Strap Clasps

Introduction

Strap clasps are medieval strap fittings which fastened the ends of a strap often by a separate ‘rotating end’, rather than a pin as with a buckle.  Clasps with such a separate rotating end, as well as the frame and plate, are known as three-part clasps. More rarely, frames have a solid end which, with the plate, makes them two-part clasps.   The rotating end may feature a bar mount (a fourth component), but for simplicity these are described still as ‘three-part’ clasps.  Composite clasps have the rotating end of three-part examples, but have a forked spacer and sheets, instead of a simple plate.

Two-part clasps have been treated by Gilmore (2019), with a number of examples published by Egan (2007, 107-109; pl. 18).  Her ‘animal head’ type shares decoration with a particular variant of T-shaped buckle which may have been used on a dog’s lead.  Three-part clasps are well dealt with by Egan and Pritchard (2002, 116-120), but note that the authors’ terminology might differ to that set out here (see below). Whitehead (2003, 40-43) offers a number of images of all types.

Clasps can be hard to distinguish from buckles, especially as certain types share characteristics and were presumably contemporary, such an the animal head two-part clasp and T-shaped buckle mentioned above.  It is very useful to have plate present, as this will not have a slot for the pin, or a constriction on a forked spacer.  However, some clasps are found converted for use as a buckle, and should be recorded under their latest use (as BUCKLE), following normal conventions.

PAS object type(s) to be used

Use CLASP

PAS object classification and sub-classification to be used

For the classification field use two part for those with frames with expanded outer edges, three part, for those with rotating ends on the outer edge of the frame, or composite for those examples with forked spacers.

For the sub-classification field regarding two-part clasps use the type terms set out by Gilmore (2019), for example large head (plain)

The type terms created by Gilmore (2019) are as follows, with some illustrated below: large head (crowned); large head (mitred); large head (plain); small head (crowned); small head (mitred); small head (variant); geometric; animal head; bird head

Terms to use in the description

The frame of three part strap clasps has two bars, an inner one on which the plate is hinged, and an outer one on which the rotating end is hinged. It must be clear which bar you are referring to. The frame is generally rectangular, but with slightly convex sides often with pairs of transverse ridges, one near each end of each bar. The rotating end usually has a bar mount held on by a separate rivet; but in quite a few cases there is no bar mount, and decoration (as well as the lack of a rivet hole) shows that there never was one.

The components of a strap clasp
The components of a strap clasp

Date

Their date range is roughly from 1250 to 1450 (Egan and Pritchard 2002, 22, 116; fig. 11).  For two-part clasps Gilmore (2019, 5-6) suggests a date range of c. 1350-1450.  The dating of three-part clasps with transverse ridges along the sides, from London c. 1270-1450, can be compared with tighter dating in the 14th century for buckles with the same side ridges.  Further dating evidence comes from the composite construction of certain examples with a forked spacer (Egan and Pritchard 2002, 119-120; fig. 78); by analogy with buckles made in this way, they date to the late 14th to early 15th centuries.  Some of these composite clasps also feature the transverse side ridges of the 14th-century buckle series, but which are absent on the oval frames of composite buckles.

Examples

Two-part strap clasps, note the absence of a pin slot on the plates, and the transverse ridges on the sides of the frames: with rotating end with applied bar mount (top, SOM-065B98); rotating end absent (bottom, BH-1A6C16). Copyrights: Somerset County Council; St. Albans District Council; CC-BY licence)
Three-part strap clasps, note the absence of a pin slot on the plates, and the transverse ridges on the sides of the frames: with rotating end with applied bar mount (top, SOM-065B98); rotating end absent (bottom, BH-1A6C16). Copyrights: Somerset County Council; St. Albans District Council; CC-BY licence)
Two-part strap clasps: large head (crowned) type (top left, HAMP-2970AD); small head (variant) type (middle left, PUBLIC-192DAF); animal head type (bottom left, HAMP-9CE4E2); small head (crowned) type (top right, NMS-B6F2D6); large head (plain) type (middle right, WILT-CDD28B); large head (mitred) type (bottom right, SF-809532)
Two-part strap clasps: large head (crowned) type (top left, HAMP-2970AD); small head (variant) type (middle left, PUBLIC-192DAF); animal head type (bottom left, HAMP-9CE4E2); small head (crowned) type (top right, NMS-B6F2D6); large head (plain) type (middle right, WILT-CDD28B); large head (mitred) type (bottom right, SF-809532). Copyrights: Hampshire Cultural Trust; Lincolnshire County Council; Norfolk County Council; Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum; Suffolk County Council; CC-BY licence)

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References

Egan and Pritchard 2002

Egan 2007

Gilmore 2019