Author Topic: The story behind a Figure…  (Read 191 times)

Offline GrahamB

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The story behind a Figure…
« on: May 21, 2020, 17:20:38 »
I opened a Series 17 Boys Figure yesterday (it’s another story as to why I am 4 months late doing this). The first part out of the bag was a spirit level. ‘This will be another handyman Figure’, I thought. But then I emptied out the other parts and thought, ‘No, it’s a Hobo’. When assembled, I was still thinking ‘Hobo,’ especially with that pouch-onna-stick. ‘The spirit level must be from another figure,’ I thought, so I checked the Figures pages at Animobil (thanks Tim!) and discovered the spirit level does belong with this Figure! ‘So’ (I thought) ‘is this some sort of itinerant carpenter?’

I entered ‘itinerant carpenter’ on Google and the first hit was a Wikipedia article entitled ‘Journeyman Years’. This turned out to answer all my questions about the Mystery Figure I had just opened, it answered why geobra would include it in the series and explained the origin of several familiar words, song titles and even a favourite Mahler recording I had years ago…

From medieval times (especially in German-speaking countries and France), apprentices reaching the end of their apprenticeship were allowed to be paid by the day either through employment in their home town or by roaming about to seek work in other towns. The French word journée means a day’s work or a day’s travel and gave rise to the words journey and journeyman (Geselle is the German for journeyman), though there were some journeywomen too. Although the journeyman practice declined over time, since the 1980s the tradition has seen a revival, with 600-800 in 2005.

The period of roaming (Wanderjahre) traditionally lasted 3 years and a day, but halfway through this time, journeymen or women could apply to join a Guild as an apprentice Master. When he or she had gained enough experience in that role, they would then produce a Masterpiece and, if accepted, gain full membership of the Guild and open their own workshop. A big advantage of roaming (being on the Walz as it is known) is that the journeyman gains experience in many different workshops, with many different Masters and can also pass on ideas and techniques.

Crafts where this tradition flourished included roofing, metalworking,  goldsmithing, woodcarving, millinery, musical instrument making, organ building, as well as painters (e.g. Albrecht Dürer) and mason-architects. One of the commonest trades for journeymen was carpentry and joinery. I'm not sure a spirit level is the most important tool for a carpenter, so perhaps the Series 17 figure is a journeyman builder or mason?
So as not to be mistaken for hobos, tramps or vagabonds, journeymen carried special papers, employed secret handshakes and wore certain clothing. In Germany today, many journeymen have adopted the carpenter’s uniform (Kluft)- whatever their actual trade- as it is easily recognised everywhere. This uniform is typically (according to Wikipedia text and photographs)  a broad-brimmed black hat or top hat, bell-bottom trousers, a jacket and waistcoat with parallel rows of white buttons, a white shirt and a black tie. Journeymen may carry a traditional hiking pole (Stenz) and wrap their belongings in a cloth or Charlie, named after Charlottenburg where, along with other towns in medieval times, backpacks were banned because they harboured fleas.

So the Figure closely follows the Kluft worn by modern Gesellen, with his Stenz and Charlie. His trousers have two lateral zips, but Wikipedia did not explain those.

Itinerants (swagmen) in Australia carried a backpack called a Matilda when they were ‘on the Walz,’ remembered in that Aussie ballad ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

Gustav Mahler wrote ‘Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen’ a cycle of four songs about a lovelorn travelling journeyman, written at a time (1884-5) when Mahler himself was essentially a journeyman composer and, yes, lovelorn too.
At that moment the ship suddenly stopped rocking and swaying, the engine pitch settled down to a gentle hum. 'Hey Ford.' said Zaphod, 'that sounds good. Have you worked out the controls on this boat?' 'No,' said Ford, 'I just stopped fiddling with them.' (With thanks to Douglas Adams)

Offline JLMatterer

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Re: The story behind a Figure…
« Reply #1 on: May 21, 2020, 17:53:14 »
Thank you. I was wondering about this. Klickypedia calls it a "traveling workman." I'm impressed by your & PM's research in this figure.

Offline tahra

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Re: The story behind a Figure…
« Reply #2 on: May 21, 2020, 18:43:25 »
Thanks Graham :)

(though I must question if Journeymen are not supposed to be potty trained by the time they "Waltz"... )

Offline StJohn

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Re: The story behind a Figure…
« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2020, 18:50:11 »
Thanks for this, GrahamB. :D I really had no idea what to make of this fellow. Now I know.

Offline Tiermann

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Re: The story behind a Figure…
« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2020, 19:56:49 »
Thanks Graham, that's great info to have and solves the question of this figure nicely.

Offline Macruran

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Re: The story behind a Figure…
« Reply #5 on: May 23, 2020, 18:41:15 »
Amazing scholarship! I saw one of these guys when hitchhiking in Germany in...oh I can't remember...but he had a floppy hat, funny clothes, a stick, and a bedroll, but no level...and I was never sure what he was up to until now! Playmofriends enlightens again!  :cham:
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Offline playmovictorian

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Re: The story behind a Figure…
« Reply #6 on: May 23, 2020, 19:29:08 »
Excellent research work !  :lens:

I too google a lot and love to find the meaning behind characters  :love:

Hats off to you  :clap:
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Offline Luftgaengerin

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Re: The story behind a Figure…
« Reply #7 on: May 24, 2020, 10:19:41 »
While living in Bavaria, I remember seeing now and then some "Gesellen" on the streets... Your research is most interesting, Graham - thank you  :)
"Give me that man that is not passion’s slave" - Shakespeare's Hamlet.