Keys

Introduction

This guide is to keys for locking and unlocking locks and padlocks. Locks and keys are symbolic of personal property, control and exclusion, so they are interesting items to record and study.

Most of the keys recorded on the PAS database are made from copper alloy, but most excavated keys (and probably most keys in use in the past) are made from iron. Keys of the two materials seem to be surprisingly different, and we should not assume that what holds for iron keys is also true for copper alloy keys.

The best source for Roman keys covers only the iron examples (Manning 1985) but also mentions a few copper-alloy examples in passing.

The best source for early-medieval copper-alloy keys is Megan von Ackermann’s PhD at the University of York, which will shortly be available on Ethos. There is also an excellent short section on early-medieval iron keys in the Flixborough report (Ottaway in Evans and Loveluck 2009, 187-195).

The best sources for early-medieval and medieval keys are Goodall in Biddle 1990, Ward Perkins 1940, and Egan 1998. There are no particularly good sources for post-medieval keys.

Different types of locks and keys

There are several different types of lock, which use a sliding bolt with tumblers, levers or springs to keep the bolt from moving. They do not necessarily all require different forms of key; the same key form can be used to operate different kinds of lock.

Terminology can be inconsistent, and occasionally the same term is used for different things. For example, the term ‘slide key’ has been used to refer to a key which slides along the springs of a padlock, squeezing them together so that the padlock can be opened (Ottaway and Rogers 2002, 2866-2869). But ‘slide key’ is also used to refer to a key which lifts tumblers out of a perforated lock-bolt and then slides the bolt open (Manning 1985, 92-3); and this type of key is also sometimes called a ‘lift key’. Rotary keys all turn, but can then lift tumblers or levers, or push springs, so that the lock can be opened.

It will be clear from this that any jargon terms such as lift key or rotary key cannot be used without full explanation of what you mean, and are no substitute for a meticulous description.

The word ‘key’ can also be used for a tool to grasp and turn something other than a lock; perhaps to open a gas meter cabinet (a gas key) or to wind a clock (a clock key). We use the term KEY (WINDING) for these. Some keys open a valve, but the equivalent part of a tap is called a ‘handle’; see the guide to taps for further details.

PAS object type(s) to be used

KEY (LOCKING) should be used for all keys that work with locks or padlocks. There are many alternative terms available on the mda thesaurus, but as the different terms are poorly defined and inconsistently used, they should be avoided. Moreover, in practice we cannot normally distinguish fragments of slide keys, lift keys and rotary keys, or tell keys from mounted locks from those used with padlocks. What we can see is the overall shape, and so we classify keys according to shape rather than specific function.

For keys which simply turn round and round, rather than lock and unlock, use KEY (WINDING). Even though not all of these keys will be used for winding clockwork mechanisms, there is no alternative on the mda thesaurus.

For key-like items which turn to open and close a tap, use TAP.

PAS classifications and sub-classifications to be used

For T-shaped or L-shaped keys, please add ‘T shaped’ or ‘L shaped’ to the classification field.

There is no generally accepted typology for Roman copper-alloy keys or fragments, but we can flag up the major divisions. For an openwork handle (normally with three lobes) please add ‘openwork handle’ to the classification field. For a solid rectangular handle with loop, please add ‘solid rectangular handle’ to the classification field. For a handle in the shape of an animal, please add ‘zoomorphic handle’ to the classification field. For ring-keys, please add ‘ring key’ to the classification field. For anything else, or uncertain fragments, leave the classification field blank.

For early-medieval and medieval keys for mounted locks, the Winchester types developed by Goodall (in Biddle 1990) seem to be the most useful at present. Please add them, if you can, to the classification field in the following format: Winchester type 2. Be careful to use Arabic numerals for Winchester types.

The exception is for London type VI keys (Ward Perkins 1940), which do not have an equivalent in the Winchester typology. Be careful to use Roman numerals for the London typology. Add London types in the following format: London type VI.

Casket keys do not fall into either Winchester or London types. For these, it is useful to use ‘casket’ in the Description field.

For padlock keys, please again use the Winchester types (Winchester type A, Winchester type B, Winchester type C). For the mysterious variety with T-shaped extension beyond the bit, use ‘type C variant’ in the classification field.

Terms to use in the Description

In general we follow Goodall’s terminology, which is largely also followed by Egan (although Egan uses the term ‘shank’ rather than ‘stem’).

The different parts of a key (WREX-99E35C).
The different parts of a key (WREX-99E35C).

This tripartite division does not work particularly well for some Roman keys, especially those with a suspension loop, solid rectangular element, stem and bit; it can be very hard to work out whether the solid rectangular element is part of the handle, or part of the stem. For Roman keys, it is therefore perfectly acceptable to use the term ‘handle’ instead of bow.

Parts of a Roman key (WAW-9D3A02)
Parts of a Roman key with solid rectangular handle (WAW-9D3A02)

Roman slide keys have ‘teeth’ on their bits (WAW-9D3A02 illustrated above has six teeth) whereas the word ‘ward’ seems to be more commonly used for other keys.

Similarly, if the handle end of a medieval padlock key is very unlike a rotary key’s bow, call it a handle.

Latchlifters

The term ‘latchlifter’ is often applied to simple hooks with a handle which could be used to open a bolt. Manning (1985, 88-89, pls. 37-40) lists several iron examples from late Iron Age and Roman sites; they also occur in the early-medieval world, up to the 9th century (Ottaway in Evans and Loveluck 2009, 190). They do not appear to have been made from copper alloy. We have very few recorded on the PAS database; if you do record one, use the object type LATCHLIFTER. A date-range of 100 BC to 800 AD is probably appropriate.

T-shaped and L-shaped keys

T-shaped or L-shaped keys were used with Roman tumbler locks (Manning 1985, 90-92, pl. 40) and were mostly made from iron. They occasionally occur in early Anglo-Saxon graves, and there are examples from Flixborough. Ottaway suggests that they went out of use at the start of the 10th century (in Evans and Loveluck 2009, 190). A date of c. 43-900 AD is probably sensible for the iron examples.

We have a few copper-alloy examples recorded on the PAS database, which are probably of similar date; and, exceptionally, one 95% silver example (HAMP-66BB77). Some are decorated, and where the decoration is diagnostic, it usually suggests a Roman date. Note the Roman-style handles on HAMP-66BB77 and BH-0852F6.

Left: five T-shaped keys, all except one of copper alloy. Left, top to bottom: NCL-29FAA7, HAMP-66BB77 (silver), LIN-8AF3B7. Centre, top to bottom: YORYM-84E0BD, BH-0852F6. Right: three copper-alloy L-shaped keys. Above: NCL-DEC6A2 and KENT-94C5F1. Below: LEIC-5D3322.
Left: five T-shaped keys, all except one of copper alloy. Left, top to bottom: NCL-29FAA7, HAMP-66BB77 (silver), LIN-8AF3B7. Centre, top to bottom: YORYM-84E0BD and BH-0852F6. Right: three copper-alloy L-shaped keys. Above: NCL-DEC6A2 and KENT-94C5F1. Below: LEIC-5D3322.

T-shaped keys should not be confused with early Anglo-Saxon girdle-hangers, which are superficially similar to copper-alloy T-shaped keys, but flat in cross-section, non-functional and generally decorated with stamps.

Roman keys

The earliest keys in Britain date to the Roman period. They are usually made in two pieces, with an iron stem and bit, and a copper-alloy handle or bow, but occasionally we record complete copper-alloy examples.

There is no generally accepted typology for Roman copper-alloy keys or fragments, but there are three distinctive shapes of handle; openwork (normally trilobate) and solid (normally rectangular, with a loop) are the commonest, and there are also a small number of zoomorphic handles. There may be many other less distinctive Roman keys too.

Openwork handles, normally three-lobed

These usually consist of the handle or bow only, because the stem and bit were made from iron. Exceptionally, BH-57A610 is made entirely from copper alloy, and has a hollow stem and massive bit which together look horribly like a medieval rotary key of London type VI (see below); caution should therefore be exercised when dealing with fragments. SOMDOR-9B8C55 is similar, but with an iron stem and bit surviving.

Two large Roman keys with openwork trilobate handles. Above, SOMDOR-9B8C55; below, BH-57A610.
Two large Roman keys with openwork trilobate handles. Above, SOMDOR-9B8C55; below, BH-57A610. Both are c. 130mm long.

These handles can also be found on smaller keys, and in a variety of patterns, not all of which have the three lobes (see below for examples). There are also some quatrefoil or quadrilobate key fragments recorded on the PAS database as Roman, but as all complete examples are medieval, a Roman date is less likely to be correct. If you are unsure whether to go for a Roman or medieval date, look closely at the collar (if it survives) as Roman collars tend to have multiple transverse grooves and narrow ridges, and medieval collars tend to have a larger central rounded component.

Roman keys which retain at least part of a copper-alloy openwork handle and an iron stem. Left above, WMID-4CCDD1. Left below, HAMP-B535F4. Right, HAMP-78F8D1.
Roman keys which retain at least part of a copper-alloy openwork handle and an iron stem. Left above, WMID-4CCDD1 (with double bit). Left below, HAMP-B535F4. Right, HAMP-78F8D1. Note the distinctive collars.

Some openwork handles have separately made iron stems and bits (see illustration above) but others, mainly smaller, have integral copper-alloy stems and bits (see illustration below). Note that in some cases (such as SF-491826 on the left below) the bit projects at right angles to the handle.

Left: three Roman keys with openwork handles and integral copper-alloy stems and bits (left, SF-491826 ; right above, ESS-DB9F01; right below, DOR-038704). Right: a variety of shapes of openwork handles (left, WILT-8FF132 (above) and BERK-3259FE (below); centre, NMS-D6C4D9 (above) and NMS-F4BE10 (below); right, YORYM-FAA017.
Left: three Roman keys with openwork handles and integral copper-alloy stems and bits (left, SF-491826 ; right above, ESS-DB9F01; right below, DOR-038704). Right: a variety of shapes of openwork handles (left, WILT-8FF132 (above) and BERK-3259FE (below); centre, NMS-D6C4D9 (above) and NMS-F4BE10 (below); right, YORYM-FAA017.

Because of the variety of shapes, it is best to add ‘openwork’ to the classification field. The term ‘trilobate’ is often used in the Description field, and seems more popular than the alternatives (which include ‘trefoil’ and ‘tripartite’, but not ‘trilobite’ because a trilobite is a fossil arthropod living about 500-250 million years ago).

Nina Crummy quotes a date of after 150 AD for these (Crummy 1983, 126, citing Der Obergermanisch-Raetische Limesdes Römerreiches 8, Taf 12,51).

Solid rectangular handles

These keys have a solid, thickened rectangular area at one end of the stem, forming a handle; it normally ends in a loop, usually circular or lozenge-shaped but occasionally of other shapes. They appear to date from the entire Roman period, and can have bits of various shapes.

With most, the bit projects in the same plane as the bow, like a modern key, but the teeth of the bit then project at a right angle, either forwards or sideways. These teeth are thought to have fitted into the holes on openwork ‘lock bolts’ such as HESH-058774 (see LOCKS for more details on lock bolts) and the key then used to slide the bolt across. A key and its corresponding lock-bolt are in the BM collection, at 1912,1021.2. The keyholes for these keys would have been L-shaped.

Those shown below are all of Manning’s type 2 slide keys (Manning 1985, 93); examples of Manning type 1 (with a longer, L-shaped or curved bit) have apparently not yet been recorded on the PAS database.

A selection of slide keys with solid handles. Left to right: DEV-514F0E, LEIC-1C4B92, NMS-B016F2, NLM-3F8683 (above, a notably small example), SUSS-218BC2 (below, with unusually shaped bow)
A selection of keys with solid handles and copper-alloy stems and bits. Left to right: DEV-514F0E, LEIC-1C4B92, NMS-B016F2, NLM-3F8683 (above, a notably small example), SUSS-218BC2 (below, with unusually shaped bow).

Other examples of keys with solid handles have a simpler bit which projects at right angles to the handle. These may have been rotary keys.

Three small copper-alloy Roman keys with solid handles. Left to right: BH-E374F2, LVPL-556548, SUR-19B512
Three small copper-alloy Roman keys with solid handles. Left to right: BH-E374F2, LVPL-556548, SUR-19B512.

Many of these solid rectangular handles, like the openwork handles, will have had iron stems and bits. These occasionally survive (as on LANCUM-6B5B80) but it is more common to find the copper-alloy handle on its own.

Solid copper-alloy key handles, originally with iron stems. From left, LANCUM-6B5B80, BH-08EF06, SF-F573C2, SF-072683.
Solid copper-alloy key handles, originally with iron stems. From left, LANCUM-6B5B80, BH-08EF06, SF-F573C2, SF-072683.

Keys with the bit at right angles to the plane of the handle

Where the bow is turned at 90˚ to the modern orientation, there is a strong likelihood that the key is Roman. This feature is occasionally found with openwork key handles (such as SF-491826 illustrated above) and with solid rectangular handles (such as BH-E374F2, LVPL-556548 and SUR-19B512, all illustrated above).

It is also found with less diagnostic bow forms, such as those shown below. 

Small copper-alloy keys with the bit at right angles to the plane of the handle. Left to right: SOM-391D25, HAMP-515186, NMS-AD5C44, PUBLIC-C96CA7, SF-84D6CD. The three on the right are very similar, and there are several other examples of this type on the database.
Small copper-alloy keys, probably of Roman date, with the bit at right angles to the plane of the handle. Left to right: SOM-391D25, HAMP-515186, NMS-AD5C44, PUBLIC-C96CA7, SF-84D6CD. The two on the left have characteristic grooved decoration on the stem. The three on the right are very similar, and there are several other examples of this type on the database.

Zoomorphic handles

Solid key handles are occasionally made in the shape of animals, usually showing the head, forelegs or more of a crouching lion. The most elaborate example on the PAS database is SWYOR-F1D5D6, asymmetrically modelled with prey (a ram’s head) in the lion’s mouth. A more representative group is shown below, with the most complete example (NLM-1E9032) retaining its iron stem and bit.

Zoomorphic key handles, in the shape of crouching lions. Left to right: NLM-1E9032, BH-E96707, SF-6038E8.
Zoomorphic key handles, in the shape of crouching lions. Left to right: NLM-1E9032, BH-E96707, SF-6038E8.

The PAS database also includes examples of other copper-alloy handles in the form of animals, usually identified as being a bear, dog or wolf. These are sometimes recorded as key handles (e.g. SOM-B0C429 and BUC-BDD866) and sometimes as knife handles (e.g. NCL-864495, SF3834 and LVPL-1DB33C). Two complete examples of knives with animal-head handles are in the BM collection (1856,0701.1132  and 1851,0813.45). Other functions are no doubt also possible.

