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Signs of miners

The world of miners is rich in signs and symbols.

Mining Sign “Mallet and Iron”

The symbol of mining par excellence is the crossed mining sign made up of mallet and iron. The chisel is a one-sided pointed iron wedge for chipping off the rock. The mallet is a heavy hand mallet. The squire's left hand held the iron, its point was set against the mining site and driven in with the mallet held by the right hand. When the work was done, the squire put the iron down with the tip pointing to the right. Above that came the mallet crossed to the left. The teeth thus discarded were a symbol for the face being cut.

Until the introduction of blasting in the 17th and 18th centuries, mallets and irons were the miner's most important tools.

Mallets and irons have been used as symbols for mines since the 14th century.

Miner's greeting "Glück Auf"

Although the miners' language dates back to the Middle Ages, the miners' greeting "Glück Auf" first emerged in the 17th century. Its roots are probably in the wish "Luck is opening up to you!". Ore veins should open up so that the miner is granted a rich mountain blessing.

The much older form of the miner's greeting "God give!" has been preserved in Carinthian ore mining to this day.


Miner's costume “mountain smock”


The miner's costume has always been important for the miners' self-portrayal on festive days. The miners' oldest uniform, the white or Maximilian costume, has its origins in the working clothes of medieval miners.


It consisted of a light-colored mountain smock with a hood that reached down to the thighs and the ass leather tied around it. Light, non-dyed fabrics were cheaper and more visible in the dark of the tunnels. The hood served as protection for the head and shoulders. The butt leather protected against moisture when playing the drumsticks, which often had to be done while sitting.

The introduction of today's black miner's costume dates back to the end of the 18th century. This costume was prescribed by decree by the imperial family for the mountain officials. The reasons for this are likely to have been fashion considerations as well as disciplining measures.

The miner's costume, which is common today, has 3 rows of brass buttons on which the mining sign "Schlägel und Eisen" is shown. Furthermore, shoulder straps with the mining symbol are attached to the mountain smock.

Some symbolic components are very important: the 29 buttons of the smock are dedicated to the 29 years of St. Attributed to Barbara, the patron saint of miners. The golden buttons are supposed to symbolize the sun and the black cloth the color of the night, i.e. underground work.

The mountain smock is worn on festive occasions such as mountain parades, Barbara celebrations as well as weddings or other anniversaries. But also on sad occasions such as funerals. The mountain smock accompanies its owner from the test of courage of the leather jump to the last trip to the pit in the cemetery.



Ass leather and leather jump

The mountain or butt leather, also known as leather for short, is an important item of clothing for miners and is associated with a great deal of symbolism.

It is cut out of a piece of black calfskin in a semicircle and sewn to a belt. The belt has a clasp decorated with a mallet and iron. At first glance, the ass leather looks like a leather apron that is a bit too short. Aprons are part of many old craft costumes. Blacksmiths, carpenters, gardeners, cooks and winegrowers wear them. Of course, aprons are also part of the basic equipment of every good housewife.

And yet the miner's apron is something very special! It has been the only apron that has been worn backwards for 500 years now. And we miners are even proud of that!

The reason for this is that, in the past, miners often had to do their work sitting on the wet rock for hours. The leather was a protection against wet and cold.

When entering the miners' ranks, the start-up leather was awarded as a sign of belonging. Every miner had to take good care of this leather, it was a kind of membership confirmation that brought many advantages of the status. If a miner committed dishonorable acts, he was expelled from the Knappschaft. His leather was tied off and he was chased away in disgrace.

So to untie someone's ass leather was to declare them forfeited.

An ass leather attached to a long pole was considered a sign of rebellion in earlier times. When it was carried forward by a mob of grim-faced miners, it did not bode well for the trades or miners. Everyone shuddered at the sight!

Because miners like to adorn themselves, there used to be a separate butt leather with the appropriate fashionable accessories for each class of miners. The higher the rank, the richer and larger the leather.

At the head of the miners were the trades as owners and the miners as the highest-ranking officials. The leather of these honorable gentlemen was lined with brightly colored silk and decorated with a wide gold border at the edge. The middle classes, which today would include managers and foremen, had to make do with unlined leather, which was only decorated with a silver cord. All other members of the Knappschaft were left behind in the truest sense of the word. They were only allowed to wear the plain black leather without any ornaments.

Higher level miners commonly had at least 3 different butt leathers in their wardrobe:  

The somewhat more decorative start-up leather, which was awarded at the beginning of the miner's life, the simpler everyday leather for everyday use and, as a highlight, the parade leather equipped with all the fashionable chicanes.

It is hardly known that the ass leather was also used as a kind of musical instrument. Mountain musicians in Saxony rolled up the leather and blew firmly into it. The range of tones reportedly ranged from the roar of a deer to the fart of a deserving miner.

