Dating Brooch Fasteners between the dates – 1850 to 1910
By Mark Chervenka
One of the best ways to avoid reproductions and fakes is to know and understand how originals are made. Reproductions are rarely made the same as originals due to changes in materials, labour costs and modern production techniques. When looking at brooches, you can get a good idea of the age of the piece by studying the catches, hinges and pins (Fig. 1).
For the purposes of our discussion we are going to use the words “brooch” to mean the decorative, ornamental piece. The word “pin” will refer to the pointed piece of metal that pierces the clothing. The “hinge” is the assembly that allows the pin to pivot. The “catch” is the piece or mechanism that holds the fastener at the pointed end opposite the hinge. Pins, hinges, catches and other non-decorative pieces such as jump rings, latches, etc., are collectively called “findings”.
TUBE HINGE – From about 1850 to around 1910 almost all hinges on brooches and pins were tube hinges. (Tube hinges were also used during other eras but not to the extent they were used during last half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.) Tube hinges are formed by three cylinders, or tubes, of hollow metal (Figs. 4-5). Two tubes are attached to the decorative piece; one tube is attached to the pin. The tube on the pin is jointed to the two tubes on the decorative piece with a rod that passes through all three tubes. Note that the tube on the fastener is a separate piece soldered to the end of the pin (Fig. 5).
Tube hinges were made by hand. Although they all generally have the same basic construction, they may vary considerably in appearance and the exact number and shape of pieces used. Tube hinges were usually made by the same person who made the brooch.
Editor Note: Tube hinges were also used during other eras but not to the extent they were used during last half of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.
ROUND HINGE The round hinge is a machine made mass produced finding introduced in the 1920s and pretty much standard by about 1930. The round hinge was a big labor saving device. Most round hinges came as part of a per-assembled unit that included the hinge, catch and pin. Such units could be attached to the brooch in one step. Previously, tube hinges and catches were all attached individually. Some round hinges, though, can be found separately (Fig. 7). These single pieces were mostly made for repair work. The pads below the hinge made soldering easier.
Pins that go with round hinges can be identified because the pin is one single piece (see Fig. 7 ). Pins for tube hinges, remember, are made of two pieces: the pin and a separate tube soldered to the pin.
“C” CATCH The earliest catches were simple bends of metal shaped like the letter C (Figs. 9-11). The pin was kept within the C with tension created by the pin against the fabric to which it was attached. Some pins were held in place by pressure of a bend in the pin which pressed against the C. This type of catch was not very secure because the pin could slip out of the C. C catches are generally always hand made. A C catch of some type was in use from about 1850 to 1910.
EARLY SAFETY CATCHES – Around 1890, jewellers begin experimenting with ways to more securely hold the pin in the catch. These hand made efforts are the first so called “safety catches”. They are not called ‘safety because they prevented being poked with the pin. Oh no. They provided safety against loosing your brooch! Saving blood, although noble, was a secondary consideration to protecting a valuable piece of jewellery.
Early safety catches, like tube hinges, are hand made. Generally, the same person who made the brooch also made the early safety catches. Because they are hand made, the early safety catches show lots of variation. Some are simple like the lever safety in Fig. 13 while others are quite complicated like the multi-jawed scissor-like device in Fig. 15A-B.
MODERN SAFETY CATCH – The safety catch used today is essentially the same one that first became widespread in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It is machine made with a rotating jaw that locks the pin in the catch (Fig. 16). It is usually mounted in a pre-assembled unit, such as a bar, with a round hinge (Fig. 8). Modern safety catches are also available separately on pads for repair work (Fig. 17). Modern safety catches are just another commodity that the jeweller or manufacturer buys ready-made to save labour.
PINS – Generally, the greater the diameter and heavier the material, the older the pin. Heavy pins were acceptable in the loosely woven natural fabrics of the 19th century. The finer weaves and increasing use of synthetic fabrics in the 20th century required pins that were progressively thinner and lighter weight.
Another clue to age provided by pins is how far they extend beyond the catch. Pins used in mid-19th century brooches commonly extend from 1/8″ to 1/4″ beyond the catch (see illustrations, Fig. 2). Many pins of this period may also extend that same distance beyond the edge of the brooch itself (Fig. 18).
Other Hints about Fasteners
Keep in mind that non-original fasteners like modern safety catches may have been added to genuinely old brooches as legitimate repairs. Or it could be a sign of a badly damaged or “made up” piece. Be sure to base your evaluation on a thorough inspection of the entire piece. Never use one single test.
When evaluating karat content, avoid using the karat marks that may appear on fasteners. These small parts are easily replaced with ones of false or higher karat markings. Likewise, when you conduct a test for karat content, don’t apply your testing solutions to fasteners. Apply your testing solutions to the bezel or main frame of the brooch.
Typical Brooch Fastener
Top View Hinges, Catches, Pins
Side View of Catches
“C” Catches – Handmade, ca. 1850-1910
Early ‘Safety’ Catches Handmade, ca. 1890-1910+
Editor note: Push-pull or Trombone catches were not referred to as ‘safety’ clasps until the later part of the 19th century. The Push-pull or Trombone catch was patented in Britain in 1850 and was used prior to 1890 in British brooch designs, well before they became popular in the US. They remained popular with British designers until the 1940s.
Modern Safety Catch Machine Made Since ca. 1930