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MERCER (through Fr. mercier, from popular Lat. mercerius, a dealer, merx, merces, merchandise), a dealer in the more costly textiles, especially in silks and velvets. The word formerly had a wider meaning. Mercery, according to W. Herbert (History of the Twelve Great Livery Companies, 1834), " comprehended all things sold by retail by the ' little balance ' or small scales (in contradistinction to the things sold by the ' beam ' or in gross), and included not only toys, together with haberdashery and various other articles connected with dress, but also spices and drugs." Many of the articles in which they dealt fell later within the Sphere of other trades; thus the trade in the smaller articles of dress was taken over by the haberdashers (q.v.). The trade in silk seems to have been originally in the hands of the " silkmen and throwsteres." The Mercers' Company is the first in precedence of the twelve great livery companies of the city of London, and is also the wealthiest both in trust and corporate property. The first charter was obtained in 1393, but the mercers appear to have been formed into a gild much earlier. Herbert finds the mercers as patrons of a charity a few years after 1172, and one Robert Searle, who was mayor in 1214, was a" mercer." A further charter was granted in 1424, with the right to use a common seal. The history of the company is closely connected with the name of Richard Whittington (q.v.), and later with that of Dean Colet, who chose the company as the manager of St Paul's School. (See LIVERY COMPANIES.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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