Ring-keys

Ring-keys combine a finger-ring and a key, and are designed to be worn on the finger. The primary function of ring-keys is as tiny keys for locking and unlocking, rather than as personal decoration, so although a few are so small as to be possibly non-functional, please use KEY (LOCKING) for all of them. Add ‘ring key’ to the classification field, and the Guiraud type (e.g. ‘Guiraud type 5a’) to the sub-classification field.

The finger-ring part is usually quite simple, with little decoration. The stem runs along the finger, and the bit also lies flat along the finger; the ring would clearly have had to be removed from the finger to use it. The junction between stem and hoop is usually small and fragile and can often break, leaving an easily-overlooked scar.

Ring-keys were classified by Guiraud (1989, 191-3) as her finger-ring type 5. Guiraud divided them into five sub-types on the basis of the bit, but only Guiraud types 5a and 5b are at all common. Type 5a usually has a hollow stem and a bit with a slot immediately below the stem, but can come in simpler versions as well (e.g. WILT-C592D7, shown below). Type 5b has a very short stem and a square or rounded bit with openwork centre.

Roman ring-keys. Left, three keys of Guiraud type 5a (left above, WILT-C592D7; left below, LIN-CA7623; right, DOR-8FF913). Right, three keys of Guiraud type 5b (left, BM-B35729; centre, SUR-452144; right, BM-DE9D93).
Roman ring-keys. Left, three keys of Guiraud type 5a (left above, WILT-C592D7; left below, LIN-CA7623 (with decorated ring); right, DOR-8FF913). Right, three keys of Guiraud type 5b (left, BM-B35729; centre, SUR-452144; right, BM-DE9D93).

The other types are very rare; type 5c has a double-sided bit, type 5d appears to be a cruder version of type 5a, and type 5e has a decorative projection which does not appear to have worked as a functional key.

If the bit is missing, in theory it is impossible to tell which of the sub-types of ring-key you are dealing with, but in fact almost all type 5a keys have the stem projecting from one end of the bezel, and almost all type 5b keys have the stem projecting from the centre of the bezel.

Crummy (1983, 84) suggests that type 5b (with ‘flat wards’) may be early Roman, whereas type 5a may be 3rd or 4th century in date.

Note that it is not easy to photograph ring-keys so that the details are clear. Firstly, check the depth of field and make sure that all parts are in focus. Secondly, be careful that you have projected (arranged) your different views properly. Thirdly, as the stems and bits of a ring-key must lie along the finger so that it is comfortable to wear, they can be difficult to see in a normal record photo, so as with other finger-rings, it is often useful to include an oblique view (see below) as well as the normal record shots.

Oblique view of LVPL352
Oblique view of LVPL352 making it easy to understand how it fits on the finger.

Other Roman keys

There are also some small casket keys which can be identified as Roman keys from the distinctive form of their bit. It is of the same type as that found on keys with solid rectangular handles (see above); with sideways-projecting teeth which are thought to have fitted into the holes on openwork ‘lock bolts’. Manning calls these ‘slide keys’. Examples include NARC-08C7B1, HESH-8BB970, SUSS-DB3897, ESS-857F54WMID-E806A1, SUR-7EA641 and LVPL-9F4D2E.

Two small Roman keys. Left, ESS-857F54; right, WMID-E806A1.
Two small Roman keys with distinctive bits. Left, ESS-857F54; right, WMID-E806A1.

A key which has a small simple L-shaped bit (instead of the substantial toothed bit) is more likely to be early-medieval, such as IOW-A346E4 (illustrated below).

Early-medieval keys

Early and middle early-medieval keys

Early Anglo-Saxon graves occasionally contain latch-lifters, and even more occasionally can contain T-shaped or L-shaped keys (see above for both of these categories). Oddly, 7th-century graves do occasionally contain padlocks, normally with boxes (e.g. Harford Farm 7 and 18, Finglesham 6, Didcot 2, Castledyke 1) , but the keys used for these padlocks appear to be absent or unrecognised.

Although Winchester type 2 keys are known from several classic middle Anglo-Saxon sites (e.g. Hamwic, Wicken Bonhunt, Thwing and Brandon) none comes from a context that definitely pre-dates the 9th century.

Late early-medieval keys

Keys come into use in the 9th century at York, Flixborough and Winchester (Rogers 1993, 1420; Evans and Loveluck 2009, 194; Goodall in Biddle 1990, 1007). By the late 10th century, keys were well known enough to feature as the (probable) solution to the Exeter Book’s Riddle 44. This gives us a possible clue to the appearance of the early-medieval key, in that the object concerned has a hole in the front (foran is þyrel).

The characteristics of early-medieval keys are: a drop-shaped bow, tapering into the stem; an L-section bit; and a suspension loop at the far end of the bow. Any one of these is diagnostic of an early-medieval date. Some also have decoration in the Winchester style (e.g. WILT-C520E4 and DOR-6E063A), which helps to assign a precise date in the 10th century for these particular examples.

Three early-medieval keys (KENT-998C0D, WILT-C520E4 and DOR-6E063A). It is not particularly easy to see the L-section bits from these photographs, but the suspension loops are clear on KENT-998C0D (with ring) and WILT-C520E4. The ornament on WILT-C520E4 and DOR-6E063A has been identified as Winchester style, with a date-range centring on the 10th century.
Three early-medieval copper-alloy keys (KENT-998C0D, WILT-C520E4 and DOR-6E063A). It is not particularly easy to see the L-section bits from these photographs, but the suspension loops are clear on KENT-998C0D (left, with ring) and WILT-C520E4 (centre). The ornament on WILT-C520E4 (centre) and DOR-6E063A (right) has been identified as Winchester style, with a date-range centring on the 10th century.

Winchester types 1 and 2

Two of Goodall’s Winchester types are early-medieval in date, types 1 and 2, defined as having L-section bits. Type 1 has a projecting stem-tip, and is by far the commoner type among the iron keys at Winchester. Type 2 has a hollow tip to the stem, and is much commoner among the copper-alloy keys in the PAS assemblage. There is an explanation of how type 1 and 2 keys work in Biddle 1990, 1016-19.

It seems possible that type 2 is the earlier form, as it is found in a mid to late 9th-century context at Flixborough, and without other dating evidence at Brandon, Hamwic, Whitby, Wicken Bonhunt, Thwing and many other classic middle to late Anglo-Saxon sites (Evans and Loveluck 2009, 194-5; Hinton 1996, 50-1; Tester et al 2014, 182-3). The end date of type 2 is less certain, but c. 800-1100 is probably fairly safe.

At Winchester, iron keys of type 1 are found in contexts of the early 10th to mid 12th century. c. 900-1150 AD. This date seems likely for copper-alloy examples too (see the example illustrated above with 10th-century Winchester style, DOR-6E063A).

Copper-alloy keys of Winchester types 1 and 2. Left, two keys of Winchester type 1, with projecting stem-tip (NLM-5B60B5 (an unusually large example) and SF-9D1532). Right, four keys of Winchester type 2, with hollow end to stem (SF-7A2A05, BH-2934A9 (above) and IOW-A346E4 (below), NMS-5D98AE).
Copper-alloy keys of Winchester types 1 and 2. Left, two keys of Winchester type 1, with projecting stem-tip (NLM-5B60B5 (an unusually large example) and SF-9D1532). Right, four keys of Winchester type 2, with hollow-ended stem (SF-7A2A05, BH-2934A9 (above) and IOW-A346E4 (below – a casket key type), NMS-5D98AE).

It is not easy to photograph the salient features of these keys, but do try to show the cross-section of the bit and, if possible, any hollow end.

The earliest casket keys

Casket keys are diminutive, simple keys of about 35-40mm in length, and are generally hard to date. The small keys known as ‘casket keys’ also seem to have begun in the 9th century. One (possibly incomplete) copper-alloy example was found at the 7th- to 9th-century site at Brandon, Suffolk (Riddler in Tester et al 2014, 183, no. 8331). A few others have diagnostic early-medieval features, such as a drop-shaped bow, suspension loop or L-section bit. One with L-section bit is illustrated above (IOW-A346E4).

But as these small, undiagnostic keys continue to the end of the medieval period, it is impossible to date unstratified, undiagnostic casket keys this early. See below for more on casket keys, which we tend to date to c. 1100-1500 AD.

Medieval keys

It is still true that “the close dating of medieval keys is a matter of great difficulty” (Ward Perkins 1940, 133) and this is made harder by the fact that most excavated keys with secure dates are made from iron, and are rather different from the copper-alloy examples that make up 90% of the medieval keys on the PAS database.

The main typologies are Ward Perkins’s, developed for the keys in the London Museum; and Goodall’s, a modification of the London system developed in Winchester (Biddle 1990, 1005-36). The London system uses Roman numerals, and the Winchester system uses Arabic numerals.

Both typologies are based on iron keys, although there are occasional examples in copper alloy. London type VI keys are the exception, being exclusively of copper alloy.

What most medieval copper-alloy keys look like

To save you reading the whole of this guide, most medieval copper-alloy keys fall into either London type VI (large copper-alloy keys with hollow stems) or are ‘casket’ keys of various types (some of which fall into Winchester type 9). This guide will look at these two types first, and then go on to describe a few other keys. The other main Winchester types (types 3-8) are mainly made from iron and only very occasionally occur in copper alloy.

‘Casket’ keys

Casket keys are the commonest form of medieval key on the PAS database. They are small and simple, normally 35-40mm long; if your key is over 50mm, it is unlikely to be a casket key. The name was coined by Ward Perkins (1940, 144) but they were probably used on all sorts of small locks, on cupboards, chests, cases, etc.

Although almost all of the casket keys on the PAS database are of copper alloy, we know from excavated material that they were often made from iron as well, and are very similar in both materials.

The bow is normally simple and circular, but can occasionally be more elaborate; lozengiform bows are sometimes found. The stem is normally hollow at the end, but occasionally can be solid, tapering to project beyond the bit.

The bit is always quite simple, often symmetrical, sometimes uncut. They are normally made from cast copper-alloy, but can occasionally be made from folded sheet.

A selection of casket keys. Left, three keys with projecting stem-tips. Top to bottom: YORYM-BA5220, SUR-213DCA, YORYM-F9FBO6. Centre, three keys with hollow tips to the stem. Top to bottom: SWYOR-1E38C8 (with lozenge bow), LIN-45359F, BUC-7FCC12. Right, cast and sheet-metal keys. Top to bottom: NLM-8E3BA4 (cast and with filemarks), DENO-273694 (of folded sheet metal).
A selection of medieval ‘casket’ keys. Left, three keys with projecting stem-tips. Top to bottom: YORYM-BA5220, SUR-213DCA, YORYM-F9FB06. Centre, three keys with hollow tips to the stem. Top to bottom: SWYOR-1E38C8 (with lozenge bow), LIN-45359F, BUC-7FCC12. Right, cast and sheet-metal keys. Top to bottom: NLM-8E3BA4 (cast, with filemarks), DENO-273694 (of folded sheet metal).

A group of at least 32 ‘casket’ keys, both copper alloy and iron, was found in a context of c. 1233-1280 at St Mary Spital in Spitalfields, London, and thought to be keys from patients’ lockers (Thomas, Sloane and Phillpotts 1997, 34-5, 202-3).

The start and end dates of casket keys are hard to pin down. They may start in the early-medieval period (see above, from Flixborough) but they are more common in medieval contexts. They certainly continue into the 15th century (from York, Ottaway and Rogers 2002, no. 14290; and Winchester, Biddle 1990 no. 3851). Until we have further evidence, a wide date-range of c. 1100-1500 AD seems sensible.

London type VI copper-alloy keys

The other common type of copper-alloy key recorded on the PAS database is a large key known as the London type VI key.

When Ward Perkins (1940, 134-141) established his typology of large London keys, it was the only type that was mainly found in copper alloy. It does not occur as a separate type in Goodall’s Winchester typology, presumably because none were found at Winchester.

Type VI keys are mostly 80-100mm long and around 8-10mm thick, of chunky proportions, with hollow ends to the stem (or completely hollow stems, as on IOW-A54593) and with massive, often complex bits. A few can be slightly smaller, but still with the same proportions. Note that BH-57A610, a Roman key with openwork trilobate bow (pictured above) has a similar hollow stem and massive bit, so exercise caution when recording fragments.

The bows are usually lozengiform or quatrefoil, sometimes circular. They can just consist of a frame, but often also have openwork designs internally or knops and mouldings externally.

A selection of London type VI keys. Left above, with circular bow (PUBLIC-EC6B52). Left below, with animal heads on oval bow (SWYOR-BAAD16). Centre above, simple quatrefoil bow (DUR-35683A). Centre below, elaborate quatrefoil bow (KENT-74B0E0). Right, two lozenge bows (IOW-193174 above and KENT-7C0F84 below).
A selection of London type VI keys with simple frame bows. Left above, with circular bow (PUBLIC-EC6B52). Left below, with animal heads on oval bow (SWYOR-BAAD16). Centre above, simple quatrefoil bow (DUR-35683A). Centre below, elaborate quatrefoil bow (KENT-74B0E0). Right, two lozenge bows (IOW-193174 above and KENT-7C0F84 below). Note how useful it is to photograph the hollow end of the bow.

Those with openwork bows often also have suspension loops, normally short and tubular; these may have been used with rings, chains or swivels but, if so, none survive in place. One key, WMID-25B5B4, has a leather thong surviving, but it is wrapped around the bow and does not actually use the ‘suspension’ loop.

Keys of London type VI with openwork bows and tubular suspension loops. Left, WMID-D7BDAC (above) and WAW-7347C6 (below). Centre, NMS-45AE81 (above) and WMID-643E11 (below). Right, WMID-7CE0D1 (above) and WMID-25B5B4 (below).
Keys of London type VI with openwork bows and tubular suspension loops. Left, WMID-D7BDAC (above) and WAW-7347C6 (below). Centre, NMS-45AE81 (above) and WMID-643E11 (below). Right, WMID-7CE0D1 (above) and WMID-25B5B4 (with leather thong, below).

Some of these keys appear to be regionally distinctive. Rogerson and Ashley (2012) have suggested that one type (image above, centre top) may have been produced in the Aylsham area of Norfolk; and another (image above, centre below), with lozenge bow and four circular perforations, seems to be common in the midlands, centred around Lichfield. A detailed study of the different designs of type VI keys, and their distributions, is long overdue.

Ward Perkins believed that type VI dated to the 14th and 15th centuries (1940, 140), but reliable dating evidence is scarce. A fragment from London, missing its bow, was found in a context of c. 1270-1350 (Egan 1998, no. 313).

