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Shoe Buckle

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Saved by i.r.bartholomew@warwick.ac.uk
on February 22, 2016 at 11:18:55 am

Shoe Buckles 


shoe buckle  n. a fastening for a shoe, in the form of a buckle, also an ornamental buckle worn on the front of a shoe.

1482   in York Myst. Introd. 40   [Those that] maketh ffisshe-hukes or shobakilles.

1847   Thackeray Vanity Fair (1848) xxxix. 359   A large pair of paste shoe-buckles.



Apparently only a tool used to fasten one's shoe, shoe buckles have been identified as having been used as early as 450 BC, and can be tracked through history to the modern day. However, it is during the seventeenth century, after the civil war, that the shoe buckle industry began to flourish, conforming to the fashion of King Charles II, his having returned from exile. This is illustrated through Samuel Pepys dirary entry on Sunday 22nd January 1660 in which he states "This day I began to put buckles on my shoes", thereby, through the mention in his diary, representing the impact of such an item had on his every day attire. 

However, it seems that Pepys was ahead of his time, endorsing them, perhaps, before shoe buckles could be considered a fashion statement. Until the end of the Seventeenth Century it was still considered a difficult fashion choice tto choose between laces and buckles as a way of securing the shoe to one's foot. It was not until after the Revolution of 1688 that shoe buckles became truly popular, and their being worn considered essential to modern day fashion. 

The popularity of the shoe buckle expanded quickly from this period onwards - those producing them becoming very wealthy, and the craft of shoe buckles becoming ever more elaborate and skilled. It is as a result of this that during the eighteenth century the shoe buckle evolved from having a purely stylish and functional role to performing both social functions as well. 


An item that could be highly prised, the shoe buckle was one of the few fashion items worm by both women and men. The eighteenth century marked both the rise and the fall of the shoe buckle, therefore involving the huge developments in design and value of the shoe buckle, until its demise in the 1790s. 







Shoe Buckles in Literature


The popularity of the shoe buckle in the eighteenth century was reflected in popular literature of the time, often being referred to in passing, as expected with such a commonplace object, or referenced due to its value. Richardson's "Pamela" illustrates this when Pamela is given "three pair of fine silk shoes, two hardly the worse...the other with wrought silver buckles on them" amongst other items of clothing from her master, and she is "astonished, and unable to speak for a while". Throughout the story of Pamela it becomes clear that she has formed an association between what she wears and status, and as such it is evident that the gift of "silver" shoe buckles is more than that of a pretty item - it enables her to feel superior due to the superior metal they are made out of. Thus it is evident that, whilst worn by people from all classes, valuable she buckles represented a class divide, and as such such valuable buckles enabled Pamela to cross class boundaries. 


However, the shoe buckle continues to be used in well known children's literature even in the modern day. The nursery rhyme "One, two, buckle my shoe" has been well known since the nineteenth century, but is believed to have been initially used as early as 1780 in Wrentham, Massachusetts. This not only shows how common the concept of a show buckle was in the late eighteenth century - common enough to be used in an easily comprehensible children's nursery rhyme - but also the extent to which the shoe buckle became an international object. In America it took longer for the shoe buckle to fall out of fashion than it had in Europe, their popularity continuing throughout the eighteenth century into the early nineteenth century. By this time the use of the shoe buckle had become truly international, particularly popular in Europe and North America. However, by the mid nineteenth century they had been predominantly been replaced by laces and it seems it is only through the medium of children's literature that the use of "shoe buckle" in everyday language has survived, as due to the repetition of the phrase in the use of a nursery rhyme, no one has questioned the use of such an object as an archaic term rarely referred to in the modern day.



Whilst at the height of their popularity shoe buckles were also found to be satirised in works outside of the literary field. Throughout the 1770s, when shoe buckles were at their largest, artists such as Matthew Darly. Darly illustrated a Fop - a man overly concerned with his attire and sense of fashion - wearing disproportionately large shoe buckles, illustrating the foolishness to which the size of shoe buckles had become, and questioning the true value of the buckle given it's size and effects it had on fashion which could not be considered practical. 



 Montagu's "The Reasons that Induced Dr. S - to write a Poem called the Lady's Dressing Room"

Richardson's "Pamela"

Cleland's "Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure"

Sterne's "Tristram Shandy"

"One, Two Buckle my Shoe" - Henry Bolton, collector of counting rhymes in 1885 said the rhyme was used in Wrentham, Massachusetts as early as 1780 p333








Due to the fact that the shoe buckle was an every day item there was understandably much criminality surrounding them as they were an easy item to access and to sell. 

