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Functional Elegance: Male Adornment

It is evident from portraits and photographs that men wore jewelry and personal adornments with almost as much frequency as women. Many of the forms that men sported were the same as women’s jewelry such as rings, brooches, buckles, and cuff links. However, specialized forms like the stock buckle did exist. Men’s jewelry also tends to be functional. Pieces include various button and buckle types, watches, rings and fobs set with seals to impress coat of arms, initials or other marks into wax. Practicality, however, did not mean that men’s jewelry lacked in embellishment. Eighteenth century men’s shoe buckles were frequently more elaborate than women’s, pocket watches were ornately decorated and utilized the highest quality materials like gold and silver, and stickpins were often set with precious stones.


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Stock Buckle
Daniel Rogers (1735-1816)
Ipswich, Massachusetts, 1757-1800
Silver
H. 1 ¾, W. 1/8, D. ¼ in.
Gift of Mrs. Lucy Haskell Sturtevant
1925.368 b
Inscription: Impressed “DR”

Stock buckles were used by men in the eighteenth century to secure a style of neck scarf called a stock. These buckles are similar in construction to belt and shoe buckles but were usually rectangular in shape and had buttons attached to the roll that would fit into the buttonholes on the stock. While stock buckles were usually hidden by the wearer’s wig and were often plainly decorated, some, like this sterling silver buckle made by Daniel Rogers of Ipswich, Massachusetts, were made from expensive materials.

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Knee Buckles
America or England, 1770-1790
Silver, steel
H. 1 7/8, W. 1, D. 1/8 in.
Gift of Mrs. Austin Smith
1963.260 a,b

Knee buckles were a functional form of personal adornment worn by men in the second half of the eighteenth century. They were used to secure the kneeband of breeches, a style of short pants. Knee buckles are distinguishable from shoe buckles by their flat frame, anchor-shaped roll on the chape, the number of tongues (two or three) and size. Early knee buckles were small and square, while later examples are typically larger and include oval and diamond shapes. Knee buckles were worn by men in every socioeconomic level and therefore were made in a wide variety of materials. This pair of silver knee buckles is impressed with a repeating diamond and V pattern that was meant to simulate more expensive paste set buckles.

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Shoe Buckles in Original Case
Probably Birmingham, England, 1775-1790
Silver, pastes, steel
Buckles: H. 2 ¼, W. 2 15/16, D. 1 ¼ in.
Case: H. 1 ¾, W. 6, D. 3 5/8 in.
Gift of Mrs. Francis Gray (Ellen W. Joy)
1953.41 a-c
Inscription: On paper label “Shoe Buckles - B. Joy Esq / Property of C.H. Joy / property of B. Joy”

In the last quarter of the eighteenth century large shoe buckles called Artois buckles, after the Comte d’Artois, were fashionable. These Artois style buckles originally belonged to Benjamin Joy (1757-1829), who served as First Consul General under George Washington. Buckles in the eighteenth century, especially high-end paste-set examples, were typically made in England and imported to America. Buckle making was a specialized industry in England that included two different types of craftsmen, the ringmakers who designed and fashioned the frame and the chapemakers who made the fastening devices.

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Cuff Links
English or American, 1760-1800
Gold, quartz
H. ½, W. ½, L. 1 in.
Gift of Miss Edith McIntyre
1932.507 a,b
Reverend Eli Forbes (1726-1804)
Christian Gullager (1759-1787)
Gloucester, Massachusetts, 1785-1787
Oil on canvas
H. 46, W 40 ¼ in.
Gift of Betram K. and Nina Fletcher Little
1991.686

Cuff links, shirt studs and buttons are the most common form of men’s jewelry in Historic New England’s collection. Men wore these forms in every period of American history and often personalized them with their initials. The earliest cuff links in the collection are these quartz cuff links set in gold collet settings, backed with pink foil and set with gold ciphers of two intertwined Cs.

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Watch Fob and Chain
United States or Europe, 1825-1850
Gold, carnelian
Fob: H. 2 3/16, W. 1 in.
Chain: L. 9 ¼, W. 11/16 in.
Bequest of Susan B. Norton
1990.17
Inscription: “Fortuna Dubia Virtus Certa / AN”
Captain Samuel H. Howes
M. Williams
Probably Massachusetts, 1828
Oil on canvas
H. 37 ¼, W. 32 ¼, D. 3 ¼ in.
Gift of Mrs. John C. Nichols
1936.238

This fob and watch chain was possibly owned by the donor's great grandfather, Andrews Norton (1786-1853). The carnelian seal is inscribed with a Latin phrase “Fortuna Dubia Virtus Certa” and the initials “AN.” Andrews Norton graduated from Harvard in 1804 and became the Dexter professor of Sacred Literature at Harvard in 1819. He was also the father of Harvard professor and art historian Charles Eliot Norton (1827-1908). Captain Samuel H. Howes of Chatham, Massachusetts, wears a similar carnelian fob in his portrait.

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Pocket Watch
Robert Mansir, Watch casemaker
London, England, 1832-1833
18 karat gold
H. 2 3/8, W. 1 ¾, D. ½ in.
Gift of Edouard Duplessis Beylard
1926.576


Watch Chain and Pencil Fob
Sampson Mordan & Co.
London, England, c. 1840
Gold, enamel
Chain: L. 10 ½, W. 1/8 in.
Fob: H. ¾, L. 1 5/8, D. ¼ in.
Gift of Edouard Duplessis Beylard
1926.576

Pocket watches were not manufactured in America until the late eighteenth century. Most Americans purchased their watches from England. The case of this pocket watch has hallmarks for London and a maker’s mark for Robert Mansir who operated at 15 Lower Charles Street. The chain and fob, which is also a pencil, are a later addition and were made by the London firm Sampson Mordan & Co. who specialized in metal pens and pencils. The fob is marked with a patent issue date “JU Y 6 1840.” All three pieces descended to the donor from his grandmother, Sophia Harrison (Otis) Ritchie (1798-1874), the youngest daughter of Harrison Gray Otis. According to family tradition the watch and accessories were originally owned by Harrison Gray Otis.

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Set of Vest Buttons in Original Case
Rome, Italy, 1855-1865
Micromosaic, gold
Buttons: H. 9/16, W. 9/16, D. ½ in.
Case: H. 1, W. 5 ½, D. 2 ¾ in.
Gift of Miss Ellen F. Mason
1930.160
Robert Means Mason (1810-1879)
Levitsky
Paris, France, c. 1860
Carte de Visite
Gift of Miss Clara B. Winthrop

These vest buttons were purchased by the donor's father, Robert Means Mason (1810-1879) who traveled with his wife, Sarah Ellen (Francis) Mason (1818-1865) in Europe in 1847 and between the years 1859 and 1865. Each button depicts in micromosaic a different ancient monument in Italy.

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Fob and Cuff Links
United States or Europe, 1875-1885
Gold, chalcedony
Studs: 1 1/8 x 7/8 x 5/8 in.
Fob: 1 7/8 x 7/8 x ½ in.
Gift of Miss E. W. McKibbin
1930.21-22 a,b
Inscription: “MK”

This matching set of cuff links and watch fob are each set with double cameos of classical male and female profile bust portraits. The fob contains two tinted photographs dating from the 1880s.

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Functional Elegance: Male Adornment