Antique Buckles

Our button love has recently grown to include antique buckles. Sometimes we say that an antique button is like a tiny canvas that portrays a surprisingly insightful historic story. Buckles are the same but with a bigger canvas.

The history of buckles parallels that of buttons. Buckles first found popularity in the Middle Ages and Renaissance when it became trendy among noblemen and courtiers to adorn their capes, shoes, and armor with ornamental buckles embellished with bronze, jewels or glass. 

Top row: French champleve’ enamel; gorgeous Art Nouveau guilloche enamel peacock feather; heavily ornamented brass with facetted sapphire glass jewel. Bottom row: filigreed brass with emerald glass jewels; French champleve’ enamel with glass stones; cut steel on a delicate brass filigree framework.

In Victorian times, the techniques and materials used to manufacture buttons were also used to make buckles. In fact, matching sets of enamel, porcelain, and mother-of-pearl buttons and buckles were sold in velvet-lined jewelry boxes.

Antique buckles adorn Victorian women's hats
Like buttons, buckles were used with extravagance in ways that had nothing to do with fastening: see them here accenting hats, flounces, and bustles.

Shoe buckles emerged in the fourteenth century and have trended in and out of style ever since. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, men’s shoe buckles adorned with jewels and precious metals became an ostentatious status symbol. In the late nineteenth century, this trend migrated to women’s shoes. The popularity of decorative shoe buckles persisted through the roaring twenties and then enjoyed a small revival in the 1960s. 

Antique shoe buckles
Left to right: a satin-lined case with cut steel shoe buckles from our museum, circa 1880; a French advertisement for steel shoe buckles circa 1922; a pair of early 20th century shoes with faux cut steel shoe buckles.

The buckles we collect were made for women’s fashions between 1860 and 1930. In the 1860s, tiny corseted waists were in vogue making buckles a trending accessory. One of our favorite shoe buckle types, made in France in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, contains hundreds of bits of faceted steel individually riveted onto a silvered brass base. These are rare finds, and the one-of-a-kind jewelry designs we produce with them always sell out quickly. So we also reproduce them in a modern casting, which is currently the centerpiece of our best selling Antoinette necklace.

Antique buckles being used to cinch Victorian waistlines
Victorian buckles shown in their primary function: accenting the tiny, corset-created wasp waists that so tortured ladies in the late 19th century.
Victorian catalog featuring a variety of stamped brass buckles
Left: A page from an 1890s catalog shows the variety of stamped brass and cut steel buckles available for Victorian women to wear upon their tightly-cinched waists. Right: A French advertisement for Art Nouveau style buckles from 1908.
Art Deco Shoe Buckles
Left: a French advertisement for Art Deco enamel shoe buckles circa 1922.  Right: our own collection of similar buckles, old store stock found in a still-operating 19th century general store in Pennsylvania

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