Goodall dates lozenge bows found on iron keys at Winchester to no later than the 14th century (in Biddle 1990, 1007), and it is possible (but not certain) that this holds true for copper-alloy keys too.

The function of London type VI keys is uncertain. Egan (1998, 111) appears to agree with Ward Perkins that a hollow-ended stem is not appropriate for a door that needs to be locked from either side, and so is more likely to have been used for a cupboard or chest. As these keys are quite big, though, the lock will have been correspondingly large.

Other (less common) medieval keys

There are some smaller, not VI keys; LEIC-B955CA, DENO-7B5DBA with simple bits, generally. 50-70mm

GAT-954187 is like a type VI, but has a projecting stem. Not deeply split, so probably not really a type 5.

Winchester type 3 and type 4 keys (London type II and III)

These categories are really only relevant for iron keys, which are forged rather than cast (copper-alloy keys tend to be simply cast in one piece, or occasionally made from folded sheet).

Both Winchester type 3 and type 4 keys have hollow ends to the stem, but are defined by the way in which they are forged. Winchester type 3 keys (London type II) are rolled out of a single piece of metal; in Winchester type 4 keys (London type III), the bit is made separately and welded on.

Winchester type 5 keys – with deeply split stem

These are uncommon but very distinctive keys which are found in both copper alloy and iron, in a variety of sizes. They can be recognised by their deeply split stem.

Keys of Winchester type 5. Left, above: GLO-046644 (iron). Left, below: NMS-B14138. Centre left, above: SWYOR-295625. Centre left, below: LVPL992. Centre right: DUR-20B278. Right: SWYOR-974FE7.
Keys of Winchester type 5. Left, above: GLO-046644 (iron). Left, below: NMS-B14138. Centre left, above: SWYOR-295625. Centre left, below: LVPL992. Centre right: DUR-20B278. Right: SWYOR-974FE7.

Exactly how deeply the stem needs to be split to qualify it as a type 5, rather than just a key with a solid stem (as below), is not yet defined. As there are so few of this type, it’s best to add ‘Winchester type 5’ to the classification field even if the identification is a bit uncertain.

At Winchester, these are found in contexts of the 11th to 13th centuries.

Keys with solid stems

The remaining types are those with the solid stems, either in line with the end of the bit or projecting beyond. If larger than a casket key, these theoretically fall into Winchester types 6, 7, and 8, and London types IV, V, VII and VIII. But examples in copper alloy are rare, and it is not worth trying to allocate them to a typology which was essentially developed for iron keys.

Some of the very few copper-alloy keys that are not London type VI, nor really Winchester type 5 because the split part of their stems are not particularly long. Left: SWYOR-704617. Right: GAT-954187.
Some of the very few large copper-alloy keys that are not London type VI, nor really Winchester type 5 because the split part of their stems are not particularly long. Left: SWYOR-704617. Right: GAT-954187.

There will always be occasional other oddities, such as HESH-6CD947 and ESS-24D08C, which appear to have had solid stems projecting beyond a pair of bits, one above and one below the stem.

Padlock keys

Different types of padlock can be unlocked using a variety of keys, some of which cannot be distinguished from keys for mounted locks. Because of this, the term KEY (LOCKING) should be used for any key, whether from a padlock or a mounted lock.

There is, however, one type of KEY (LOCKING) which is unique to the padlock, and on the PAS database we call this (in the Description field) a ‘padlock key’. It has a perforated bit which slides along the barbs of the padlock’s spring, squeezing them together so that the two halves of the padlock can be pulled apart.

Roman padlock keys

Iron padlock keys are fairly common in the Roman world. They are usually made from a single gently tapering strip of iron, with the narrower end turned over to form a small bow, and the wider end bent at right angles to form the perforated bit. Keys of this type were the commonest type of key found at Gorhambury Roman villa (Neal et al 1990, 147-8).

Manning (1985, 96-7 nos. O71-O74) includes three complete iron padlock keys (including 1853,0514.19 and 1877,0116.16) and one very large detached handle (1882,0206.17).

Padlock keys do not appear to have been made in copper alloy during the Roman period, and no padlock keys have been identified as Roman on the PAS database.

Late early-medieval and medieval padlock keys

Three types of padlock key were identified by Ian Goodall from the (exclusively iron) keys from Winchester. These were type A (bit set laterally to stem), type B (bit set centrally to stem), and type C (bit and stem in line). Type C includes Egan’s ‘shield shaped’ keys, which were Ward Perkins’s London type IX (Ward Perkins 1940, 135 and 143-4; Egan 1998, 102-3).

The Winchester type can go in the Classification field, and the word ‘padlock’ can be used in the Description field.

The terminology of padlock keys should mirror that of other keys as much as possible.  Hence they have bits and stems, and may have bows; if, however, the handle end is very unlike a normal key bow, call it a handle.

Winchester type A

Goodall defines these as having the bit ‘set laterally’ to the stem; in other words, the bit is attached to the stem by its edge. Type A keys are not particularly common, and are given a wide date-range by Goodall from early-medieval to post-medieval; the examples from Winchester (all of iron) date to the 10th to 15th centuries (Goodall in Biddle 1990, 1006).

The best-photographed example on the PAS database is shown below, but this does not have an end-on view showing details of the bit. It is always useful to take as many angles as you can, as these keys can be difficult to reconstruct from limited views.

Winchester type B

Goodall defines these as having the bit set centrally to the stem, and Ward Perkins calls them the ‘symmetrical form’. There are perhaps three main forms on the database, one with a lozenge bow, another with a circular bow with off-centre knop, and a plainer one with simple circular bow.

Ward Perkins dates this type to the 11th century at the latest (1940, 149-150), and Ian Goodall dates them to the 12th or 13th centuries (in Biddle 1990, 1006). Both were probably again working from iron examples. Copper-alloy keys with simple circular bows and bits set centrally to the stem are now known from a 12th- or 13th-century deposit at Coppergate, York (Ottaway and Rogers 2002, no. 12878), and 15th- or 16th-century contexts in Norwich (Margeson 1993, 162; no. 1312) and Exeter (Alison Goodall in Allan 1984, no. 183). A long date-range of c. 1100 to c. 1500 (or even longer) is therefore probably sensible for the type B, until we find more well-dated examples.

Padlock keys. Left: Winchester type A, with the bit set laterally to the stem (SF-631002). The other three are of Winchester type B, with the bit set centrally to the stem. Left to right: SF-7F9F55, HAMP-DA9AC7, BH-444EE7.
Padlock keys. Left: Winchester type A, with the bit set laterally to the stem (SF-631002). The other three are of Winchester type B, with the bit set centrally to the stem. Left to right: SF-7F9F55, HAMP-DA9AC7, BH-444EE7.

Winchester type C

Goodall defines this type as having ‘bit and stem in line’ (in Biddle 1990, nos 3725-30). The Winchester type C keys are all of iron, and have openwork rectangular or circular bits; they belong to the late 11th to possibly the early 13th century at Winchester, and are also found in mainly 12th-century contexts in London (Egan 1998, 100-102, nos. 267-8). There are not many known of copper alloy.

In the mid 14th century these keys seem to be superseded by a well-made group with ‘shield-shaped bit’ (Egan 1998, 102-3, nos. 269-272); this group also forms Ward Perkins’s London type IX. These keys may have continued being made in small numbers into the 19th century (see below) as ‘French night latch’ keys, so are difficult to date precisely.

Some keys of Winchester type C. Left to right: SWYOR-F089B1 (above) and NLM-97C5F1 (below), both incomplete; SWYOR-909A31; FAKL-14089C; and LANCUM-9C5462, which is probably a post-medieval 'latch' key.
Some keys of Winchester type C. Left to right: SWYOR-F089B1 (above) and NLM-97C5F1 (below), both incomplete; SWYOR-909A31; FAKL-14089C; and LANCUM-9C5462, which is probably a post-medieval ‘French night latch’ key.

Other possible padlock keys – with double or triple stem, and type C variant

Egan (1998, 103, no. 273) illustrates a key with double stem and bits set laterally to each half, from a late 14th-century context. It is paralleled to a certain extent by triple-stem examples, two from 12th- and 13th-century Gotland (MacGregor 1997, 66-67) and one from Icklingham, Suffolk (West 1998, fig. 55.8). We have a single example of this type on the PAS database, with double stem, LANCUM-B3B2F7.

Another object which appears to be a padlock key has never been found in an archaeological context, although we have nearly 30 now recorded on the PAS database, with no obvious geographical concentrations. We are currently using the term ‘type C variant’ in the classification field for this type (not prefixed with ‘Winchester’ as they don’t occur there).

It has an openwork sub-rectangular bit and often has a lozenge-shaped bow similar to that on other medieval padlock keys (both Winchester type A and type B). Its chief characteristic is an integrally cast T-shaped projection beyond the bit; the function of this is unknown. The stem often has a moulding on one face only, and again we don’t yet know whether this is functional, or merely decorative.

Keys of type C variant, showing the variety of bow and bit shapes. Left to right: WILT-2739C7, ESS-32F9F1, WILT-CFE431, YORYM-476F39, SUSS-1866AB, OXON-2A8EEC, SF-685597, YORYM-E7C7C8
Keys of type C variant, showing the variety of bow and bit shapes. Left to right: two with circular bows (WILT-2739C7 above, ESS-32F9F1 below); two with lozenge-shaped bows (WILT-CFE431 above, YORYM-476F39 below); two with circular knopped bows (SUSS-1866AB above, OXON-2A8EEC below) and two with circular knopped bows and bits with internal projections (SF-685597 above, YORYM-E7C7C8 below).

Post-medieval keys

Bows with a pair of internal projections are confined to the post-medieval period. Later post-medieval keys often had the bow shaped internally to a slight figure-of-eight form, as if they were intended for use with two fingers.

The Winchester type C key was adapted, perhaps in the 19th century, for use with the ‘French night latch’ (see explanation on the Queens’ College Cambridge website). We have a few of these recorded on the PAS database (see LANCUM-9C5462 illustrated above).

A keyhole for a night latch, for use with a night latch key. Sadly the mechanism on the inside of the door does not survive. The door is at 2 College Street, Bury St Edmunds, and the keyhole is probably 19th-century.
A keyhole for a night latch, for use with a night latch key. Sadly the mechanism on the inside of the door does not survive. The door is at 2 College Street, Bury St Edmunds, and the keyhole is probably 19th-century.

Unidentified Objects (2001 guide)

Please note that this guide has not been fundamentally changed from the original print version of the Finds Recording Guide (Geake 2001), written when the database contained just 8,800 non-numismatic records.

PAS object type to be used

If you don’t know what an object (or fragment) is, use UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT. It is often tempting to have a guess at another object type, and to add ‘possibly’ in the Object Certainty field, but this is often not a good idea. Something that is incorrectly recorded under a common object type may not be found again and corrected for years, whereas the unidentified objects are gone through fairly frequently by researchers.

Terms to use in the description

The descriptions for ‘unidentified object’ should tend to be the longest and most detailed of all, because the only way we will be able to retrospectively identify an object is with as much information as possible. Similarly, really good photographs and the correct projections of all the views are essential.

Date

Some of the time you will be able to date an unidentified object, for example by its art style. Much of the time you will have to enter UNKNOWN as the period. It is usually a difficult decision whether to bother adding an unidentified object of unknown date to the database, but if you feel that it is of some age, and you may wish to find the details in the future (e.g. if it is a fragment, and you think it may be identifiable if you could see a complete parallel) then feel free to go ahead and record it.

Lead Seals (Other than Cloth Seals) (2001 guide)

Please note that this guide has not been fundamentally changed from the original print version of the Finds Recording Guide (Geake 2001), written when the database contained just 8,800 non-numismatic records.

Introduction

This guide covers small multi-functional lead seals used to close bags of seed or fertilizer (including guano), Russian examples for flax bales (Sullivan 2002; PeaceHavens Project website), or seals on lorries and mail sacks, or even on gas meters date to the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

Similarly, 19th- or early 20th-century kosher seals are beginning to turn up in some areas.  They are lead, and differ in construction from those mentioned at the back of Egan (1994) in that they have no rivet, but rather a hole at the top in which a wire or string was presumably fixed.  There is an inscription in Hebrew on both sides, stating the authority of the Beth Din, and giving the name of the Chief Rabbi in office at the time.

PAS object type to be used

Use SEAL; cloth seals are covered in their own guide and recorded separately

PAS object classification to be used

Add Russian or kosher, as applicable

Date

Most of these seals will be late post medieval or modern in date.  Seals from earlier periods are known, however, and are significant objects.

Examples

Seals: post-medieval to modern kosher seal (top, BH-D374D4); post-medieval Russian flax seal (bottom, SOM-20E370). Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme; Somerset County Council; CC-BY licence)
Seals: post-medieval to modern kosher seal (top, BH-D374D4); post-medieval Russian flax seal (bottom, SOM-20E370). Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme; Somerset County Council; CC-BY licence)

Search for all examples of seals

Key references

Egan 1994

Sullivan 2002

Thimbles

Introduction

A thimble is an object used to protect the finger and push the needle through the fabric or leather when sewing. The earliest known use of the word is 15th century, but the word is Old English in origin, and related to the word for thumb.

The main division in thimbles is between the open, ring type and the domed, closed type. Domed thimbles can have a small hole in the top.

It is relatively easy to put thimbles into different types based on size, shape and style of indentations – but less easy to date them, because the different shapes and sizes may relate more to function than to date. Few have been found in dated archaeological contexts.

The best book on the subject is Read 2018, which has thoroughly reviewed all the existing literature and which offers clear and evidence-based dates. This guide is heavily based on Read 2018.

PAS object type(s) to be used

Use THIMBLE for both the conventional sewing thimble with domed or closed top, and the open-topped ring-type thimble or sewing ring.

We are also currently using the term THIMBLE for leather-workers’ or sail-makers’ palm guards (Read 2013; Read 2018, 76-82).

Occasionally a thimble can be found filled with lead, apparently for re-use as a weight. In this case, following the normal PAS rule that objects are recorded according to their last use, use WEIGHT.

PAS classification and sub-classifications to be used

If you are recording a ring-type thimble, please add the word ‘ring’ to the classification field. For palm guards (also called palm irons) please add ‘palm guard’. Otherwise there is no need to fill the classification field in.

Terms to use in the description

A thimble consists of a rim, sides and a top (which can also be called a cap or crown). The rim can be thickened in a variety of ways (such as turned over, or with a ridge) or unthickened. Look out for decoration around the rim (such as a groove). Any notches or folds in the rim should be carefully described, as they are thought to be evidence for manufacturing processes.

A ring-type thimble will have a lower rim and an upper rim.

The parts of a thimble (from left, IOW-F9CD4E, WMID-A9590D and NLM-FE8BD9).
The parts of a thimble (from left, IOW-F9CD4E, WMID-A9590D and NLM-FE8BD9).