The value of the buckles taken ranged dramatically, reflecting the variety of buckles available on the market according to what a  consumer could afford. Old Bailey record show buckles stolen commonly throughout the eighteenth century ranging from a value as low as 1d (equivalent to 27p in modern monetary terms) to those as high as 2l (£149.58) for a single pair. 

Many thefts of shoe buckles are found amongst a list of other common household goods taken, such as clothing and shoes, indicating that, unlike the pick-pocket culture prevalent in the eighteenth century, the theft of shoe buckles was as a result of breaking and entering into a property, as it would have been very difficult to take whilst being worn. This distinguishes the shoe buckle from other thefts such as pocket handkerchiefs as these could taken easily as a result of pick-pocketing, and as such was less opportunistic and had to have much more planning surrounding their theft. 


Catherine Simpson's theft was from one person - Mary Clancey - indicating that, although it is not explicitly stated, her theft was made on the grounds of breaking and entering. However, there is a long explanation into the robbery of John Andrew Martin. 

"John Andrew Martin was indicated for breaking and entering the dwelling-house of Valentine Knight, on the 17th of Oct. about the hour of two in the night"

Followed by the considerable list of items he stole. 

There is also testimony from Mary Knight, the wife of the house owner who illustrated the events of the theft, giving a little more insight into how events such as this took place in the eighteenth century:


"When I came into the parlour, I found the flap of the cellar window was torn up, and a padlock torn from the cellar door, that opens into the street upon the cellar stairs; the door shuts on the flap, and was padlock'd on the inside. There is a window seat like in the parlour, which was a head-way front, the top of that was wrench'd off, and the top of it lay upon the ground; by that means a passage was opened into the parlour, close to the bureau where our goods were locked up: I locked them up myself, about eleven o'clock over night; I am always the last up, and know the cellar door and flap were safe at that time. The bureau is a bureau and book-case, but instead of books there are twenty-four drawers that hold our work: there is an iron bar that goes cross and fastens the two doors, and is padlocked. The padlock I found torn to pieces, and the bar torn off; the shutter taken down, and the flap of the bureau had the lock torn off, the keys were in there; by which they unlocked the top where the other drawers were; there was a lock to the top besides the bar; the middle drawer the lock was broke off. There were three locks of the buffet broke also, and a case of tea-spoons moved out and put into a chair; but we believe, by the alarm of the bell, the thief made off. The next day I observed there were some drops of wax in the bureau: the goods mentioned in the indictment were taken away; some we have found again, but not all, nor near all."


This illustrates the effort to which someone had to put themselves to be in a position to steal such a large amount of property, and it is events like this which would have have an effect on the degree of punishment that the thief received - the value of the robbery also having a large effect on the intensity of the punishment. Both the thefts cited here had a remarkably different value and were in conjunction with other items, and thus whilst they do not reflect what the theft of a single buckle might have resulted in, they do reflect the value of the thefts which therefore indicates the extent to which the value of the shoe buckles had an effect on the proceedings. Whilst Catherine Simpson was fined 10d (£3.58) John Andrew Martin received the death penalty for such a considerable robbery. In conjunction with this it is worth noting that whilst the shoe buckles stolen by Catherine Simpson were the the item of lowest value which she took, the most valuable shoe Buckles Martin took were of a comparatively much higher value in his collection of goods. 


The fact that two prime examples of the theft of shoe buckles in the eighteenth century includes both genders illustrates what a gender diverse crime theft was in the eighteenth century. Women formed over 50% of the defendants at the Old Bailey in the first half of the eighteenth century, a percentage which thereafter went on to decline. This was probably due to the fact that, unlike other roles in society which had gendered stereotypes attached to them, theft did not undergo such role assignment, as only those who were financially unstable participated in it. Records also reveal that the kind of crime women participated in the most was that of pick-pocketing, theft from lodging-houses, and theft from masters amongst other things such as kidnapping, keeping a brothel and coining. Stereotypes of women's crime seem much more basic, as it was generally men who were accused of crimes of a more serious nature such as breaking the peace or robbery as well as more basic crimes such as theft. From evidence such as this it is evident why both men and women were associated with the theft of items such as shoe buckles, and illustrates how theft was one of the few gender neutral roles in eighteenth century Britain. 



