, surely there must be another reason, something mysterious and compelling. This is the big reason for all the fancy legends and tall tales.
Yes, believe it or not, people spent time doing things right back then. They put effort, time and energy into their handiwork, in everything they made from quilts to hand-crafted furniture, to painted decor.
The German people were especially proud of their families and their accomplishments. Traveling across an ocean to settle a farm in a far away land took courage and hard work. Of course they were proud of that, who wouldn't be. And of course they were proud enough and patient enough to demonstrate great care with all their work.
There is no such thing as a wrong Hex Sign to give to someone or display on your home. But sometimes there's a most appropriate one, that's all. You might give one with Oak leaves to a medical practice, or to someone who has suffered an ailment. You might give birds facing each other with a heart to newlyweds. But wishing anyone "good health" or "love" is always a good thing.
Nutting was not from Pennsylvania and was not German.
Before that, the people who created and used these decorations simply called them "schtanne and blumme," or, stars and flowers.
We have several examples of reproduction Hex Signs for sale in various Treasure Map Locations right now at Scranberry Coop. They make nice housewarming gifts. There's something for everyone at Scranberry Coop.