A couple of months ago, I wondered if there were any extant 15th or 16th century artifacts on Ebay. I know that lots of little metal bits are found in Europe and sold online to collectors: many pewter reproduction makers like to buy them so that they can make an exact copy to sell to reenactors like me. On this fortuitous day of wondering, I stumbled upon this buckle:
Pretty sweet right!? I asked the seller if this buckle had been documented or reported with any museums or collections like the Portable Antiquities Scheme, and unfortunately he said no since it was found over 20 years ago, and cannot be linked to a specific location any more.
While this feels medieval to me, ‘feels’ isn’t quite adequate documentation these days, so I looked around for similar objects. There are lots of extant pewter buckles around, even lots with integral plates like this one, but I only found one other object that was very similar to this one.
The Museum of London says this about the 13th century buckle: “Pewter buckle, probably from the shrine of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. On one side the buckle plate is decorated with a standing figure of Becket with his right hand raised in blessing and a crosier in his left hand. There is a chain link attached to the buckle plate. The owner may have used this buckle and chain to hang an ampulla (bottle for holy water) on their chest (chains are known to have been used for hanging pilgrim souvenirs from other shrines).”
I was super exited when I found another buckle like this in Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges by Brian Spencer until I realized it’s the exact same buckle find. Ah well. A curious difference is that the drawing shows three links hanging from the bottom of the buckle instead of just one. I wonder if they were lost?
While the decorations are a bit different, the overall proportions look about the same, and they both have that rectangular hole at the bottom. I am a little bit dubious about the measurements listed on the Museum of London website (10mm x 49mm) since that would mean that the length is nearly 5 times longer than the width, when it is very clear from the photograph that it is only 2 times longer. I suspect that the listed width should be 19, which means it would be about the same size as the wolf badge. (Note to self: go look in the book again, see if it has measurements.)
With at least one similar buckle around, I feel a little more comfortable with making a piece based off of the wolf buckle. We have a local event coming up with lots of horses (it’s pretty sweet, if you ever happen to be in Washington state), and they could use a nice horse themed site token. So I am going to turn that wolf into a horse.
I have been looking at extant pewter molds lately, and have noticed that many have multiple objects on the same stone, often set up in such a way that everything in the mold is cast at once.
Another nifty thing I have seen, particularly on brooch or buckle molds, is a little spot on the side where pins for the brooches can be cast. Some just have one pin, but a few have multiple pins set up to be cast at once.
This is neat because you can cast several pins at once, and even slightly differently sized pins if you make your wood dowel insert slightly cone shaped.
When considering where I wanted the sprue for my buckles, I went back to the molds and found these:
It’s a bit hard to say for sure, but it looks like all three of these integral plate buckles are cast from the bottom of the plate, so I’ll do that for my mold too.
~Fast forward a few weeks~
I didn’t do a very good job of taking pictures as I went along, so I’ll describe what I did as best I can.
- I printed out copies of the Wolf buckle to the approximate size of the originial (19mm x 39mm). I cut out some of them to trace around on my mold.
- Once I figured out where I wanted to my buckles (I could fit two on my mold) and my pins, I marked them with pencil and got to work carving.
- I cheated a bit with the pin part: found a wood dowel about the right diameter, used a drill press to test several drills till I found one that was the right size for my dowel, then held my two mold pieces together with clamps and drilled right where the two pieces met, creating an inch long hole. When I opened the mold, it had two half-circle sections removed from both sides of the mold. Ta-da!
- I carved out three pins from my drill-made hole.
- I carved one of the buckles until it was casting fairly consistently, then added the decorative details (pony!)
- Moved on to the second buckle, decided to go for the same style, but with an An Tir lion instead (crowned, with a forked tail).
- Yay done!
The Horse buckle ended up just under the measurements I was aiming for, but pretty close otherwise, and I corrected that error when I carved the Lion buckle. For fun, let’s compare the original beside the two I made.
- Rectangular holes at the bottom and middle should both be smaller. They are throwing off the proportions and making the plate look narrower than the original (that might also be in part from the black background of my photos, looks like it is hiding the silhouette of my buckles a bit).
- My crosshatching behind the beasts, and on the round shape at the top should be smaller.
- My pearl edging is too big. I started much smaller, but the ‘pearls’ were barely discernible, but it looks like I should have stuck with the small ones. Ah well.
But for the most part, it’s pretty close. I have noticed, on this object and many others, that V shaped tools must have been used. If you go back up to some of the extant mold images, you can see some of what I mean. Gouges can have that V shape on the edge, but most of the ones I have would be far too large to use with soapstone. I might have to hunt some wee ones down for experimenting.
With a goodly bit of help from wonderful friends, we got over 250 cast, filed, and assembled for the event.
Everyone seemed quite happy with them, and several let me know that they wanted to buy some later (I only cast enough for the site tokens, none to sell that day). I wasn’t 100% sure how they would stand up as garter buckles, so I used some of my early versions before the horse was fully carved to create some quick garters out of twill tape. They held up just fine during the event, with only the very slightest hint of bending to fit the curve of my leg by the end of the long day.