Variety in values of shoe buckles - Old Bailey Records show a range in stolen shoe buckles ranging in value from 1d (27p) http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t17730908-14-defend187&div=t17730908-14&terms=shoe|buckle#highlight to 2l (£149.58) http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t17681207-9-defend109&div=t17681207-9&terms=shoe|buckle#highlight









As illustrated through this table, there was a dramatic and steady rise in the use of the phrase "shoe buckle" in texts reflecting the increased popularity of shoe buckles as fashionable objects. The table clearly reflects how shoe buckles became a more common object of interest throughout the eighteenth century, from having very little recognition at the beginning of the century to being much more popular by then end - the phrase being mentioned in several texts. However, the table also illustrates that towards the end of the eighteenth century the popularity of shoe buckles began to decline. By 1800 it is evident in that the number of times "shoe buckle" is mentioned in texts begins to decrease, thereby illustrating not only the increase but also the decrease in popularity of the object as a statement of fashion. 


The fashion of wearing shoe buckles beginning in the mid-late seventeenth century, the popularity of the shoe buckle was well established by the eighteenth century - its popularity only increasing over the later years. Works of the period illustrate such an increased use of the shoe buckle to the point where it is considered a normal item of clothing. The works of William Hogarth clearly demonstrate this through his art as both characters of high and low status wearing shoe buckles. In the third print - "The Inspection" - of his series "Marriage A-La-Mode" both the doctor and the Viscount are clearly wearing shoe buckles in the image thereby supporting this claim. It is also relevant that Hogarth emphasises the gendered ambiguity which exists with the shoe buckle - both men and women wearing them regardless of class or gender. This not only made the shoe buckle a very unusual fashionable item, one of the only to break both class and gender barriers, but also by default increased their popularity as they could be sold to the majority of members in society. 



Hogarth's "The Rake's Progress" and "The Marriage Contract" (The Countess's Levee)

Hogarth's works, reflecting "modern, moral subjects", illustrate how the shoe buckle may be used in satirical works. "A Harlot's Progress" - the illustration of a young girl whose innocence leads to her into the world of prostitution, and ultimately her untimely death, illustrated through the subtle and symbolic in his prints uses shoe buckles consistently throughout. 


Popularity began to decline in the late 1780s and the early 1790s. An appeal was made to Prince George, the Prince of Wales by shoe buckle manufacturers in an attempt to maintain the popularity of the shoe buckle. (document) Holland and Hunt (Hutton) documented the events. (Treatise on the Progressive Improvement and Present State of the Manufactures in Metal 1834)  

https://historicaltexts.jisc.ac.uk/results?terms=shoe%20buckle&date=1693-1810&undated=exclude&variant=variant (show table) 


Not just in UK


http://0-www.18thcjournals.amdigital.co.uk.pugwash.lib.warwick.ac.uk/transcript.aspx?imageid=253654&searchmode=true&previous=1 - commonly advertised as a fashionable and desirable item.


However, the popularity of shoe buckles also took a political turn in both England and France. Whilst in England an appeal was made in early 1792 to "The Royal Conductors of Fashion" from the buckle trade of London and Westminster to halt the change in fashion away from shoe buckles. Whilst Prince George, the Prince of Wales, did attempt to sway the change in styles, he ultimately made very little effect on the lapse of the shoe buckle which were completely out of fashion by 1793 except in court where George had required his courtiers to wear them. https://data.historicaltexts.jisc.ac.uk/view?pubId=ecco-0316700700&terms=prince%20of%20wales%20shoe%20buckle&date=1791-1792&undated=exclude&pageTerms=prince%20of%20wales%20shoe%20buckle&pageId=ecco-0316700700-10 


Meanwhile, in France, the French Revolution started in 1789, and shoe buckles were used as a political statement to show support for the monarchy. To wear an extravagant shoe buckle showed support for the monarchy and was in direct disobedience of the revolutionaries, who had declared that all buckles and silver adornments should be donated towards the revolutionary movement.  However, after the revolution it became a requirement for the revolutionary infantry for each man to provide "1 pair of shoe buckles" https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=hOz058L2jNwC&pg=PA38&lpg=PA38&dq=french+revolution+shoe+buckles&source=bl&ots=aAU-Y81TUl&sig=W0znDVS_x40J5l0pYXErwbNEU2s&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj9k9uShLvKAhVE2SwKHdceAk8Q6AEIRzAJ#v=onepage&q=shoe%20buckles&f=false showing the continued use of the shoe buckle used as a required item of clothing, of only for utility. 




