Plaited wire rings

Introduction

At the time of writing, we have around 20 of these on the PAS database. They are made from several parallel lengths of wire, at present always apparently silver. They seem to have been produced in the early-medieval period (10th century), the post-medieval period (16th to 18th century), and the modern period (19th to 20th century) but at present we cannot distinguish between these options. We need to record more, in the hope that patterns may emerge. 

Many thanks to Cormac Bourke for his help in compiling the early-medieval part of this guide, and to Garry Crace for his help with the modern objects. The much-missed Geoff Egan was responsible for originally spotting the post-medieval group.

PAS object type to be used

RING should be used for these, as so far they are all reasonably annular. Other shapes of plaited wire object may turn up; balls and cones are known from early-medieval contexts.

What to include in the Description field 

There are several potential aspects that may distinguish the plaited wire rings of different dates:

  • the shape of the wire in cross-section; beaded wire may be post-medieval, and square or rectangular-section wire may be modern
  • the gauge of the wire (please record measurements of the cross-section as precisely as possible, ideally to two decimal places)
  • the number of wires in each band
  • the technique of the weave or plait, as with textile, and how tightly it is plaited or woven
  • the shape of the resulting object in cross-section; if domed or C-shaped in cross-section it may be early-medieval, or a long straight collar may be modern.

How to take dimensions

It seems intuitively likely that there will be a difference between the manufacturing standards of early-medieval wire and 19th-century wire, so hopefully we can pick this up through our recording. So please look closely at the wire and record both the shape and size of its cross-section. As all of the wire appears to be quite fine gauge, please record the measurements to two decimal places. 

The measurement of diameter will be more approximate, as these rings are not rigid. The measurement perpendicular to this may be called the length or the thickness, as appropriate.

How to measure the dimensions of a plaited wire ring (IOW-05025E)
How to measure the dimensions of a plaited wire ring (IOW-05025E)

Date

It is probably best to record all plaited wire rings as UNKNOWN for the time being, because we cannot as yet definitely date any individual ring. The early-medieval ones are very rare in sealed contexts and we have no reason yet to expect them to be common as metal-detector finds. Although wire rings appear quite common on 16th- to 18th-century swords, any sword fragment is rare as a metal-detector find. It may be that most turn out to be 19th or 20th century, but until we record more we will not know.

On the balance of probabilities, any metal-detector find of a plaited wire ring is likely to date to after 1720 AD, and so until we learn more about them they do not need to be reported as Treasure.

Early-medieval plaited wire rings

The silver ‘scourge’ from the Trewhiddle hoard (deposited c. 868 AD) has six small and one large plaited wire rings, all short and C-shaped in cross-section. It then ends in three plaited wire balls, of an original four (1880,0410.4). 

The various rings and balls from the Trewhiddle 'scourge'
The various rings and balls from the Trewhiddle ‘scourge’ (Copyright: British Museum; CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 licence)

Other plaited silver wire rings and related woven or plaited wire objects come from 10th-century Viking contexts, and generally have a more domed or ball-like appearance.

Grave II at Peel Castle on the Isle of Man contained at least 18 plano-convex plaited wire rings or balls, and Grave III had another four. These were thought to be ornaments from the fringe of a cloak, shawl or cape. Both graves are dated to the 10th century (Graham-Campbell in Freke 2002, 71, 88-89).

The Dunmore Cave hoard was found in 1999 in County Kilkenny, Ireland, and dated by the coins it contained to c. 965-70 (Halpin 2008). It also contained 16 plaited wire objects, most hemispherical or conical.  They were thought to be tassel-like decorations fixed to textiles.

Two are known from Norway. One plano-convex or domed ring comes from a sealed context at Lø, near Steinkjer in Nord-Trøndelag. The deposit contained cremated remains (carbon-dated to c. 870-1005) placed in an unburnt boat; the wire ring was not burnt (Ellingsen and Grønnesby 2012). The Lø ring is illustrated in Heen-Pettersen 2014, fig. 27). The other Norwegian find was metal-detected in 2014 at Hove, Trondheim, and is now in the Museum of Natural History and Archaeology, Trondheim (museum no. T26869).

Post-medieval plaited wire rings (16th to 18th century)

There are many wire-wrapped sword-grips with a plaited wire ring at their upper end. The wires can be made from copper alloy or silver, and can be beaded, two- or three-ply twisted, or plain. Examples still in place on swords can be found in many collectors’ books and websites, but a scholarly source is Dufty 1974, pls. 17a, 26a and c, 27a, b and d, 28b-d, 39b, 46a, 47a, 48a (with twisted strands), 50b, 63b-d, 64c-d, 85a, 86a and 97c. Many of these are of copper alloy, but several are of silver. They date from the 16th to the 18th century, and were made both in Britain and across Europe.

Ring of twisted three-ply wire, perhaps from a post-medieval sword-grip (LIN-C29D8B)
Ring of twisted three-ply wires formed into a plait, perhaps from a post-medieval sword-grip (LIN-C29D8B).

Modern plaited wire rings (19th or 20th century)

Hunting whips are known with sleeves or collars of woven multi-strand wire, perhaps to match the braided leather surfaces still found on many riding crops. The most prestigious appear to have been made by a company called Swaine & Adeney, and antique examples of these can still be found on eBay and collectors’ websites. The collars are relatively long, and appear to have been made both in solid sheet and woven wire. Any stamped with the maker’s mark ESA will date to after 1902, when this mark started being used by Swaine and Adeney.

Long 'collars' of woven or plaited silver wire, perhaps from 19th- or 20th-century hunting whips (DENO-F7EC2C, CAMHER-DA6395 and PAS-DC12AF)
Long ‘collars’ of woven or plaited silver wire, perhaps from 19th- or 20th-century hunting whips (DENO-F7EC2C, CAMHER-DA6395 and PAS-DC12AF)

 

Antique hunting whip spotted for sale on eBay by Garry Crace (photo courtesy of seller bizzy-lizzy99). Length of braided silver wire collar 28mm.
Antique hunting whip spotted for sale on eBay by Garry Crace (photo courtesy of seller bizzy-lizzy99). The handle is of steel, the body of the whip of malacca cane. Length of braided silver wire collar 28mm.

References

Dufty, A.R. 1974. European Swords and Daggers in the Tower of London (HMSO)

Ellingsen, E.G. and Grønnesby, G. 2012. ‘Gravene på Lø: Oversikt over hauger og funn’ in G. Grønnesby (ed) Graver i veien: arkeologiske undersøkelser E6 Steinkjer (Vitark: acta archaeologica nidrosiensia 8, Trondheim) 13-28

Freke, D. 2002. Excavations on St Patrick’s Isle, Peel, Isle of Man, 1982–88 (Centre for Manx Studies Monograph 2, University of Liverpool Press, Liverpool)

Halpin, A. 2008. ‘The Dunmore Hoard’ Irish Arts Review 25, no. 2, 114-115

Heen-Pettersen, A. M. 2014. ‘Insular artefacts from Viking-Age burials from mid-Norway. A review of contact between Trøndelag and Britain and Ireland’ Internet Archaeology 38