The sides may be straight or curved, but will usually taper towards the top.

The sides will be covered with indentations, and the size, shape and layout of these should be carefully described. There may also be decoration on the sides. The top may be made separately; it should also have the indentations carefully described, as they may be different in size, shape and layout to those on the sides.

The hardest thing to describe is probably the layout and shape of the indentations. These can be irregular, or in rows or columns, or in spirals. Spirals around the sides can either run to the right, or to the left, and are always described from the base of the thimble. When describing spirals on the top, you can use clockwise or anti-clockwise, but do not forget to explain whether this direction runs from the centre or the edge.

Thinmbles with the indentations arranged in different ways. From left: horizontal rows (GLO-1BCBE1), vertical columns below and horizontal rows above (NARC-6A257F), left-hand spiral (PUBLIC-324BCB) and right-hand spiral (SOM-35B668).
Thinmbles with the indentations arranged in different ways. From left: horizontal rows (GLO-1BCBE1), vertical columns below and horizontal rows above (NARC-6A257F), left-hand spiral (PUBLIC-324BCB) and right-hand spiral (SOM-35B668).

The indentations can be rectangular, circular, oval, square or many other shapes. The indentations on the sides may be a different shape to those on the top. If you can, describe how they were made. Do they look as if they have been individually punched, hand-drilled, or machine-made?

Different shapes of indentations. From left: circular (SWYOR-663226), oval (SUR-A3D939), rectangular (BUC-F3ACED), two examples of reversed-D (LVPL2294 and SOM-35B668), triangular (BH-6F1311). The last example has square indentations on the top and circular indentations on the sides (SWYOR-FF63A8).
Different shapes of indentations. From left: circular (SWYOR-663226), oval (SUR-A3D939), rectangular (BUC-F3ACED), two examples of reversed-D (LVPL2294 above and SOM-35B668 below), and triangular (BH-6F1311). The last example has square indentations on the top and circular indentations on the sides (SWYOR-FF63A8).

Decoration other than the indentations often includes grooves around the rim and between the sides and the top. More complex decoration is not common, but can include reserved areas with no indentations, sometimes outlined with engraved lines; this is often known as strapwork.

Occasionally one thimble is found jammed inside another (e.g. LANCUM-EC9C69), which obviously makes it difficult to see or describe the inner one. Read has suggested that this may in fact be a metal sleeve or liner, rather than a second functional thimble, so have this question in mind when you examine a double thimble (Read 2018, 26).

Taking the dimensions

If the thimble is circular in cross-section, please note the maximum diameter and the height in the relevant boxes. Normally the maximum diameter will be at the rim, but do confirm this in the Description field. It can also be useful to note a minimum diameter, normally at the junction of sides and top, in the Description field.

If the thimble is squashed, the length and width fields can be used to record the surviving dimensions. The thickness field is often used for the thickness of the sides of the thimble.

Roman thimbles

The only metal thimble that has been securely identified from a Roman context is a single sewing ring from an early second-century context at Ephesus, which is thought to be a Chinese import (Wilson 2016). It seems certain that the metal thimble was not in use in Roman Europe.

As it is difficult to imagine sewing a great deal without any kind of finger protector, maybe pre-medieval thimbles were made from leather. It is thought that the fine steel needle, invented in China for sewing fine silk, needed a metal thimble.

Ring-type thimbles

Medieval ring-type thimbles

The common use of ring-type thimbles may pre-date the common use of domed thimbles. Two ring-type thimbles are among the earliest firmly dated thimbles from Britain. One comes from a context of c. 1270-1350 in London (Egan 1998, 265-7, no. 814) and another incomplete example is from a late 13th- or early 14th-century context in York (Ottaway and Rogers 2002, 2739-40, fig. 1347).

Other very early thimbles include a fragmentary ring-type thimble from an early 13th-century context in Amsterdam (Read 2018, 3, citing Langedijk and Boon 1999, cat. no. 292).

Six other ring-type thimbles are known from late 14th- or early  15th-century contexts in London (Egan 1998, 265-7, nos. 815-20). Read has confirmed that several of the London examples have longitudinal soldered seams (Read 2018, 7).

Read also suggests (2018, 7) that some similar thimbles may have had simple overlapped seams with no solder, allowing for some size adjustment, so check carefully to see whether solder is present.

Ring-type thimbles with overlapping soldered seams. Left to right: SUSS-7F3724, WILT-BE138A, BH-C71334. Read suggests that these date to c. 1200-1450 (Read 2018, 7-10).
Ring-type thimbles with overlapping soldered seams. Left to right: SUSS-7F3724, WILT-BE138A, BH-C71334. Read suggests that these date to c. 1200-1450 (Read 2018, 7-10).

Far more ring-type thimbles are made without a seam. Five examples in Read 2018 (nos. 6-10) strongly resemble the type with overlapping seam, with small, irregular, hand-made indentations. These are likely to be of similar date to those with seams (c. 1200-1450 AD).

Ring-type thimbles without a seam, perhaps dating to c. 1200-1450. Left to right: HAMP-BCB6D0, SF-E29A9B, SUR-FD36BB
Ring-type seamless thimbles with small, irregular indentations, perhaps dating to c. 1200-1450. Left to right: HAMP-BCB6D0, SF-E29A9B, SUR-FD36BB

Late medieval and early post-medieval ring-type thimbles

Short, stouter types of ring thimble, which look more as if they have been cast, appear to start in the 15th century and continue throughout the 16th. Read dates those with horizontal, concentric rows or left-hand spirals to the 15th century (2018, 7) and those with right-hand spirals from about 1550 (2018, 12); during the early 16th century it seems either could be used (Read 2018, 30).

Makers’ marks can appear on 16th-century ring-type thimbles, and Read illustrates a selection (2018, 26).

Short ring-type thimbles, perhaps made by casting. Left: two with horizontal rows of indentations (SOM-DE21CE and KENT-06A0B9). Centre: one of the few examples on the database of a left-hand spiral (SUR-66BEB2). Right: a right-hand spiral (SOM-EFD71A).
Short ring-type thimbles, perhaps 15th or 16th century. Left: two with horizontal rows of indentations (SOM-DE21CE and KENT-06A0B9). Centre: a left-hand spiral (SUR-66BEB2). Right: a right-hand spiral (SOM-EFD71A).

It is not unknown to have a late medieval or post-medieval ring-type thimble with a seam, but it is unusual (Read 2018, 12); examples include SF6273 and IOW-0B2034.

Later post-medieval ring-type thimbles

Ring-type thimbles continued to be made in small numbers into the 17th and 18th centuries; they tend to have heavy, thickened lower rims and machine-made interlocking indentations (Read 2018, 17-20).

Post-medieval thimbles, perhaps of 17th- or 18th-century date. Left to right: SUR-2A106B, WILT-0BE1AE, SWYOR-CC7124, SWYOR-E2C1AE.
Post-medieval ring-type thimbles with heavy ridges and more or less interlocking indentations, perhaps of 17th- or 18th-century date. Left to right: SUR-2A106B, WILT-0BE1AE, SWYOR-CC7124, SWYOR-E2C1AE.

Domed thimbles

Medieval domed thimbles

The earliest medieval domed thimbles

The earliest domed thimbles are imports. HAMP-598DC8 is a ‘Hispanic-Moresque’ thimble, probably made in Spain, and the only one to be recorded on the PAS database so far. It has a distinctive conical shape, and probably dates to the 12th to 15th centuries.

Read also illustrates a ‘Turko-Slavic’ thimble, not apparently recorded on the PAS database (2018, 23, no. 69), which may be as early as the 13th century.

14th-century domed thimbles

Domed thimbles come into common use in Europe in the 14th century; the first reference to a Nuremberg thimble-maker is from 1373 (Read 2018, 31).

14th-century thimbles are generally short and wide. They can either have straight tapered sides and pointed tops, or curved sides and top (often almost hemispherical). A few are faceted. They tend to have grooves around the rim, and small, often widely spaced circular indentations in irregular vertical rows on the sides and in concentric rings or a spiral on the top.

The centre of the top may be bare of indentations, and may also have a small central hole, possibly to help hold the thimble still while punching the indentations. Pierced thimbles come from contexts of 1330-1400 AD in London (Egan 1998, 821-825), and a thimble with a pointed top bare of indentations comes from a context of c. 1275-1400 in Norwich (Margeson 1993, no. 1457).

Thimbles with pierced tops. Left to right: SUR-2C3725, YORYM-0128B4, YORYM-5E6855. Note the faceting on YORYM-5E6855.
Thimbles with pierced tops, probably 14th-century. Left to right: SUR-2C3725, YORYM-0128B4, YORYM-5E6855. Note the faceting on YORYM-5E6855.

Apart from the grooves around the rim, decoration is not common, but can include grooves or bands bare of indentations which divide the indentations into panels; this is sometimes known as strapwork.

14th-century thimbles appear to have been made by hammering, and can be of quite thin sheet; they often do not survive well in the soil.

Thimbles of probable 14th-century date. Left to right: BH-433F18, OXON-413F44, WMID-A9590D, PUBLIC-3E590B. Note the grooved decoration on PUBLIC-3E590B.
Thimbles of probable 14th-century date. Left to right: BH-433F18, OXON-413F44, WMID-A9590D, PUBLIC-3E590B. Note the grooved decoration on PUBLIC-3E590B.

15th-century thimbles

During the 15th century, thimbles appear to become taller, heavier and thicker, with straighter sides and rounded tops. They can still have grooved decoration.

The central hole seems to have gone out of use by 1400, at least in London (Egan 1998, 266-7), although the top with centre bare of indentations is still found.

During the 15th century, thimbles can still have indentations in vertical rows on the sides, but they also start to have indentations in a spiral running upwards towards the left.

Spirals are hard to describe, as they run one way when described top to bottom and the other way when described bottom to top. We follow Read in describing from the bottom up, so a left-hand spiral runs upwards to the left and a right-hand spiral runs upwards to the right.

Left-hand spirals start in the 15th century (Read 2018, 7), but right-hand spirals do not appear to be used until a few decades into the 16th century (Read 2018, 12). During the early 16th century, it seems spirals could turn in either direction (Read 2018, 30).

Many 15th-century thimbles look at first sight as if their indentations are in concentric horizontal rows, but close inspection usually shows that they are in a left-hand spiral. Good examples of thimbles with left-hand spirals from excavated contexts include three from early 15th-century contexts in London (Egan 1998, nos. 829-831), and one from a mid to late 15th-century context in York (Ottaway and Rogers 2002, 2739-40, no. 14186).

Six thimbles, all probably of 15th-century date, most with indentations in a left-hand spiral, and with notches (arrowed). From left: LON-11F0CD, DENO-CFB9C2, SWYOR-9EC618, SF-B32126, IOW-E53E05, SUSS-76A784.
Six thimbles, all probably of 15th-century date, most with indentations in a left-hand spiral, and with notches (arrowed). From left: LON-11F0CD, DENO-CFB9C2, SWYOR-9EC618, SF-B32126, IOW-E53E05, SUSS-76A784.

Dating a medieval thimble

There may be a tendency to date those with thin walls and smaller, more irregularly spaced indentations to the 14th century and those with thick walls and larger, more neatly spaced indentations to the 15th century, but the two types may in fact be contemporary and used for different purposes (as pointed out by Biddle 1990, 805). Many medieval thimbles will not be datable more precisely than c. 1300-1500 AD.

Post-medieval domed thimbles

16th- and early 17th-century thimbles

16th-century thimbles continue the trend towards sturdy, tall thimbles with straight wall and fairly flat conical or rounded tops and large indentations. Indentations can be a larger variety of shapes and are again in a spiral, but the direction of the spiral switches from left-hand to right-hand at some point. Read puts this at c. 1550 (2018, 12) but as the three domed thimbles from the Mary Rose all appear to have right-hand spirals, and the Mary Rose sank in 1545, it might be safer to date right-hand spirals to the century from c. 1520 AD (Gardiner and Allen 2005, fig. 8.30).

16th-century thimbles with large indentations in a right-hand spiral. From left: DUR-A83786 and SUR-8238B3 (lightweight sheet thimbles); IOW-49176B, OXON-1309EC and DOR-F564E2 (more heavy-duty thimbles).
16th-century thimbles with large indentations in a right-hand spiral. From left: SUR-8238B3 and DUR-A83786 (lightweight sheet thimbles); IOW-49176B, OXON-1309EC and DOR-F564E2 (more heavy-duty thimbles).

Many thimbles that can be dated to the 16th century are relatively heavy-duty, but there are also lightweight thimbles. One type of lightweight thimble has a right-hand spiral of small indentations above a zone of stamped decoration. An example was found on the Mary Rose, which sank in 1545 (Gardiner and Allen 2005, 329-40, no. 81 A0807), and Read illustrates several more (2018, 41-43). Some examples on the PAS database are shown below.

16th-century thimbles with decoration below a right-hand spiral of indentations. From left: LON-6EDF95, SUR-AE7296, PUBLIC-22CAF2, PUBLIC-647D74, and PUBLIC-2E1F38 (a more heavy-duty thimble). Some have makers' marks, others do not.
16th-century thimbles with decoration below a right-hand spiral of indentations. From left: LON-6EDF95, SUR-AE7296, PUBLIC-22CAF2, PUBLIC-647D74, and PUBLIC-2E1F38 (a more heavy-duty thimble). Some have makers’ marks, others do not.

Although many thimbles are thought to have been imported from Nuremberg, it is possible that some may have been made in England.

The same traditions of thimble-making seem to have continued into the 17th century, as thimbles from 17th-century contexts in London (Egan 2005, 132-3, nos. 638-647) are not immediately distinguishable from those from 16th-century contexts (Egan 2005, 131-2, nos. 621-637). At the moment, their end date is uncertain, but it seems sensible to give a rounded century to thimbles with right-hand spirals, so c. 1520-c. 1620.

It is helpful to add the sub-period ‘early’ when recording an early post-medieval thimble.

Makers’ marks on early post-medieval thimbles

The spiral of indentations often starts at the bottom with a maker’s mark, common from about 1520 to about 1620 (Read 2018, 12). The Nuremberg Guild of Thimblemakers, set up in 1537, required all thimbles to carry the mark of the master that made them (Holmes 1988, 3; Read 2018, 31) but this does not mean than none were marked before this and all were marked afterwards.

The state of knowledge about Nuremberg makers’ marks is summarised by Read (2018, 30-34). Although it is often assumed that all were imported from Nuremberg, this has not been proved. Read illustrates several (2018, 16; 39-43) and, as they often do not photograph well, if you can establish a parallel in Read 2018 it would be very helpful. Close-ups of the marks, as below, also help.

