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What meanings might be conveyed by something being called brand new, as opposed to it simply being called new? What's behind the word brand here?

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According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, in Old English the word "brand" carried the meanings of "fire, flame; firebrand, piece of burning wood, torch". The word "brand" comes from the Germanic languages (and Old English was still very much part of the Germanic family) and is still commonly used in modern Dutch and German to mean "fire".

The meaning of "brand new" is thus, as also noted by the Online Etymology Dictionary, "fresh from the fire". I presume the term originally referred to items produced by a smithy, which were molded and tempered by the heat of a fire.

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Is it possible to merge this answer with Henry's? Your's would add more detail to his, which is essentially the same, and got there first? –  Pureferret Dec 11 '11 at 23:41
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The synonym span-new (fresh from the chisel) supports this, too. –  Unreason Dec 12 '11 at 11:55
    
How can one merge their answer with another's (I mean, the way to do it)? –  Kris Dec 13 '11 at 8:28
    
FWIW, in German it's also still called brandneu. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Dec 29 '11 at 8:25
    
In Danish, brand means fire. We don't use brand together with new, but we say brand god, which means really good. :) –  Jan Aagaard Jan 4 '12 at 11:35
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Etymonline suggests "fresh from the fire".

It seems brand is Old English for fire or flaming; the Dutch word brand still means fire in English.

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The Danish for fire is also brand (as in Fire Door in public places). –  Kate Gregory Dec 11 '11 at 23:36
    
In addition, a "brand" is rarely used as a word for a piece of wood that is on fire - rare to the point where it's usually only used in fantasy novels - and a "brand" is also a piece of iron that is hot enough to burn a clear mark into skin. –  jprete Dec 12 '11 at 17:36
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My conjecture is on the lines of branding rather than brand itself. A hot iron or wooden tool was typically used to brand cattle with an identification, could be to indicate ownership. This leads to the idea that something brand new would be like a new member of one's cattle just branded.

By extension, a car leaving the production lines gets its gleaming logo (brand) fixed just before leaving for the market: a brand new car!

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