Archaeological Artifact: Eighteenth Century Shoe Buckle
August 15, 2018
By: Jeanne A. Ward, RPA and Alexandra Glass
Several pieces of clothing and shoe buckles have been recovered during the Cloverfields excavations. A fragment of a cast copper alloy buckle was recovered during excavations of the Dining Room area, while a chape was recovered found in association with the now demolished kitchen that once stood as the rearmost portion of the house. The shoe buckle was decorated with rounded glass insets and set into the cast copper alloy frame (Fig.1). It’s size and slightly arching shape suggest it would have been used as a shoe buckle rather than at the knee or waist. It would have been fastened to the front of the shoe using a chape (Fig. 2). The chape would have been used to fasten the buckle to shoe and may have looked similar to the piece recovered from the old kitchen (Fig.3).
Buckle chapes usually have a pronged section that is pushed through the shoe fabric, but this portion is broken on the Cloverfields example and may have been why it was discarded or lost. The whole buckle assembly made it easy to slide on and off the shoe so different styles could be worn for different occasions. The video below illustrates how shoe buckles were attached to 18th century shoes:
William Hemsley’s 1737 probate inventory lists a pair of shoe buckles and 6 pair of knee buckles valued at 5 shillings and 6 pence (MSA Prerogative Court 1736/7). Shoe buckles such as this were used from roughly 1720 the end of the 18th century when they begin to fall out of fashion. Advertisements for shoe and knee buckles were often placed in newspapers such as this excerpt from the Maryland Gazette (Fig. 4).
Both men and women used ornamented buckles to accessorize their shoes and are often seen on clothing in portraits (Fig.5). While the buckles listed in the probate inventory were probably less ornate than the buckle fragment from the dining room, it does indicate that it was a fashion the Hemsley household subscribed to and buckles would have been an everyday item.
Maryland State Archives. Archives of Maryland Online: Maryland Gazette Collection. M1280, August 5, 1762. Accessed 12 August 2018, https://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc4800/sc4872/001280/html/index.html