When working as an Olympic Games maker in Greenwich I would often spend my ‘time out”on the banks of the Thames and was intrigued by the wonderful treasure to be found on the beach. Having talked about this at home my daughter arranged for my husband and i to have a day out with a Mud Larker on the Thames. This birthday treat was amazing and the fact that i found these old pins was just an added bonus.
The pins date from 1400 to 1800. Everyone used pins all of the time back then for use on bodices, shirts, swaddling and even death shrouds, everything was pinned with pins of various sizes. The pinning industry was huge and the amount of money afforded to women to buy their pins gave rise to the expression ‘pin money’.
Some of the earliest versions of decorative pins can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks who called them Fibulae. Pins were necessary to keep their loin cloths together. Goldsmiths decorated the fibulae with various jewels and precious metals making them very desirable.
In the Middle Ages pins were used by the upper classes, especially women. If you had money to blow, women in your family were given pin money which was their allowance to spend on pins and fancy goods. Decorative pins were in such demand that pin makers could not keep up with demand so high quality pins were imported from France. But in 1483 in order to boost the British economy, importation of French pins was banned! The most Decorative pins were eventually turned into brooches, hat pins, lapel pins, tie pins and jewellery.
Since my Mud Larking birthday present I have been following Mud Larkers on instagram and was delighted when London.mudlark posted a wonderful article about the pins, their history and how they were made. She also has a new book due to be released Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem.
So, the next time you pick up a or drop a pin just think about their history and how, once, they were a vital and valuable part of daily life.