But now back to a much more serious meaning of leather. The ass leather was part of important legal acts. In the past, mining authorization was granted as part of the so-called inheritance survey.                                                   


This legal act expired as follows:                                              

The mining officials came to the newly found ore vein on horseback in miners' festive costumes. The trades also came in festive costume, but with a carriage. The rest of the hill tribe, the common miners, had to walk to the new mine. Everyone lined up in a circle around the newly found outcrop. Mine officials had to measure the thickness of the vein and use that to determine the survey or rental fee. Up to this point, today's negotiations with an on-site inspection would not have gone much differently. Only the mining captain and the managing director would no longer travel on horseback, but in a befitting petrol carriage. The common mountain people would of course appear on site with much smaller petrol carriages.

But earlier, when paying the survey fee, something quite unexpected happened to us:                                               

All miners present stood in a circle and the miner placed his ass leather in the middle of the circle. The trades were sentenced to pay the award fee by means of a quick verbal decision. The tradesman immediately had to pay the required amount in the form of coins on the ass leather in the middle.


And now comes the unbelievable:                                                                 

The miner took some of the coins and tossed them to the miners present. Then the mining official took a few more handfuls of coins and invited the entire assembly to a measuring meal followed by a feast. Only the money that was left was delivered to the state authorities by the mining authorities.

This form of negotiation should be reintroduced as soon as possible. This ensures that everyone involved goes home happy with full pockets and bellies after the legal act has been completed. Unfortunately, there are no such efforts to be found in the current mining or commercial law!

In the course of the measurement meal, a kind of decision was also issued. The ass leather, on which the money was previously placed, was cut up by the mining captain. Everyone present immediately received a piece as a sign of participation in the award ceremony. It's that easy to solve our current problems with complicated postal routes, long processing times and high stamp fees. In earlier times, a successful mining company was not characterized by folders full of valid or less valid notices, but by a sack with as many pieces of ass leather as possible.

For the miners, it is still a great honor and distinction to be able to jump over such a historical, but also misjudged piece of clothing at the leather jump!


The leather jump

The leather jump is undoubtedly the celebratory highlight of every Barbara celebration.

Perhaps one of you has already seen the butcher's jump at Salzburg's Residenzplatz. After a public pledge to their profession, the newly minted butcher journeymen jump into a water-filled vat. This symbolically washes them clean of the sins of the apprenticeship.  They then demonstrate courage and strength by waving the guild flag, which weighs more than 60 kg.

Our valued Ledersprung also originates from this tradition of medieval guilds.  Its roots probably lie in the Saxon Ore Mountains.

The form of the leather jump that is common today came to Austria in 1848 from Schemnitz in the Czech Republic. In the course of the unrest at the time, the German-speaking mining professors and their students had to leave the Bergakademie Schemnitz.  At the invitation of Peter Tuner, they were admitted to the mining school in Vordernberg near Leoben.

The mining customs they brought with them, such as the leather jump, but also their black mountain smocks, quickly spread to all Austrian mining areas.


How does a traditional leather jump work?

The leather jump can be roughly divided into 3 sections:                                    

Namely in questioning the candidate, in emptying the glass and finally in jumping over the leather.   

The questioning of name, origin and status is a public declaration of your homeland and profession. The following sayings are usually more original than meant seriously.

Emptying the glass is intended to express the new miner's zest for life. Of course, the "Ex" before the jump can be emphatically demanded by the audience.

After all, the jump over the leather is the core of the ritual:                                    

It symbolizes courageous entry into the new state, which can entail great dangers.                                                The jump means courage. With both feet at the same time, one jumps into the new, freely chosen position, which does not tolerate stumbling, but does require rapid determination and energy.

The miners of all social levels see themselves as a community of destiny. This is expressed by the fact that the oldest present miner as well as the highest ranking official hold the leather for the jump.

Where are leather jumps still celebrated today in the old mining tradition?

In the traditional, active mining operations, of course. After successfully passing the hewer's test, the candidate with the leather jump is officially accepted into the miner's rank.


Large leather jumps take place annually at mining universities such as Leoben, Clausthal, Freiberg, Krakow, Miskolc or Laibach. Every young student is invited to the leather jump.                        

After passing the exam and having a merry party, he has the right to wear his mountain smock with pride as a young miner.                                             

The leather jump is an important event in student life that we look back on fondly.                                                 And therein lies a certain obligation for us miners. In our active professional life, we should also give this joy to young colleagues!                   

Another area in which leather jumps are still actively held is that of miners' and traditional clubs. In these associations, classic miners, representatives of institutions and companies meet with people who are interested in mining for a wide variety of reasons and who openly support mining. In addition to maintaining friendship and sociability, an intensive exchange of experiences and mutual appreciation in club life are considered particularly important.                                                                        

Of course, leather jumps are an important, connecting element!

But we must not forget one thing:                                                     

The leather jump is and remains a mining tradition, namely ours!                                                                   

Under no circumstances must it degenerate into an empty, folkloric event! A home evening with Hansi Hinterseer songs is definitely something else!!!

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