16th-century thimbles with makers' marks. From left: HAMP-A3F9E1, LON-8F9236, LON-E959A3, LON-076ECD.
16th-century thimbles with makers’ marks. From left: HAMP-A3F9E1 (cinquefoil in circle), LON-8F9236 (reversed K, or A on side), LON-E959A3 (trefoil with stem), LON-076ECD (possibly an animal).

17th-century thimbles

In London, thimbles from 17th-century contexts (Egan 2005, 132-3, nos. 638-647) are not immediately distinguishable from those from 16th-century contexts (Egan 2005, 131-2, nos. 621-637), and it seems that the type with indentations in a right-hand spiral continued to be made until at least c. 1620 AD.

In the Netherlands, a new type of thimble was developed around 1600, made in two pieces with a longitudinal seam joining the sides and a second seam around the top; these have machine-made indentations in an interlocking pattern.

The mechanical ‘knurling wheel’ used in their manufacture was not apparently invented until 1609 (Read 2018, 61), and examples from early excavations in Amsterdam, are all from contexts of 1600-1650 (Baart 1977, 145-7). Langedijk and Boon (1999, 75-77) suggest an earlier date, with parallels from 16th-century contexts in Amsterdam (quoted by Read 2018, 61; the Langedijk and Boon reference has not been checked).

Two-piece copper-alloy thimbles of possible Dutch manufacture, c. 1600-1650 AD. From left: PUBLIC-A66744, LON-682D94, SWYOR-EEEF03.
Two-piece copper-alloy thimbles of possible Dutch manufacture, c. 1600-1650 AD. From left: PUBLIC-A66744, LON-682D94, SWYOR-EEEF03. Note the makers’ marks on the rims of PUBLIC-A66744 and SWYOR-EEEF03.

The new Dutch thimbles seem to have influenced the development of hand-made two-piece thimbles, which Read sees as English products (2018, 49-50, nos. 197-234). These can be made from silver or copper alloy, and often have decoration, perhaps of strapwork (reserved strips outlined with grooves) or engraved lines in a brickwork pattern (as on IOW-27BDA2). They also feature new shapes of indentation, notably annulets (where circular indentations have a raised rim).

Top row, silver thimbles. Left to right: HESH-4E1ABA, SF-FF7DF8, SOM-F91FCB. Bottom row, copper-alloy thimbles. Left to right: LON-228895, DOR-43A55E and NMS-2B40DD.
17th-century decorated thimbles, probably of English manufacture, datable to c. 1620-1700. Top row, silver thimbles. Left to right: HESH-4E1ABA, SF-FF7DF8, SOM-F91FCB (with annulet indentations). Bottom row, copper-alloy thimbles. Left to right: LON-228895, DOR-43A55E and NMS-2B40DD.

Late 17th- and early 18th-century thimbles

From about 1650, Dutch thimbles were made in one piece, and this technology was brought to England when John Lofting, a Dutch immigrant, was granted an English patent for a thimble-making machine in 1693. Despite the one-piece construction, thimbles of c. 1650-1750 retain ridges between the sides and the top where the seam would have been.

Holmes quotes Lofting’s production figures as two million per year (1988, 3), and Read illustrates several (2018, nos. 257-271), but there are few definite examples on the PAS database; two are shown below.

Two examples of one-piece machine-made thimbles of the type made in England by John Lofting. Left: PUBLIC-059C26. Right: LANCUM-038C8D. Both should probably be dated to c. 1650-1750 AD.
Two examples of one-piece machine-made thimbles of the type made in England by John Lofting. Left: PUBLIC-059C26. Right: LANCUM-038C8D. Both should probably be dated to c. 1650-1750 AD.

Read points out that Lofting’s products cannot be distinguished from Dutch thimbles, and that probably both were in use in England in the 18th century (Read 2018, 63). Lofting’s mill continued to produce thimbles at least until his death in 1742.

There are also several one-piece silver thimbles that might date to c. 1650-1750 AD, and a selection is shown below. It seems intuitively likely that there should be variants in copper alloy, but these are difficult to find on the PAS database.

One-piece silver thimbles, probably of late 17th- or early 18th-century date. From left: WILT-E0D5FE (with the two hearts familiar from cufflinks commemorating the marriage of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, and maker's mark RI above); KENT-CC6623; NMS-653275 (with separate applied rim); and NMS-257D33.
One-piece silver thimbles, probably of late 17th- or early 18th-century date. From left: WILT-E0D5FE (with the two hearts familiar from cufflinks commemorating the marriage of Charles II and Catherine of Braganza, and maker’s mark RI above); KENT-CC6623; NMS-653275 (with separate applied rim); and NMS-257D33.

Later 18th- and 19th-century thimbles

From c. 1750 onwards, production seems to have shifted to Birmingham (Beaudry 2006, 96). Later 18th- and 19th-century thimbles have no ridge or other division between the top and the sides, and the top has a distinctive square ‘waffle’ pattern.

As time goes on, they can become very flimsy, but most have rims that have been turned out, giving extra strength to the base. They can occasionally have inscriptions; FORGET ME NOT is one of the commoner ones. Children’s sizes become popular in the 19th century.

Mass-produced copper-alloy thimbles dating to c. 1750-1900. From left, SWYOR-56DBD2, SUSS-6AF575, SUSS-DC9CF3, IOW-734EED.
Mass-produced copper-alloy thimbles dating to c. 1750-1900. From left, SWYOR-56DBD2, SUSS-6AF575, SUSS-DC9CF3, IOW-734EED (with inscription FORGET ME NOT).

These thimbles are very common, and are less than 300 years old. They should only be recorded on the PAS database if they are of unusual interest.

Palm guards

Copper alloy or iron palm guards

These have been fully and authoritatively researched by Brian Read (Read 2013; Read 2018, 76-82).

They are often called ‘palm irons’, firstly because some were made from iron and secondly because they were fixed to a leather sailmaker’s palm, or protective glove.

A modern sailmaker's palm in use, showing the palm guard.
A modern sailmaker’s palm in use, showing the palm guard.

As almost all of the PAS’s examples are made from copper alloy, we use the more general term ‘palm guard’. This term is not available in the mda thesaurus, and so in the Object Type field we use THIMBLE. Please add ‘palm guard’ to the classification field.

Copper alloy palm guards on the PAS database so far are circular, with large square or circular indentations, and with holes, pierced lugs or unpierced lugs for attachment. Not all have been found near the coast or a port, and Read points out that those working on the canvas sails of windmills (or indeed any other heavy canvas items such as tents, tarpaulins, sacks and awnings) would also have found palm guards useful (2018, 77).

Read concludes (from documentary and shipwreck evidence) that iron or copper-alloy palm guards were in use from at least c. 1650, and they are still in use today. Read has classified them into six main types (2018, 77-82), but as we record so few it is not absolutely necessary to define the type.

Copper-alloy palm guards dating to c. 1700 onwards. Left: IOW-2BCCAB. Top right: SUSS-864CD1. Bottom right: PUBLIC-A6D670.
Copper-alloy palm guards dating to c. 1650 onwards. Left: IOW-2BCCAB. Top right: SUSS-864CD1. Bottom right: PUBLIC-A6D670.

Lead palm guards

Far more common than copper-alloy palm guards are what Read calls ‘so-called palm guards’ made from lead (Read 2018, 83). These come in a variety of sizes and shapes, but are usually more or less oval, with one flatter and one more convex face. There are two main types.

The first type often has one or two neat flat-based circular depressions, about 10-16mm across, on one face (usually the convex face). These objects tend to be about 80 x 60mm, and relatively thin. Several have one more or less straight edge, and many appear to have been cast in a shell (perhaps swan mussel, oyster, scallop or crab).

A selection of palm guards with circular depressions, many of which appear to have been cast in shells. Top row: NLM-0B3AC9, YORYM-91DDB1, LVPL-8557B5. Middle row: YORYM-CE1C07, YORYM-A6BDF2. Bottom row: LANCUM-FC0A41, NARC-2CBA8A, NARC-8B37D9, DUR-B1AFC6.
A selection of palm guards with circular depressions, many of which appear to have been cast in shells. Top row: NLM-0B3AC9, YORYM-91DDB1, LVPL-8557B5. Middle row: YORYM-CE1C07, YORYM-A6BDF2. Bottom row: LANCUM-FC0A41, NARC-2CBA8A, NARC-8B37D9, DUR-B1AFC6.

We currently record these as THIMBLE with ‘palm guard’ in the classification field, but their use is very uncertain. Despite the early confidence of Bailey (1993, 64-5), Brian Read points out that there is no evidence to confirm their use as palm guards in any maritime or land-based industry (2018, 83). Chronological evidence is also lacking, but Read suggests a post-medieval date (2018, 83) and most of those recorded on the PAS database are given a date-range of 17th to 19th century.

It is surprising that the deliberately cast circular depressions are normally found on the convex face, as this is thought to be the part that fits against the hand. DOR-E5AEC6 is unusual in having smaller indentations within a single large circular depression, adding weight to an interpretation as a palm guard, but again these are on the convex face.

It is also uncertain why they seem to have been cast in shells. IOW-A9A877 and SUR-BF7905 show that casting lead in oyster shells was certainly done from time to time, but whether IOW-A9A877 and SUR-BF7905 themselves are palm guards, or not, is uncertain.

There are occasional examples with circular depressions but of different shapes, not oval.

The second type is again plano-convex, but thicker and more regular in shape. These are usually drop-shaped, but can also be circular or oval. They usually have no marks at all on them, but can sometimes have an irregular dimple on the flat face, perhaps caused by the lead shrinking as it solidified. For these, it might be worth considering a function as a weight or ingot instead.

There is little evidence for any function for these items, but PUBLIC-6F2F9B appears to have been cast in a textile-lined mould, SUSS-3D9994 has marks apparently caused by use, and PUBLIC-A83CEF is marked with the initials EB. KENT-F0560B is drop-shaped but with two circular depressions, suggesting that the two types may be related.

Lead objects which might be ingots, weights or palm guards. Top left: DENO-8B95FD. Top right: SUSS-3D9994. Bottom left: KENT-8A5321. Bottom right: SWYOR-5BC2A7.
Lead objects which might be ingots, weights or palm guards. Top left: DENO-8B95FD. Top right: SUSS-3D9994 (note that the views of this one have been projected wrongly). Bottom left: KENT-8A5321. Bottom right: SWYOR-5BC2A7.

Key references

Read 2018

Shot (including musket balls, cannon balls and bullet moulds)

Introduction

This guide covers a variety of types of shot or ammunition, including cannon balls, musket balls and bullets. It has drawn heavily on a guide for FLOs produced by Amy Downes (FLO South and West Yorkshire) and on a guide to recording battlefield assemblages produced by Glenn Foard (Foard 2009download the pdf here).

Most of the shot recorded by the PAS is from small arms, and so this guide concentrates on these. A short separate section on artillery shot (cannon balls) can be found below.

PAS object type(s) to be used

The mda thesaurus has a variety of object types under the broad term ‘ammunition’. The best one for our purposes is SHOT, so please use this in the Object Type field for all types of projectile, whether from small arms or artillery.

Although most ammunition from small arms is under 25mm in diameter and under 60g in weight, there is a continuum of sizes right up to large cannon balls of perhaps 4 to 6 inches (100-150mm) in diameter and several kilos in weight.

Because there are so many terms for shot, some associated items are also hard to name and to search for. To keep all of the moulds for casting shot retrievable, please use BULLET MOULD for these rather than just ‘mould’.

Terms to use in the description

The nomenclature of ammunition is difficult. Both ‘shot’ and ‘bullet’ were used interchangeably in the 17th century. Shot is a collective term (as in ‘a ton of shot’) but is harder to use for a single object; ‘this shot is 12mm in diameter’ sounds odd. As a result, PAS recorders can use both terms in the Description field, but please use SHOT in the object term field.

The terms ‘musket ball’ and ‘cannon ball’ are both easily understood, but not much used by modern experts. Feel free to use both terms in the Description field, where they will help in searching.

Recording the dimensions

The weight is vital, as this gives you the size of the shot (the bore or the calibre) and therefore a good chance at identifying the weapon that it came from.

The maximum diameter of spherical shot should represent the intended size of the bullet, but may be less reliable than the weight. It can also be useful to record a minimum diameter, which can help to assess the damage caused to the bullet either through impact or (for multi-ball loads or case shot) through flattening while firing.

Air bubbles, uncleaned sprues and mis-matched mould halves can all add or remove metal. In addition, the shot may have lost weight through corrosion or damage, particularly impact damage.

Date and function

Lead shot was introduced for both for small arms and larger weapons in the mid 15th century, although its use in artillery was superseded in the 16th century by iron (and occasional stone). Most of the shot in the Mary Rose (sank 1545) is large cast iron shot, representing some of the earliest cast iron in Britain; but there is also smaller lead shot in this wreck, along with the famous longbows.

The use of lead shot in smaller firearms rose steadily through the 16th and early 17th centuries. The upsurge in violence in the mid 17th century, with the pitched battles of the English Civil War, resulted in a steep increase in the use of shot. During the English Civil War, lead shot was used by both infantry and cavalry. Shot was supplied in barrels by the ton to the main armies, and bullets were fired in tens of thousands on the battlefields.

After the Civil War, most significant military action was carried out overseas, so most shot found in England and Wales is likely to date to the mid 17th century.

Bullets for rifled weapons were introduced in the 19th century, and these tend to be long, with one rounded end; this type can be called a ‘conical’ bullet. Conical bullets are found in great numbers on rifle ranges, set up from the 1860s to train the Rifle Volunteers. Their metal cartridges can also be found at the firing positions (the bullets, of course, usually end up at the target). These rifle ranges are beginning to receive more study (e.g. the Bromyard Downs survey).

Most research on shot has focused on their use in warfare. Because lead is relatively stable, and the bullet is such a small object, most bullets that were fired or lost on a battlefield have survived almost exactly where they fell. The bullet is usually the only artefact present in sufficient numbers to allow the recovery of a significant physical record of military action. Their calibre and exact character, including the damage sustained in use, can offer a wide range of information about 17th-century battles and other military actions.

Small amounts of lead shot are also found scattered around fields in what seems to be a random manner. It seems probable that firearms were used in the exploitation of wild food resources, but to what extent and by whom seems to be under-researched for the early post-medieval period. The Game Act 1671 restricted the use of hunting and shooting equipment, so it should not be assumed that game shooting for gentry began only in the 19th century.

In addition, training and practice for 17th- and 18th-century militias will have resulted in the loss of some shot; and there may have been some secondary uses for lead shot,  perhaps as weights or ballast.

The weight of lead shot was crucial to its effectiveness as ammunition. Lead alloy (in the sense we use for the PAS database) was therefore not used for shot.

