The History And Meaning Of Monograms
Here’s what I did find. Almost everyone agrees, although without a lot of supporting data, that monograms were first seen on coins to mark the reign of Greek and Roman rulers. Almost everyone agrees, although again without much supporting data, that the next wave of monograms was caused by the rise of middle class artisans in Europe’s medieval era wanting to mark their work. Other things come randomly to mind. Clearly the family crests, heraldic symbols and tartans of European feudal lords were monograms of a sort, with symbols in place of letters, in an era where literacy was hardly universal.
Clearly monks illuminating manuscripts were the first in the West to use letters as decorative elements, in a time when formal art was found primarily in the Church.
It appears that, subsequently, the Victorians (1837-1901) went monogram crazy. Monograms were first used so as not to lose linens in the wash, but eventually showed up on decorative and personal items like lockets and silver. And ivory mirrors. It is not coincidental that Louis Vuitton first monogrammed, or logoed, the leather goods of his family firm in 1876. It is possible that Victorian class anxiety contributed to the proliferation of monograms. This is of course pure speculation on my part.
One might say that the monogram and its family symbolism cohorts have at times served to mark power, at times to mark skills, at times to mark ownership, at times to mark status, at times to signal family belonging, and occasionally, as an instance of the human urge to embellish and decorate. We like to make things look pretty. We like to make identities for ourselves. We like to signal who we are. However we got there.
Antique monograms from Elizabeth Anne Designs
Heraldry from Clan Lachlan
Illuminated manuscript from Bowdoin College
Antique Louis Vuitton trunk from Webshots by ch95
and others, but they all said the same thing:).