The Danish word næringsbevis means tradesman permission.
One of the elements of the first democratic constitution of Denmark from 1849 was the liberalization of trade. Until then, trade had been limited to the market towns. Peasants could sell their produce at the market in the market town, but not in the village. Certain trades were reserved for citizens of the market towns. In a section of the Constitutional Act of the Kingdom of Denmark, it was promised to liberalize trades.1
The promise was fulfilled by a law about various trades valid from 1 January 1862, but it was not a complete liberalization. Those, who wanted to make a living within the regulated trades, still had to have a permission. Permissions for peasants were called næringsbeviser and permissions for inhabitants of markets towns continued to be called borgerskab (citizenship, not to be confused with naturalization) as it had been called before the signing of the Constitution.2
Næringsbevis (aka næringsbrev) allowed the holder of the permission to make a living within a specific trade in a specific place. For instance, a peasant might obtain permission to be a smith, a carpenter, a pottery maker, a baker, etc. He could then sell the goods from his home or his shop or at a public auction in the countryside, but not in the market town.3
Since a permission was needed, records were kept. Some books of næringsbeviser list the age of the peasant and other identifying information, but at least the town of residence is listed. Additionally, some local archives have received original tradesman permissions from private holdings. If a census record indicates that your Danish peasant ancestor made a living within a trade, it is therefore worth examining whether records for your area of interest are extant.
- The Constitutional Act of the Kingdom of Denmark, 5 June 1849, section 88.
- Lov om Haandværks- og Fabrikdrift samt Handel og Beværtning m.m., 29 December 1857, section 1.
- Lov om Haandværks- og Fabrikdrift..., sections 18, 20, and 23. The mentioned trades are examples; other trades were covered by the law.
- The image at the top: Phillipp Bornheimer, photograph from a carpenter's shop in Borre, Denmark; image copy, Nationalmuseet, Nationalmuseets samlinger (https:/samlinger.natmus.dk/flm/asset/256783), license: CC-BY-SA.