Bore and calibre – small arms

In the 17th century, shot size was expressed using either the word ‘calibre’ or ‘bore’, both of which were a measure of how many bullets were made from each pound of lead. 12 bore or 12 calibre, for example, means 12 balls to the pound.

There seem to have been several attempts at standardising the bores of different firearms during the 16th and 17th centuries, none of which fully succeeded; a useful short summary is given by Courtney (1988, 3).

In most cases we cannot precisely assign 17th-century shot to specific weapons. This is mainly because there was a huge variety of firearms in use, and shot for them was often imperfectly manufactured, in many cases by the soldiers themselves.

Despite this, Glenn Foard has suggested broad ranges of weight for several calibres of weapon in the 17th century, based on weights of hundreds of bullets (Foard 2009, 9 – download the pdf here). Foard’s PhD thesis has more detail, using documentary sources as well as the bullets themselves (Foard 2008, 112; download the pdf from Ethos here).

Foard also points out (2008, 114) that firearm tolerances were high, and that a slightly smaller calibre of bullet could be used just as effectively as the correct calibre.

During the 18th century, firearms were far more standardised, so a wide variety of shot size and weight on a single site indicates a Civil War date. The British army in the 18th century used just three main uniform sizes (below).

The table below is based on both Courtney (1988) and Foard (2008).

Bores of the various 17th-century weapons (left) and the more standardised 18th-century weapons (right).
Bores of the various 17th-century weapons (left) and the more standardised 18th-century weapons (right).

Bullet moulds and manufacturing

During the 17th century it seems that in addition to mass production, soldiers routinely made their own shot in the field using small moulds. These are recorded on the PAS database as BULLET MOULD and we have several different types.

About half are sub-triangular, with a hemispherical recess in which a single ball could be cast. These are all made from copper alloy, but can have iron corrosion on the exterior. The interior is often slightly grooved; see NARC-11387D (pictured under Photographing Shot below) for a very clear example of a bullet cast in one of these moulds, with grooving at right angles to the casting flash.

Another quarter of the bullet moulds are of hinged type, with a pair of handles that can be squeezed together; these can be made from iron, or from copper alloy.

Hinged bullet moulds. Left, made from copper alloy (NMGW-5BEBA4). Right, made from iron (LANCUM-D611E3).
Hinged bullet moulds. Left, made from copper alloy (NMGW-5BEBA4). Right, made from iron (LANCUM-D611E3).

The rest of the moulds are all more or less rectangular, but otherwise very heterogeneous. Two are made from stone; LON-763F17 has grooves on the outside to hold an external binding, and LIN-E62987 has recesses for two sizes of shot. YORYM-B89745 is itself made from lead, and looks as home-made as the bullets were.

In contrast, SUSS-DBC125, a copper-alloy mould with 17 recesses, is the only one recorded on the PAS database which looks as if it might have been anything to do with the industrial production of shot.

The shot tower, which mass-produced perfectly smooth small shot, was not invented until the late 18th century, and it is hard to imagine the individual production of all the tons of 17th-century shot.

Bullet moulds. Left, top to bottom: KENT-5664A9 and IOW-A7A88A. Centre: LON-763F17. Right: SUSS-DBC125.
Bullet moulds. Left, top to bottom: KENT-5664A9 and IOW-A7A88A. Centre: LON-763F17 (made from stone). Right: SUSS-DBC125.

When recording a bullet mould, please note the diameter of the recess for the bullet as well as the overall dimensions of the mould. Check that a gate (the hole through which the molten lead would have been poured) is present. If there is no gate, the mould may have been used for something else, such as sweets.

Evidence of manufacturing that might be visible on the shot itself includes casting flashes, sprues, and cavities. Casting flashes are the ridges or seams between the two halves of the mould, caused by blocks that are mis-aligned or do not fully meet. The presence of casting flashes on several bullets in an assemblage suggests a 17th-century date. Be careful not to mix these up with ‘belted’ bullets, though (see below under Non-Spherical Shot).

Sprues are the remains of the lead running through the gate. They could apparently be left in situ to attach a paper cartridge (Harding 2012) or cut off with nippers or a knife. One nip leaves two facets on the base of the sprue, two nips leaves four; a knife leaves one facet. Each cast ball should have a single sprue; if you have two sprues, you may be dealing with a dumb-bell bullet (see below under Non-Spherical Shot).

Lead shrinks on cooling, and if the molten lead was very hot a cavity in the finished ball can result; this is normally at or near the sprue.

Evidence for manufacture of lead shot. Left, casting flashes (above, mould halves not quite meeting (WAW-33C192); below, mis-aligned halves (KENT-39148F). Left centre, casting sprue cut once with nippers, making two facets (NARC-5F8FF5). Right centre, shot with casting flash and sprue (LIN-301393). Right, cavity in sprue (WMID-FFF35A).
Evidence for manufacture of lead shot. Left, casting flashes (above, mould halves not quite meeting (WAW-33C192); below, mis-aligned halves (KENT-39148F). Left centre, casting sprue cut once with nippers, making two facets (NARC-5F8FF5). Right centre, shot with casting flash and sprue (LIN-301393). Right, cavity in sprue (WMID-FFF35A).

Firing damage

Impact damage is said to be common, but in practice can be hard to distinguish from post-depositional damage. The exception is the entirely flattened ball that has hit a hard surface; there are not many of these recorded on the PAS database, but see PUBLIC-D58CE6 for some examples. Localised flattening or other slight damage is more common, as on SWYOR-640B25, SWYOR-5A4E5E and NLM-DEEB5A (all pictured below).

Several facets on a single piece of shot can be caused by the use of case shot. This was fired by artillery (large field guns) but consisted of many small projectiles, usually mostly balls of musket size, either loose or contained in a wooden ‘case’ or canvas bag.  Examples might include SWYOR-409A87 and NLM-1365FF.

A flattened band around the centre of a bullet  is known as ‘set-up’. It is caused by the friction of the ball against the muzzle of the gun as it is fired. Set-up bands can also be caused by loading two or three  balls into the gun at once; the balls will expand widthways as they are pushed into each other, creating a set-up band and flattening of the surfaces in contact. Set-up bands are fairly common on PAS records. NLM-D9ED9F shows both a set-up band and multi-ball load flattening, which can be distinguished from impact flattening because it will always be at right angles to the set-up band.

The explosive gases in the barrel of the gun can also cause ‘gas erosion’ or ‘gas cutting’ as they partially escape past a loose-fitting ball. The erosion is seen as facets or shallow grooves which taper the back of the ball to give a conical shape.

From left: two completely flattened bullets (PUBLIC-D58CE6). Two bullets with probable impact damage (SWYOR-640B25 above and SWYOR-5A4E5E below; note the casting flash on SWYOR-5A4E5E). Two bullets with set-up bands (NLM-DEEB5A above and NLM-D9ED9F below; note the perpendicular flattening on NLM-DEEB5A, probably caused by multi-ball loading). A bullet with gas erosion (NLM-93DA47 above) and a bullet with possible worm hole (WMID-FF9EA6 below).
From left: two completely flattened bullets (PUBLIC-D58CE6). Two bullets with probable impact damage (SWYOR-640B25 above and SWYOR-5A4E5E below; note the casting flash on SWYOR-5A4E5E). Two bullets with set-up bands (NLM-DEEB5A above and NLM-D9ED9F below; note the perpendicular flattening on NLM-DEEB5A, probably caused by multi-ball loading). A bullet with gas erosion (NLM-93DA47 above) and a bullet with possible worm hole (WMID-FF9EA6 below).

Related to firing damage is damage from the use of a worm, or wormer. A wormer consists either of a single tine forming a corkscrew, or two tines that spiral around each other in a double helix, fixed on to the end of a ramrod and used to remove shot from the gun barrel. Worm scars on bullets can be large rounded holes with screw threads, or two angled holes off-centre. They need careful photography and there are as yet no certain examples on the PAS database.

There are also no wormers recorded on the PAS database yet, but an iron example is illustrated in Courtney (1988), 3.

Multiple dents on one side of a bullet are sometimes suggested as ramrod marks, but no ramrod marks have yet been identified with confidence on Civil War bullets in England, and it may be that the wooden ramrods of the time are not hard enough to leave a mark (Foard 2009, 23). In theory, the marks should be overlapping curved indentations on one side of the ball.

Bite marks on bullets are often mentioned but rarely convincingly photographed. Foard 2009, 22 comments that definite bite marks are rare, but also that bullets were routinely held in the mouth ready for loading. Corroded lead has a sweet taste, and so it is possible that animal gnawing may also have taken place post-deposition. Most PAS records that mention bite or tooth marks are simply very battered objects, damaged in ploughsoil.

The phrase ‘bite the bullet’, meaning to accept inevitable pain or hardship, is often thought to be from the use of bullets to bite on during battlefield surgery, but in fact the available evidence suggests that this technique was used more to help endure punishment beatings without making a noise.

Non-spherical small arms shot

There seems to be a lack of accepted terminology for non-spherical shot. In theory they can all be called ‘slugs’ (a slug is any elongated, non-spherical bullet) but in practice they fall into one of a few main types.

The purpose of these different kinds of shot is still uncertain.

Slugs

Although a ‘slug’ is in theory any elongated, non-spherical bullet, in practice the word is used only for largely cylindrical bullets of the pre-rifle age. Slugs can be cast in this shape, or trimmed or hammered down from pre-cast balls. They can have flat ends, or rounded ends, or both. The dividing line between a ball with set-up band, and a slug, is vague.

The diameter (or width) and weight of a slug are more important than their length. Slugs are perhaps not easy to recognise unless they are found in groups with other shot (e.g. DENO-E8E8B6, BERK-1AFF88, NLM-C96C4C).

Capstan shot

A slug cast with two expanded ends and a distinct waist is is normally called a ‘capstan’ bullet (or sometimes ‘bobbin’ shot). They may not have been as common in the past as cylindrical slugs but, as they are easy to recognise, we have several records on the PAS database.

Dumb-bell shot

Dumb-bell shot consists of two distinct spheres, usually joined by a bar. On incomplete examples, the bar can be mistaken for a casting sprue. Again, they may not have been as common in the past as cylindrical slugs but because they are easy to recognise we have many recorded on the PAS database.

Left: slug shot. From top: NLM-A2080A, NLM-994BA0 and a group from Castle Donington, Leicestershire (DENO-E901B1). Centre: capstan shot from Castle Donington (DENO-E8B736). Right: two groups of dumb-bell shot from Castle Donington (DENO-E88AC3 above and DENO-E87AE7 below).
Slug shot. Left, from top: NLM-A2080A, NLM-994BA0 and three from Castle Donington, Leicestershire (DENO-E901B1). Centre: capstan shot from Castle Donington (DENO-E8B736). Right: two groups of dumb-bell shot from Castle Donington (DENO-E88AC3 above and DENO-E87AE7 below).

Belted bullets

A spherical ball with a wide raised ‘belt’ around its circumference is a 19th-century type, used with a two-grooved rifle (Foard 2009, 12-13). There are good examples of belted bullets on the PAS database at DEV-9635B4 and DEV-961764.

Protocol for recording shot

As with pottery and lithics, much of the value of lead shot records comes from assemblages. An amorphous lump of lead on its own is difficult to interpret; with a group of pistol, carbine and musket balls it is far easier to see it as a piece of ammunition.

Another principle for recording shot is that if the individual bullets of an assemblage are precisely located, sophisticated analysis is possible, with a reconstruction of actual field conditions at the time of firing.

A PAS record can clearly only accommodate one findspot and therefore it is difficult to both keep an assemblage together and record detailed findspots. It seems at present that FLOs are prioritising either one aspect or the other. For known battlefield sites, it is arguable that detecting should only be done together with the Battlefields Trust, who can advise and help to get the maximum information out of the site.

Laura Burnett has been experimenting with different ways of graphing the weights of shot assemblages, so that even if there is no detailed findspot information, at least the range of weapons is established. See SOM-9746EB, SOM-9CB017 and SOM-901737 for examples.

Photographing shot

For relatively featureless, smooth spherical balls, one view will suffice. If there is any diagnostic feature (such as a sprue, casting flash or impact damage) then at least two views are necessary. A well-preserved bullet with lots of detail needs the standard views of all sides. Correct projection of all views is essential (so a top view above, a left-hand view at the left, etc) because the way that the different views should be combined is rarely reconstructable from the images alone.

Shot with a lot of detail surviving, thoroughly photographed and correctly projected
Shot with a lot of detail surviving, thoroughly photographed and correctly projected (NARC-11387D)

Shot from artillery (cannon balls)

Most of the cannon balls in the Mary Rose are of iron, and represent some of the earliest cast iron in Britain; a few are made from stone. Stone balls were still in use in small numbers up to the English Civil War (mid 17th century). The smallest artillery pieces might use lead shot, and there were also composite pieces, iron with a lead jacket or lead with stones (e.g. NCL-EE9FE0).

Cast iron roundshot is rarely found on battlefields, even though records suggest that it was the normal long-range ammunition; cannon may have been so hard to transport that they only arrived after the battle was over. Siege warfare used cannon, as speed was of less importance. A major use of cannon was also aboard ship, where of course there would be no transport problems.

Alternative identifications for iron and stone balls

There are several problems with identifying cannon balls found away from known military sites. Spherical stone balls were also used in garden statuary from the 17th century onwards. Iron balls were also used in various industrial milling operations, such as crushing chalk for whiting.

Examples

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Search for all examples of bullet moulds

Key references

Courtney 1988

Foard 2008download it here

Foard 2009download it here

Harding 2012

Clog Clasps (2001 guide)

Introduction

Please note that this guide has not been fundamentally changed from the original print version of the Finds Recording Guide (Geake 2001), written when the database contained just 8,800 non-numismatic records.

Clog clasps will rarely be included on the database, as they are of late post-medieval or modern date. They often have anchor-shaped ends and three rectangular holes (see, for example, Read 1995).

PAS object type to be used

Use SHOE

PAS object classification to be used

Use ‘clog clasp’

Date

They are of 18th- or 19th-century date (and were perhaps used even into the first few decades of the 20th century).

Examples

Post-medieval clog clasp. Copyright: Surrey County Council; CC-BY licence)
Post-medieval clog clasp. Copyright: Surrey County Council; CC-BY licence)

Search for all examples of clog clasps

Key references

Read 1995

Purses

Introduction

Purses are pouch-like containers, generally made of leather or fabric, used to store and carry coins.  Metal elements from medieval and early post-medieval purses include the arched hanger onto which the strings of medieval purses were tied, and the purses with metal sub-structures of the late medieval and early post-medieval period.  Metal mounts were often applied to leather purses (Willemsen and Ernst 2012, 84-85) but are hard to distinguish from dress accessories.  The focus here is on copper-alloy elements, although purse components are known in iron (for which see Goodall 2011, 342-343, 316; fig. 12.11).

