Recently I purchased four Georgian fobs at an auction. They are all made of agate and are really beautiful things. All four have inscriptions or initials on their bases. Three of the four still have their gold bales. So let’s examine them in more detail. A few weeks ago, I wrote about fob seals and what their purpose was. Fobs were small items that were hung off a vest or watch chain. While fobs took a number of forms, a majority were seals, used to authenticate documents and seal letters.
The size of fobs varied, although they are usually about 3 to 4cms high. Most were constructed out of gold or were gold lined, and were set with a hardstone or gemstone in the bases, often inscribed with initials or family crests. Many fobs were purely decorative, particularly as the need to seal documents began to recede.
In the latter part of the 18th century and into the 19th century, men began to place their watch in a small pocket in their waistcoat, rather than in a fob pocket in the breeches, and the watch chain, which became longer, was attached to a buttonhole with a T-bar. The chain became then to be described as a vest chain, then an Albert chain (after Prince Albert). Fobs attached to the chain were meant to be eye catching and enviable and these agate seals would have met this criteria.
Two of the fobs I consider to be a lighthouse shape, with oval bases. They have gold bands circling the bottom. One is an opaque brown and russet moss agate while the other is an opaque caramel and cream coloured banded agate. The former has initial engraved in the bottom, AM, while the other is engraved on the oval base with the initials ME and a Latin inscription ‘fide et opera’ (by faith and work). The heraldic charge is an arm holding a bow and an arrow, with a quiver of arrows next to it.
The next two are baluster shaped fobs made of translucent agate – one a white colour with faint banding; the other an orange and white colour. They have rectangular bases and have slight chipping as they lack the gold protective bands of the first two fobs above. One has a gold lined bale; the other is missing its bale.
The fob on the left has initials with a pretty floral border. The other has one with intaglio crest with motto reading ‘fide et opera’ (by fidelity and work), and initials in an oval, topped with a an arm holding a sword aloft.