Centuries ago, becoming a master craftsman was associated with many rituals. One of them was the donation of a silver coin or a silver object to the craft guild. From the 17th century onwards it became a tradition to donate a small silver shield engraved with the name of the master and the year and date of becoming a master. In the middle of the shield there was usually the emblem of the craft. These small shields were hung on a welcome cup of the craft guild, and therefore they are called pendant shields. Due to the textual and visual information, these shields can be perceived as documents in silver.
Although most of the pendant shields document the occasion of becoming a master, they have also been donated in connection with other events, such as the purchase of a new guild cup, achieving the office of guild alderman, a jubilee of the guild or some other important event. As such, the pendant shields formed a part of the history and self-representation of the craft guild and its members.
The tradition of pendant shields gradually died out in the second half of the 19th century in connection with industrialization, the dissolution of the craft organizations and the disappearance of guild rituals. Some pendant shields were still produced in the early 20th century, no longer to honour individual masters but in memory of certain historical events, e.g. the visit of the Russian tsar to Tallinn in 1904 and the 500th anniversary of the tailors’ guild in 1913.
The organizations of craftsmen, including the St Canute guild and the Dom guild, were dissolved in 1920. Their silver collections, including around 400 pendant shields, are mainly kept in the Art Museum of Estonia and the Tallinn City Museum, and to a lesser extent in the Estonian History Museum.