1770s, 80s and 90s Shoe Buckles

I have a handful of old buckles dug in Virginia, and for a while now I’ve been trying to fix a date on them. Yesterday, I found a little more information.

Here’s one of the buckles from my collection. It’s probably made of brass, but I could be wrong; I haven’t looked too closely yet. The steel mechanism is rusted away, leaving some rust marks and the holes where the axle of the buckle rotated. It’s got a very pretty cast design of lines and little floral scrolls, very Rococo.

Buckle, dug in VA

Detail of buckle face

Detail of buckle

Here’s the buckle I found that looks something like mine. It has the same decoration of curving lines and floral motifs. Talk about Rococo: the only thing missing are the cherubim!

This buckle is from the Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s from 1770-80, and made from stamped gold on brass. The mechanism is steel.

I know I’ll probably never find a buckle that’s exactly the same as mine, but I think this one is surprisingly close. At the least, I can probably figure that my buckle is from the same decades, give or take a little.

That being said, mine might be from a little later due to its square shape, as opposed to the V&A’s rectangular example. From the little I know about buckles, it seems that square-bodied ones were more popular in the 1780s and 90s, with large, geometric buckles popular in the 90s.

1780-90 Buckle Piece

Broken Shoe Buckle, VA

Geometric buckles like this guy on the right. This is another buckle from my collection. it was dug in VA as well. I’m assuming that it’s made from pinchbeck or some other silvery alloy, but again, I haven’t tested it. It’s very geometric and boxy, and it was probably about 3″ wide when it was whole. And look at the decoration: it’s the antithesis of the previous buckle and of Rococo aesthetics – no curves, no floral sprays.

Buckle Piece, 1780-90

Broken Shoe Buckle, VA

Or this on the left: another VA artifact, probably brass, and probably the same size as the last one before it was broken.

I found a few buckles that look very much like the two above, on this awesome website: 18th Century Material Culture on Scribd at http://www.scribd.com/doc/151633611/Male-Clothing-Stockings-Shoes. The men’s shoes and stockings slideshow has a picture of some of the buckles recovered from the wreck of a British ship, the General Carleton, that went down in Polish waters in 1785. The General Carleton was excavated in 1995 and the artifacts are now in the Polish Maritime Museum. If you want to check their website out, it’s at http://www.en.cmm.pl/maritime-culture-centre. Don’t get excited about awesome pictures of the wreck or their collections, through; I couldn’t find very many, and I really don’t know where the picture below came from.

Anyway, below, a few of the General Carleton’s artifacts from an image on the aforementioned Scribd site. The bottom right buckle is closest to mine, but really, all four on the bottom are pretty close. The width of the buckles is similar, but it’s the decoration that makes me say that my buckles are from the same decade or so: it’s all composed of lines and dots; very neoclassical.

So I’ve nailed down a few vague dates for three of my buckles: 1770s-80s for the curvy floral one, and 1780-90s for my two squarish geometric buckle bits. It’s a start!

About Amanda Goebel

I'm an Anthropology / Fashion History and Material Culture graduate from The University of Delaware, currently working on a Master's in Museum Studies. I'm a living historian interested in costume and culture from years before. I love researching the mundane and the everyday that has changed or disappeared since. I re-enact the 18th century, and I recreate clothing from that time. This blog is where I'll write about my research and projects. View all posts by Amanda Goebel

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