Design and Production


The value of the design of a shoe buckle initially came down to the fact that the shoes of both men and women, but especially men, had very little design or aesthetic value to them. They were made with primarily practicality in mind needing to be both sturdy and weather proof, and as such did not fulfil any design ideas to make them any more fashionable, the shape and framework of the shoe remaining relatively consistent.

Early in the Eighteenth Century the popularity of shoe buckles had become very much embedded into society due to the fact that they had begun to be associated with gentility. Whilst some still did wear laces it was considered unseemly and inelegant on the foot. However, it was not until the 1720s the design of the shoe buckle was relatively small, reflecting its practical value over any fashion statement it might be performing. The buckle only began to have any form of considerable design added to it in the 1740s when production began to extend outside the mere practicality of the shoe buckle and consciously make their buckles more saleable by adding stones of varying value to them. The size of the shoe buckle grew with its popularity until it reached its height in the 1770s. This allowed much more scope when it came to the design of the shoe buckle, allowing for variation in shape and colour. 

The design of the shoe buckle became a valuable addition to the wardrobe. Unlike the modern day, changing fashion did not affect the whole of one's wardrobe, but was confined to certain aspects of it that could be easily altered. This came down to items which were small and easily removable from one's overall ensemble such as ribbons, buttons, scarves and, of course, shoe buckles. As a result of this the designs of shoe buckles became ever more outlandish.



Expensive buckles were made in silver but the less expensive ones were made of shiny steel cut to resemble diamonds.

clothing as identity

Throughout the late eighteenth century paste stones became popular decorations for shoe buckles as they were not only cheap, but also easy for the designers to cut them to produce their maximum potential without fear of damaging a valuable stone. 

copper, shffield plate, pinchbeck, silver, gold set with stones pastes or marcasite


http://0-gdc.galegroup.com.pugwash.lib.warwick.ac.uk/gdc/artemis/NewspapersDetailsPage/NewspapersDetailsWindow?failOverType=&query=KE+shoe+buckle&prodId=BBCN%3ABNCN%3ANCUK%3ADMHA%3AILN%3AINDA%3AMOME%3ATTDA%3ATLSH%3AUSDD&windowstate=normal&contentModules=&fullCitation=true&display-query=KE+shoe+buckle&mode=view&displayGroupName=DVI-Newspapers&dviSelectedPage=&limiter=DA+117900101+-+117901231&u=warwick&currPage=1&sortBy=&displayGroups=&source=&disableHighlighting=false&search_within_results=&p=GDCS&action=e&catId=&activityType=AdvancedSearch&scanId=&documentId=GALE%7CZ2001519946#fullCitation- spring shoe buckle

http://find.galegroup.com/bncn/retrieve.do?sgHitCountType=None&scale=1.00&orientation=&sort=DateAscend&docLevel=FASCIMILE&prodId=BBCN&tabID=T012&subjectParam=Locale%2528en%252C%252C%2529%253AFQE%253D%2528tx%252CNone%252C9%2529brunswick%253AAnd%253AFQE%253D%2528ba%252CNone%252C6%2529%25221UBI%2522%253AAnd%253AFQE%253D%2528da%252CNone%252C10%2529%252217900313%2522%2524&searchId=R8&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm&currentPosition=1&qrySerId=Locale%28en%2C%2C%29%3AFQE%3D%28tx%2CNone%2C9%29brunswick%3AAnd%3AFQE%3D%28ba%2CNone%2C6%29%221UBI%22%3AAnd%3AFQE%3D%28da%2CNone%2C10%29%2217900313%22%24&retrieveFormat=MULTIPAGE_DOCUMENT&subjectAction=DISPLAY_SUBJECTS&inPS=true&userGroupName=warwick&sgCurrentPosition=0&docId=Z2001520031&docId=&docLevel=FASCIMILE&workId=&relevancePageBatch=Z2001520031&contentSet=LTO&callistoContentSet=BBCN&docPage=page&enlarge=true&firstEnlarge=true&pageNum=1&newOrientation=0&recNum=&newScale=0.33- patent for "Brunswick spring shoe buckle






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