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.