While most of the jewellery we wear is solely for decorative purposes and may be to make a statement about wealth or power, some of the jewellery we wear has a purpose as well as being decorative. Think of a watch. It’s function is to allow us to tell what the time is, but it is also a decorative piece, whether due to the way it is decorated – gold band, diamonds, enamel, engraved – or the way it is designed. Antique functional jewellery is no different. The category includes watches, chatelaines, hair pins and handkerchief pins. Something may be needed for a purpose but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be decorative and look stylish.
I am talking about Georgian handkerchief pins in this post. These pins are sometimes called fichu pins, or lace pins, although this latter term was more commonly used in the late 19th century. The purpose of these pins was to hold in place a handkerchief of linen or lace or other drapery worn by women around their shoulders and overlapped at the front. They were generally for day use. Sometimes, they were often worn pinned to a ribbon or bracelet. They were used around 1790 to the beginning of the Victorian era in 1837, and continued in use after that but usually as as mourning pins. Usually about 2.54 cms or an inch in size, in the Georgian period, they became bigger and heavier as the Victorian era progressed, often with enamel borders. They might be designed as decorative pieces but most seemed to be for sentimental or mourning display.
Georgian pins were mainly geometric in shape – squares and rectangles (some with clipped corners), and ovals. They were constructed with a central panel comprising a gemstone or paste stone, or a compartment covered with rock crystal in which could be placed hair of a family member or loved one, or it could be from a deceased parent or relative. The compartment could also contain a painting of lover’s eye or a silhouette. The central stone or compartment was then surrounded by gemstones like garnets, coral or jet, by pearls, particularly if a mourning piece as they symbolise tears, or it might be an ornate embossed or engraved gold border. Most of the pins that have survived today are gold, gold lined or pinchbeck.
The backs of the pins are either fully enclosed or might contain a hair compartment. If fully enclosed, the back is usually slightly convex. They might contain an inscription. The pin was quite thick and extended beyond the edge of the piece. The clasp was a C clasp while the hinge was a long tube. During the Victorian period, pins with central stones began to be left open at the back.
Their purpose now is purely decorative but these are pretty little pieces of jewellery, still very wearable and often amazing value for something almost 200 years old.