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The Little History of Stick Pins
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The Little History of Stick Pins

The Little History of Stick Pins

Stick pins, a collectable and affordable form of antique jewellery that compels plenty of intrigue and fascination. Composing of primarily two components, a long pin and a decorative head, this type of antique jewellery still survives today in the form of a tie pin, but it is no longer the gorgeous and individual piece that it once was. 

Here at Lillicoco, we love stick pins and we know you do too. How can you not? Ranging from adorable to elegant, eccentric to understated, in the antique world there are a myriad of pieces. However, not for long.

Antique stick pins are widely sought after amongst antique aficionados and burgeoning appreciators. And many of them are unique, crafted from a variety of materials, each displaying a distinctive stick pin head. 

Skull Enamel Gold Stick Pin, 1867, Source - The Victoria and Albert Museum

Unlike other forms of glittering jewellery at this time, designed for their aesthetic appeal, stick pins were largely created during 1830 and 1920 for a utilitarian purpose. Fixing and holding a gentleman’s cravat in place, these were mainly made from slippery and weighty fabrics. Stick pins allowed for wealthy gentleman to forge a respectable appearance, incredibly important within their society. 

However, for those who binge-watch period dramas like Downton Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and most recently Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, cravats and elaborate neck scarves pre-date the Victorian era. Originally created as part of a 17th-century military uniform, the rudimentary cravat was designed to protect the neck from an ill-fated spear. Surely, these would have needed stick pins too if the process of them holding in place was not only arduous but also life-threatening? 

At this point in history, pins in their primitive form were few and far between in Europe due to being labour-intensive and expensive to create, so men from this era resorted to elaborate knotting styles which eventually also became indicative of a man’s rank, style and taste. Stick pins did exist at this time as evident from this Georgian stick pin below, but they were only bought and worn by the upper echelons of society.

Despite pins being expensive and time-consuming to create, it didn’t lessen the demand for them, however. At the beginning of the 19th century, the pin-making industry was a cottage industry, (so, slow and small).

Due to this, frustrated men and women started to order their pins from France rather than these smaller businesses in England. This caused outrage, leading to Parliament in 1820 to pass an act that prohibited the sales of pins to only two days a year, January 1st and January the 2nd. Ultimately meaning that stick pins were few and very far between.

However, in 1832 everything changed! A pin-making machine was patented in America, meaning that pins could be produced incredibly quickly, leading to the inevitable rise of stick pins in the 1830s, as well as hat pins in the 1850s. 

You may be acquainted and drawn towards more lavish stick pins. However, at first, early examples of stick pins created during 1830 to 1850 showed that these pins were rather simple in design, perhaps only having a single jewel on top of the pin. Yet from 1850 onwards, stick pins became far more extravagant which were due to two factors:

  1. Stick pins were one of the few articles of jewellery that men wore, meaning it quickly became a signifier of their taste, wealth and individuality. 
  2. Cravats became more popular with the upper-middle classes, meaning that more money was being lavished upon these items, thus reflecting in their bolstered status and design.

The mass production of stick pins occurred during the 1870s, leading to more outlandish and creative features that were beyond the atypical jeweller including animal heads, horseshoes, bugs, flowers, celestial pieces, and hearts.

From political to pretty, stick pins were widely incorporated in men’s fashion, and by the 1890s, stick pins were emerging within women’s fashion too. 

Yet, women’s fashion and pins also had a convoluted relationship, of course, pins were used for dressmaking and embroidery. However, stick pins and hat pins within women’s fashion started to show a change of the times. In the 1890’s, stick pins were used in women’s sportswear, signifying the shift in roles, having more time for leisure and active pursuits, rather than the domestic. 

What’s more, hat pins became more and more popular due to the change in hat styles. Women preferred wearing hats that could be secured onto the head with a hat pin, rather than wearing a bonnet which secured to the head by being tied tightly under the chin. 

Bonnets were viewed as restrictive, and hat pins allowed women to escape this confining form of dress. This aligned with the slowly changing attitudes surrounding women’s dress being uncomfortable, patriarchal and ultimately, a form of imprisonment. 

Remember when earlier in this blog post the government restricted pin purchasing in 1820? Well, it wasn’t the end of that. In 1909, as the suffragette movement was advancing at a rapid pace, there were increasing fears that hat pins could be used as weapons (as stick pins could too!). This lead to a bill being passed instructing that women’s pins had to be 9 inches long or less. 

After World War I, stick pins and hat pins became less and less popular as World War I was a catalyst for a seismic shift in dress. Due to the sudden change in men and women’s roles, clothes became more streamlined, and the mass production of fasteners like buttons and zips meant that pins were no longer needed to hold clothes in place. 

Although stick pins stopped being made, this did not mean that they fell from grace, they just didn’t fit with new evolving designs. However, this means that today they are highly collectable. True historic pieces from bygone eras, their beauty is still revered to this day. 

If you are just starting an antique collection, stick pins and hat pins are a great place to start. Not only are they made from high-quality Gold and Silver, but also many are inlaid with gems making them an affordable way to possess a piece of the past. In fact, if in good enough condition, you can still wear these pins on a day to day basis or on formal occasions.

Today, personal style doesn’t have the rigid codes and preconceived notions that dominated former areas, meaning you can easily wear a stick pin with any outfit! We think sparkling Gold pins would look perfect when pinned into chunky knitwear or holding together thick winter scarves.

Alternatively, we work with an experienced and reliable jeweller who often converts antique stick pins for us on your behalf.

If you see a pin you love and can imagine it as a beautiful pendant around your neck…. Or a one-of-a-kind ring please get in touch with us, and we’ll work with you to make your jewellery dreams come true!

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1 comment on The Little History of Stick Pins

  • Jen

    This is such a fascinating little page! I am afraid I am still a novice collector but does anyone know why some of the pins themselves are wavy and other straight but twisted or etched? Does it have anything to do with date or use? Thank you so much for the information on here it really is fab to lean about the history of these precious pins!

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