PAS object type(s) to be used

Use PURSE.

PAS object classifications and sub-classifications to be used

Use ‘hanger’, ‘bar’, ‘frame’, ‘bar with integral frame’, and ‘loop’ in the classification field; where several components survive together, separate the terms with ‘and’, e.g. ‘bar and loop’

For late medieval and early post-medieval bars and frames use the Williams class in the sub-classification field, e.g. Williams class G.

Date

Purses will be rarely encountered outside the medieval to post-medieval periods; framed and related purses straddle these broad periods.  Roman ARM PURSEs are very rare (see YORYM-5EFF04  for an example); modern purses tend not to be recorded.

Medieval purse hangers

Fabric purses were suspended from hangers which may have had other purposes; these were often cast in an arched form, with certain examples made rather more crudely from drawn wire (Egan and Pritchard (2002, 223; no. 1194).  A large range of the arched pendent mounts was collected at Meols, where antiquarians confused them for handles (Griffiths et al 2007, 125-7, pl. 21).

Terms to use in the description

Arched pendent mounts were suspended at each end from bar mounts with integral loops; mounts are often recessed towards each end for this purpose.  Types present at Meols include those with two or three arches, often with cusps between them (Egan 2007, 126; pl. 21).  At London slightly more elaborate examples have been found: one depicting a winged beast (Egan and Pritchard 2002, 223; no. 1196), and a three-arched example with a central inverted keyhole-shaped opening (Egan and Pritchard 2002, 223; no. 1197; see also HAMP-5728D8, below).

Date

Examples found in London are from late 13th-century to early 15th-century contexts (Egan and Pritchard 2002, 219-224), with arched examples present on early 13th-century French sculpture.

Examples

Medieval purse hanger (SOM-074D72)
Medieval purse hanger (SOM-074D72) Copyright: Somerset County Council; CC-BY licence)
Medieval purse hanger (HAMP-5728D8)
Medieval purse hanger (HAMP-5728D8) Copyright: Winchester Museums Service ; CC-BY licence)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Medieval to post-medieval purses

Late medieval to early post-medieval purses consist of bars from which (generally) separate curved frames were attached, from which in turn purse bags were suspended.  The bars were attached via separate, swivelling loops directly to belts or via belt fittings. Some purse-like objects have the frame and bar as an integral whole, and may not have simply served as purses (Williams 2018, 2). John Ward Perkins (1940) produced a classification for framed purses which has been superseded by David Williams (2018), whose classes can be applied to the sub-classification field.

Terms to use in the description

The bar is the entire horizontal part, and has a number of elements. The bar has two arms, each with terminals, emerging from a central block. The loop is most often oval, circular or inverted drop-shaped (see Williams 2018, 10 for an extended discussion), and it is cast in one with a shank which passes through a central block and ends in an integral or separate rove. The bar may have integral or separate attachment plates with holes for suspension of the purse.

The frame is the curved part, and apart from at the ends is usually L-shaped or U-shaped in cross-section. It has holes or loops at each end to attach it to the bar, and it has holes along its length through which it was sewn to the fabric purse. Some frames may end in projections rather than loops, and these would have slotted into two of the holes in a conventional frame in the manner shown in Archaeological Journal IV (1847, 361).

David Williams’s classification builds on, and at the same time, supersedes John Ward Perkins’s; Williams provides useful cross-references between the two where applicable.

Williams class A

The commonly found bars of Williams class A are long, with integral flat attachment plates projecting downwards. These have two or three round sewing holes on each arm, used to stitch the fabric on. On Williams class A1 the arms are cylindrical in cross-section, and there can be animal heads at the junctions between the arms and the central block (see also class L). Williams class A2 bars have rectangular-section arms and the animal heads are absent. The separate frames are L-shaped in cross-section.  Class A purse bars and arms are frequently decorated with inlaid niello, which can mineralise over time to a silvery colour. Common motifs are double-strand lattice patterns (Williams class A1), and religious inscriptions (Williams class A2). Parts of the Hail Mary are common (AVE MARIA GRACIA PLENA; DOMINVS TECVM); Williams 2018, 4 provides a list of known examples). Inscriptions sometimes extend to the frames and the central block.

Medieval to post-medieval purse bar of Williams Class A1 (DEV-BF5F8F)
Medieval to post-medieval purse bar of Williams Class A1 (DEV-BF5F8F)
Medieval to post-medieval purse of Williams Class A2 (BERK-C3DBF9
Medieval to post-medieval purse of Williams Class A2 (BERK-C3DBF9) Copyright: Oxfordshire County Council; CC-BY licence)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Williams class B

Class B bars are shorter than class A, and have integral perforated attachment plates like those on class A. Most are what Williams calls ‘yoke-shaped’, i.e. with a concave curve to the tops of both arms. A small number (e.g. IOW-E02212 and BH-4954E5) have straight bars with no block, and a quatrefoil loop, so have clear links to class F (below). They all have separate frames hinged on the bar.

Williams classes C-E

Classes C, D and E have very short bars without attachment plates and separate frames hinged on the bar. The blocks are large, and can be rectangular or shield-shaped (class C1), rounded (class C2), heart-shaped (class D) or elaborate, with rounded indentations (classes E1-E3).

The frames on all of these purses are made separately, and hinge on the bar. Frames on class C purses have a distinctive circular cross-section, with perforations or projecting rounded loops for attaching the fabric (see examples at HAMP695, NARC-182644 and SUR-7C8248). Class D purses had a pair of frames, as shown by an example excavated in Reading (Allen in Ford et al. 2013, 240; fig. 5.34, no. 20), and the fragmentary remains of SF-B4F8A4.

Pics needed. C1 – WMID-ED6AE9, C2 – BERK-885F32, D – DOR-0AF3B7, E1 – LANCUM-A7FD95, E2 – WAW-0BD046, E3 – NMS-06F124

Medieval to post-medieval purse of Williams Class C1 (SUR-7C8248)
Medieval to post-medieval purse of Williams Class C1 (SUR-7C8248) Copyright: Surrey County Council; CC-BY licence)

Williams class F

These have straight, simple bars without attachment plates and with no central block. So far, examples are known with quatrefoil loops (SF-6A2948 and WMID-0A10FE), rectangular loops (SF6547) or oval loops (SUR-7CF525). The frames are made separately and hinge on the bar. An excavated example comes from Shapwick in Somerset (Viner in Gerrard with Aston 2007, 746; fig. 16.13, no. A86).

Williams class G

Class G is currently known from just one example on the PAS database (WMID-D25D17).

Williams classes H and J

These are also have relatively short bars, but they lack the frames present on other purses.  Williams Class H bars have expanded terminals and broadly rectangular blocks, with variety in its sub-classes, defined by their loops.  An example of Class H1 with a circular loop was found at Raunds Furnells (Oakley in Chapman 2010, 209-210; fig. 7.12, no. 21).  Williams Class J bars are similar but have distinctive spherical terminals, which either have twisting grooves or are moulded to imitate bells.

Post-medieval purse of Williams Class J (DEV-E87497)
Post-medieval purse of Williams Class J (DEV-E87497) Copyright: The Portable Antiquities Scheme; CC-BY licence)

Williams Classes K-L

These have their bar and frame integral with each other.  Williams Class K bars have flat frames decorated in scrolled relief moulding.  Williams Class L bars have zoomorphic heads flanking the central block, from which projections angle upwards.  The frame on a complete example found in Dover has an L-shaped cross-section (Parfitt et al. 2006, 305-306).

Post-medieval 'purse' of Williams Class K (BUC-82D836)
Post-medieval ‘purse’ of Williams Class K (BUC-82D836) (Copyright: Buckinghamshire County Museum; CC-BY licence)

Date

Traditionally such framed purses have been dated to the 15th and 16th centuries (c. 1450-1550), based on depictions on monumental brasses and other sources (Ward Perkins 1940).  Recent work by David Williams (2018, 11) has stretched the overall dating back to the 1440s, and forwards to the very early 17th century.  The Mary Rose which sunk in 1545 has yielded three bars specifically of Williams Class J (Gardiner and Allen (eds) 2005, 112-113; fig. 3.7).  Williams argues for an early date for Class A2; this would make sense in respect of its often explicitly Marian inscriptions ceasing with the Reformation.  Stylistically, he suggests a late date for Class K, perhaps even early 17th century.

Examples

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Key references

Williams 2018

Egan and Pritchard 2002

Ward Perkins 1940

Hooked Tags and Other Dress Hooks and Eyes

Introduction

Read 2008 is the main source, and covers hooked fasteners of every type and period.

Read has a comprehensive classification for hooked tags and other dress hooks, but unfortunately the classifications for several different objects all start at class A, type 1. How we resolve this and quote a searchable Read classification is not straightforward. See below for some limited (and perhaps inconsistent) guidance on individual types.

PAS object terms to use – quick reference

As a general rule, the standard hooked tag is recorded as HOOKED TAG. These have an attachment loop or perforations, and don’t seem to have routinely been used with an eye component.

It’s not always easy to know if a hooked object was designed to be used with an eye, but items that we think were used in pairs, one a hook and one an eye, are both recorded as DRESS FASTENER (DRESS) to try to keep them together. These can be blunt-hooked fasteners, wound wire hooks and eyes, or composite hooks and eyes.

Items that have a hook but no eye, and seem to be from costume but aren’t standard hooked tags, are recorded as DRESS HOOK; these include early-medieval double-hooked fasteners, hat-hooks, and other items.

Simple wire hooks that might be from dress, but which might be from many other things such as tents and tarpaulins as well, are recorded as HOOK, as are shear-hooks.

Hooked tags

The function (or functions) of hooked tags is uncertain. They are small, with a plate and a sharp hook which bends to the rear.

What they were stitched to or hooked into is uncertain. Most of the few eyes that are found seem to have matched hooks of other types, not hooked tags; see below, under ‘Composite wire hooks and eyes’. So hooked tags may have hooked into holes in textile or leather, perhaps rather like a buttonhole.

They are found in two separate periods, early-medieval (calendar dates 650-1100 AD) and early post-medieval (calendar dates 1500-1700 AD). Both the early-medieval and the early post-medieval hooked tags are similarly shaped, with a plate and a sharp hook. They can be distinguised because the early-medieval type has attachment holes set within the plate, and the early post-medieval type usually has a wide loop set above or on the reverse of the plate.

PAS object term to be used

HOOKED TAG is the preferred term for both the early-medieval and the early post-medieval hooked tags (definition below). We don’t call them ‘dress hooks’ because we don’t know their function(s); they may have been used on costume, but may also have had other uses.

There has been a tendency in recent years for early-medieval hooked tags to be recorded as HOOKED TAG, and for post-medieval hooked tags to be recorded as DRESS HOOK. This runs counter to normal PAS policy that the same object type should be recorded in the same way, whatever date it is.

PAS classifications and sub-classifications to be used

Read 2008‘s classes and types can be used fairly easily for hooked tags. Although there are two sets of common Class A, Type 1 tags, one is early-medieval and the other post-medieval, so they will be easily distinguished by their object type and broad period. Use in this format: Read class A type 1

Early-medieval hooked tags

Read 2008, nos 5-152 gives the range. The plates can be a variety of shapes, and are usually of very simple construction, made in one piece and often simply cut out of sheet metal. Occasionally, particularly on the silver examples, there is some relief decoration and niello inlay.

The attachment holes are generally circular, either entirely within the plate, or in small protruding lugs shaped around the holes.

The earliest early-medieval hooked tags are found in very late furnished Anglo-Saxon graves, perhaps dating to 650-700 AD; the latest have 11th-century decoration. Those with recognisable art will often be more closely datable.

Early-medieval hooked tags. Left, SF-469AD8. Centre, WILT-BEBC16 (above) and HAMP-98A634 (below). Right, ESS-04C5D6.
Early-medieval hooked tags. Left, SF-469AD8. Centre, WILT-BEBC16 (above) and ESS-04C5D6 (below). Right, HAMP-98A634.

Early post-medieval hooked tags

Hooked tags are not used in the medieval period, but the form is revived in the 16th century; classical-style decoration probably indicates that they were still being made and used in the 17th century. Read (2008, 45-49; 137-8) has collected some very useful historical and pictorial evidence for their use.

Early post-medieval hooked tags can still be made in one piece, but are usually cast, with openwork and relief decoration. They usually have a wide loop set above the plate. Alternatively they can have a composite construction, normally with a wide loop fixed to the reverse of the plate; one type has a rectangular hole in the reverse instead of a loop. Read again gives the range (Read 2008, nos 160-540).

Post-medieval hooked tags. From left: BUC-DC040B, LON-115FB0 (upside down to show central cherub's face the right way up), SOM-DE0530 (gilded silver), SF-177231.
Post-medieval hooked tags. From left: BUC-DC040B, LON-115FB0 (upside down to show central cherub’s face the right way up), SOM-DE0530 (gilded silver), SF-177231 (inlaid with niello).

Read’s post-medieval hooked tags are classified from Class A to Class V. Only hooked tags use the object term HOOKED TAG, so it should be fairly easy to construct a search to find whichever class and type you want; see How to Search the Database for some hints.

Other hooked fasteners

If we separate out the HOOKED TAGS, we have a disparate group of other early-medieval and post-medieval objects. They fall into several types, none particularly common. Again, illustrations of many examples can be found in Read 2008, which classifies each form into classes and types.

The early-medieval forms of hooked tags and other dress hooks or dress fasteners are all in a single run of classes from A to M, so there can (in theory!) be no confusion between them. Read’s classes can therefore be used in the Classification field in the following format: Read class A type 1

On the other hand, there are several different post-medieval hooks, dress hooks and dress fasteners, all with classifications starting with Class A, Type 1. Because there are so many, we need to ensure that we can find the group we want; see below for details.

Double-hooked fasteners

An enigmatic object with a central perforated bar and a hook at either end, the early-medieval double-hooked fastener is currently recorded as DRESS HOOK because there is no obvious eye for it to hook into. The bar is normally perforated, and often has geometric relief decoration. Examples include NMS-EA88B4, NLM-104E6B and DOR-C3029D.

These are Read’s early-medieval Class M (Read 2008, nos 153-156) and this can be put in the Classification field in the following format: Read class M

Three early-medieval double-hooked fasteners. Left to right: NMS-EA88B4, NLM-104E6B and DOR-C3029D.
Three early-medieval double-hooked fasteners. Left to right: NMS-EA88B4, NLM-104E6B and DOR-C3029D.

They are not found in furnished Anglo-Saxon graves, so cannot date to earlier than 700 AD. They appear to end in the 9th century (perhaps c. 850 AD) and so are middle Anglo-Saxon. See Hinton 1996, 47-8, for details of dated contexts.

