hookeyesetcHooked-Clasps & Eyes

In his latest work Brian Read concentrates on the small artefacts that most people know, but are commonly classed in one era, without realising that these small artefacts are not just Tudor in age… These small metal artefacts are not just from one period in time, and this book touches on most periods from the Romans onward , mainly dealing with the early medieval period onwards,  The hooked objects that are considered in this work are in fact extremely diverse, comprising not only a large number of apparently general-purpose clasps for dress but some were specifically used to hold swords about the waist, and there are a few that were highly specialised textile-finishing tools. In contrast with the most ornate of the highly elaborate, composite hooks there is a common but enigmatic category of eyes comprising simply a one-part loop of twisted wire. Despite the large numbers now catalogued of the extremely varied (and often viciously sharp) clasps from the late 15 th/early 16 th centuries their precise function or functions (they certainly had more than one) have yet to be established. Drawing on his wide and diverse contacts across and beyond Britain, a catalogue of 831 items has been compiled and put into logical groupings. The finds included come from museums and private collections, the detecting fraternity (including Jim Halliday’s datasheets) and archaeological assemblages, making full use too of the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, Treasure records and the United Kingdom Detecting Finds’ database. Splendidly clear drawings, mainly the work of Nick Griffiths and Patrick Read, are judiciously used, sometimes alongside photographs and sometimes on their own, enhancing the appreciation of all-important details. Many items are at some level familiar or have parallels that are, but the extent of the diversity most notably of the late 15 th/early 16 th century dress clasps in both precious and base metals will come as a surprise even to those who have followed the pertinent recent literature. While it is highly unlikely in dealing with such complicated material that any two researchers would arrive at the same classification scheme, the one used here should be applauded as a bold first attempt to tackle the full range now known. Precise dating for many of the individual objects remains elusive (there are particular problems with one of the core periods here – the late 15 th to early 17 th centuries – the mainstream history of which is so well known). The surprisingly few but valuable indications so far located are carefully set out, and the strengths and weaknesses of the resulting view of implied developments are there to be considered. Details of contemporary paintings which seem to show some hooked clasps being worn are reproduced with clarity. Even so, there may be some doubt in each case (the artists were more interested in the clothes as worn than these small accessories which may have held them in place). These are the best indicators available, and they do suggest that despite the obvious peril the sharp were indeed sometimes worn in positions where they might accidentally inflict damage on the person. This is an area where we can perhaps hope for significant fresh insights in future – it remains to be seen whether or not these will vindicate or overturn what is suggested in this present volume. A broad category of often still puzzling objects has here been taken on and for the first time given an overall framework. This present work is a worthy ready reference of first resort to help clarify these intriguing items.