Swan upping is an annual ceremonial procedure on the River Thames whereby Mute swans are caught and marked to show their ownership by means of a series of nicks on the side of the beak. Nowadays there are only two private owners of swans on the Thames (Royal swans go unmarked), but in the past there were a great many private owners necessitating a rich variety of marks granted by the King’s Swan Master.
There are five marks to each page, with the bill drawn horizontally and the owner’s name written above the illustration. The first twenty-four pages record marks belonging to bishops, abbots and abbesses, priors and prioresses, schools, colleges, and individuals with title. The remainder of the register shows marks belonging to commoners.
From the collection of Thomas Barritt (1743-1820)