They have been called ‘shroud hooks’, which is probably wrong in terms of function, but which as a term is very easy to search for. Note that they are not the same as the objects known as harbicks, havettes or shear-hooks, which are recorded as HOOK (see Read 2008, 202-205, nos 738-745; and NMS-5B90AC, WILT-E0AFBC, etc.)

There are also a few early-medieval objects which seem to combine the plates of the hooked tags and the hooks of the double-hooked fasteners (e.g. SUSS-711936 and NMS-71B712Z). Oddly, there are also a very few similar but larger early post-medieval double-hooked fasteners. These can be found in Read’s catalogue (Read 2008, nos 541-549) and on the PAS database (e.g. SUR-A8E062 and WILT-0FA8B2). All of these should be recorded as DRESS HOOK.

Double-hooked fasteners with central plates. Left, two examples of early-medieval date; left, SUSS-711936 and right, NMS-71B712Z. Right, two examples of post-medieval date; left, SUR-A8E062 and right, WILT-0FA8B2.
Double-hooked fasteners with central plates. Left, two examples of early-medieval date; left, SUSS-711936 and right, NMS-71B712Z. Right, two examples of post-medieval date; left, SUR-A8E062 and right, WILT-0FA8B2.

Because post-medieval double-hooked fasteners are uncommon, it will probably be possible to gather them up as a group through the use of PAS database and Read 2008 parallels, so try to quote a parallel number.

Hooked fasteners made from wound wire

Hooked fasteners made from wound wire also date to the post-medieval period. They were certainly in use in the 17th century, and may begin in the late 16th. Read gathers up a disparate group into several types (Read 2008, nos 557-579), all headed ‘Early post-medieval wire clasps’. A number are also illustrated by Egan and Forsyth (1997, 227; fig. 15.10). Some appear to have been attached to long chains, and these are sometimes called ‘chatelaine’ hooks, although the term ‘chatelaine’ is not widely understood.

Datable examples include one from an early 16th-century context in London (Egan 2005, 64; no. 284) and three from 17th-century contexts, one in Norwich (Margeson 1993, no. 89), one in Lincoln (Egan in Mann 2008, 10-11; fig. 6, no. 12) and one in Amsterdam (Baart 1977, no. 169).  A date-range of c. 1500-1700 AD seems appropriate.

At present they are being recorded as DRESS FASTENER (DRESS). In theory this should mean that we expect them to form one half of a fastener, with an eye (e.g. perhaps WAW-331E6D and NARC-BD2EE7). Read does not catalogue any eyes, so the hooks may have normally been used on their own (and so it may be that they should be re-classified as dress hooks).

They can be distinguished from other dress fasteners by the use of ‘wound wire’ in the Classification field. The Read class and type can then be put in the Sub-classification field. It will always be helpful to include a Read number (and/or a PAS database number) as a parallel in the Description field, if you can.

Good examples on the PAS database include KENT5048 (on the frontispiece to this guide), SWYOR-088C69LON-B99465, LON-7E5A24 and the three illustrated below; note the characteristic closely-wound finer-gauge wire, and the spirals on some, loops on others.

Wire hooks of probable 17th-century date. Left to right: LON-BA32AC, LON-C2B6E3 and SUR-4DAF06.
Wire hooks of probable 17th-century date. Left to right: LON-BA32AC, LON-C2B6E3 and SUR-4DAF06.

Blunt-hooked fasteners and eyes

These generally have oval plates with three attachment holes and either a wide hook or a wide loop at one end. The hook bends the opposite way to that on a hooked tag, up towards the front of the object.

Blunt-hooked fasteners have been published in depth by Read 2008, who catalogues the oval ones at nos 612-700, and a few more heterogeneous examples at nos 746-748. Most examples are made from copper alloy, although white-metal examples are known at both ends of the affordability spectrum (in silver at one end, and in lead alloy at the other).

They can be flat or sometimes domed, decorated with engraving or relief ornament, and surface treatment includes enamelling and white-metal coating. Both hooks and eyes should be recorded as DRESS FASTENER (DRESS).

It is difficult to find a word which intuitively covers both halves and which can be used to distinguish these objects from other dress fasteners. The words ‘blunt hooked fastener’ in the Classification field will probably mean that they can be retrieved, but is not ideal for a detached eye. The Read class and type can then be put in the Sub-classification field.

It will always be helpful to include a Read number (and/or a PAS database number) as a parallel in the Description field, if you can.

Blunt-hooked clothing fasteners of post-medieval date. Left: two eyes (above, WMID-6CE62B; below, WMID-D1E553). Centre-left and centre-right: two hooks (SWYOR-3D74C5, SUSS-D15A7C). Right: two with unusual decoration (above, WAW-70FFB2 with arms of the Commonwealth; below, LVPL-A64B37 with enamel).
Blunt-hooked clothing fasteners of post-medieval date. Left: two eyes (above, WMID-6CE62B; below, WMID-D1E553). Centre-left and centre-right: two hooks (SWYOR-3D74C5, SUSS-D15A7C). Right: two with unusual decoration (above, WAW-70FFB2 with arms of the Commonwealth; below, LVPL-A64B37 with enamel).

The oval examples might theoretically be confused with the sturdier oval hooked sword-belt fittings, but the flimsier dress fasteners always have three attachment holes around the edge, probably used for sewing, whereas the sword-belt fittings generally have two holes through the plate, usually with evidence of copper-alloy or iron rivets. Examples of oval hooked sword-belt fittings can be seen in Read (2008, nos 797-800, 813-4, 816, 827).

It seems likely that most blunt-hooked fasteners should be dated to the 17th century; an example is known from a 17th-century context in Lincoln (Egan in Mann 2008, 10-11; fig. 6, no. 11), and another from a 1680s dump at Mark Browns Wharf, London (Hinton (ed.) 1988, 146, 403; fig. 184, no. 189). A few oval examples have decoration including symbols of the Commonwealth (thus datable to 1649-1660; see PAS database search here, Robinson 1999 and Burnett and Webley (2018, 301-302)).  NMGW-4E90C6 is an unusual example which has trefoils of openwork filigree, and so is more likely to be 16th-century in date.

Composite wire hooks and eyes

There are a few hooks and eyes made from wire with applied plates. They are mainly made of gilded silver and often have filigree decoration. They should all (both hooks and eyes) be recorded using the object type DRESS FASTENER (DRESS).

Hooks

When complete, these are easy to spot, as the hook is made from wire shaped into a double-strand blunt-ended hook at one end, and two attachment loops at the other. Examples on the PAS database include LVPL-859AC5, NMS-EDAEB2 and NLM-0ECC97. Read 2008 does not appear to contain any of these hooks.

When the plate is missing, these will be very hard to distinguish from other hooks of the same form, except by their material; silver hooks are more likely to be from these composite items and copper-alloy hooks are more likely to be from hooks from tents, tarpaulins or uniforms, etc.

Eyes

Read catalogues several eyes of gilded silver, with composite examples (Read 2008, nos. 597-605) listed separately from two similar items made in one piece (Read 2008, nos. 751-752).

Three gilded silver post-medieval objects, which might be eyes for use with hooked tags. Left: cast in one piece (SUSS-941414). Centre: wire loop and applied plate (SWYOR-DBA47D). Right: wire loop and applied plate (NMS-57F66D).
Three gilded silver post-medieval objects, which might be eyes for use with hooked tags. Left: cast in one piece (SUSS-941414). Centre: wire loop and applied plate (SWYOR-DBA47D). Right: wire loop and applied plate (NMS-57F66D).

Other examples of these eyes or catch-pieces on the PAS database include NMS-7B0FBE, SWYOR-369F70 and HAMP-BD26A1.

Simple wire hooks and eyes

Simple hooks made from wire have been collected by Read, who also gives some useful illustrations of them in place on 18th- and 19th-century costume. They are used along with eyes.

As identical items are still in use today, they are very hard to date precisely. There is evidence that their use began early in the post-medieval period; several were found in late 16th- and 17th-century contexts in Amsterdam (Baart 1977, nos 172-180) and many survive on clothing and uniform of 17th-century date and later (Read 2008, 150-4).

Hooks of this type can be found on the PAS database at PUBLIC-1E23A8SWYOR-EE6A86 and NARC-1CEB67. and eyes can be found at IOW-C4A908DEV-429777 and SWYOR-365BB1. More hooks than eyes are found, suggesting either that they are harder to recognise or that many of the hooks (as on modern tarpaulins, tents and curtains) hooked over cords or into holes in fabric.

As they are used not only on costume, but also on tarpaulins, tents and curtains, with or without eyes, they should be recorded as HOOK rather than as dress hooks or dress fasteners.

Hat-hooks

Hat-hooks (also called cap-hooks) can be recognised by their S-shaped hooks and are normally made from gilded silver. The PAS database uses the term DRESS HOOK for these, and calls them hat-hooks rather than cap-hooks. Please add ‘hat hook’ to the Classification field.

Read 2008 catalogues them as nos 708-729, and the Read type can also be added to the Description field.

Hat hooks recorded on the PAS database, all made from silver. From left: YORYM-2095D4, DUR-21BFB9, WILT-AD5D12 and SUR-C6DA03 (missing its central setting).
Hat hooks recorded on the PAS database, all made from silver. From left: YORYM-2095D4 (with filigree decoration), DUR-21BFB9 and WILT-AD5D12 (both with cast relief decoration) and SUR-C6DA03 (missing its central setting).

Eyes with cast plates, not certainly from dress

There is a growing group of eyes or catch-pieces, almost all made from silver, whose hooks have not yet been identified. These include the following (try this search in the Basic Search box): WILT-5F8359 OR OXON-86C7C3 OR LANCUM-8C13DC OR NMS-70B362 OR NLM-538148 OR LVPL-948654 OR KENT-FEE744 OR SWYOR-8AAB23 OR LEIC-FFC316 OR NMS-13D010 OR BUC-C113E6

They are generally very small (20mm or less) and many have marks from a cuttlefish-bone mould on the reverse. WILT-1E9950 is an exception, as it is made from lead alloy.

Enigmatic items that appear to be catch-pieces from dress fasteners.
Enigmatic items that appear to be catch-pieces from dress fasteners. Far left, top to bottom: GLO-09DDC4, WILT-5F8359, WAW-D2A4D7, KENT-FEE744. Centre left, top to bottom: HESH-0E0167, NMS-8B393A, LANCUM-8C13DC. Centre right, top to bottom: BM-924154, NMS-70B362. Far right, top to bottom: LVPL-948654, WILT-1E9950 (lead alloy), BUC-C113E6.

Egan and Pritchard 1991, 224-226, nos. 1199-1201) discuss what may be analogous flimsy copper-alloy items found in late 14th-century contexts, comparing them to a rather closer (but still copper-alloy) parallel found in the River Thames (fig. 141). One of Egan and Pritchard’s examples was found in place on an unperforated strap.

Read 2008 does not appear to include any, and this object type is still enigmatic, with both date and function uncertain. Dora Thornton has pointed out (on BM-924154) that they may be from dress, but alternatively might be part of some other kind of clasp, perhaps from a book; bags and purses may also have had silver clasps. At the moment we are recording these as DRESS FASTENER (DRESS), but this guidance may change as the true picture becomes clearer.

Lace-Tags

Introduction

Generally formed of sheet copper alloy folded or wrapped on itself to form a cylinder or tube, lace-tags provided pointed terminals for a lace of leather or textile to aid threading through a corresponding eyelet in garments (see Egan in Egan and Pritchard 2002, 281; fig. 181).  Laces aided tighter, figure-hugging fashions documented from the 14th century onwards (Egan in Egan and Pritchard 2002, 284).  Later examples were used for decoration, on slashed garments and caps, and could be made in precious metals.  Objects of similar construction, but longer (as much as 100 mm long, rather than the usual range), and sometimes with terminal collars, may be needle holders; other objects may possibly be pens (Egan in Egan and Pritchard 2002, 290).

PAS object type to be used

Use LACE TAG

PAS object classification to be used

Nothing is required in the Classification field.

If your example conforms to the types set out in Margeson 1993 or Ottaway and Rogers 2002, Norwich Type 1, 2 or 3 or York type E, F, O or U, it might be worth stating this in the Object Description field.

Terms to use in the description

You may find these objects referred to as ‘points’ or ‘aglets’, amongst other terms, as they were in the past, or sometimes as ‘chapes’, but it is not useful for us to do so.  Lace-tags taper from their attachment end, which may feature a small perforation for a rivet. They have a longitudinal seam, at which the ends of the sheet either overlap or meet at an edge to edge seam.

Date

Lace-tags are known from the 14th century (possibly the 13th) to the early 17th century, and thus span the medieval and post-medieval periods (Forsyth in Egan and Forsyth 1997, 224-226; Egan in Egan and Pritchard 2002, 281).

Medieval lace tags

Medieval lace-tags are covered by Egan in Egan and Pritchard (2002, 281-290).  He gave a certain attribution to examples which are 40 mm or shorter, while other, longer pieces are qualified as ‘possible’.

Post-medieval lace tags

Medieval lace-tags are covered in Margeson 1993 and Ottaway and Rogers 2002.  They can feature stamped decoration.

Examples

Lace-tags: Plain post-medieval example (left, SUR-91CC76); post-medieval example with stamped floral decoration (right, LON-69C356). Copyright: Surrey County Council; Museum of London; CC-BY-SA licence)
Lace-tags: Plain post-medieval example (left, SUR-91CC76); post-medieval example with stamped floral decoration (right, LON-69C356). Copyright: Surrey County Council; Museum of London; CC-BY-SA licence)

Search for all examples of lace tags

Key references

Egan and Forsyth 1997

Egan and Pritchard 2002

Margeson 1993


Badges

A badge was originally simply a mark or emblem, rather than an object type in its own right (perhaps from the Anglo-French bage, meaning emblem). We now use it to mean an object type which is primarily a decodable sign, and whose form does not fit into any other object type such as BROOCH, MOUNT or HARNESS PENDANT. Badges can have many forms; they can be sewn on via loops, or held by a loop through cloth and a separate pin on the reverse like a modern military ‘brass’, or can have a pin but no catch.

Badges are not known before the medieval period. The most common type of medieval badge is the pilgrim badge, and this has its own object type – PILGRIM BADGE, which should be used for pilgrim souvenirs, whether attached by sewing or by a pin. The other main type of medieval badge is a livery badge, also called a secular badge, often incorporating heraldic elements; these continue in use into the post-medieval period.

A modern ‘badge’ with a pin, catch and a decorative element – like those that say ‘PREFECT’ or ‘I AM 7’ – is of course technically a brooch, and so BROOCH should be used as the object type.