Keeping the records on the PAS database in step with the most recent advances in research and approved terminology is a constant and time-consuming task. In this blog post, SWYOR volunteer Joan Tozer describes the work she has been doing to update one group of objects: hooked tags and other associated fasteners.
The PAS database is a constantly evolving set of data. Over the years, PAS has changed the way in which finds are recorded as research develops and our understanding of different object types improves. Hooked tags are a very good example of this. Originally, all dress fittings with a hook and plate were recorded as HOOKED TAG as the object type. Then, the policy changed to distinguish between Early Medieval examples and Post Medieval ones, by using HOOKED TAG and DRESS HOOK respectively. As more have been recorded people started to fully appreciate the range of hooked dress fittings, the guidance changed again to reflect this diversity. The current guidelines for recording can be found in the excellent and comprehensive PASt Explorers Finds Recording Guide by Helen Geake which was updated as recently as April 2020, though the text makes it clear that there is still much to learn about some of the more enigmatic types, and that the guidance may change again as the true picture becomes clearer.
Each successive advance in understanding generates data cleaning work to update any database records that were created earlier. Data cleaning is a regular and ongoing aspect of the FLO’s work, though often one that takes second place to the pressures of recording new finds.
Work in Lockdown
In March, when we went into lockdown, we SWYOR volunteers were unable to volunteer at the PAS office on a weekly basis as we had done. With all this in mind, our FLO, Amy, asked me to review hooked tags and associated items recorded by the SWYOR office, to bring them into line with the recently revised guide. This task is still ongoing, but the majority has now been completed.
This work is important because, once done, the identification of future hooked tags and other dress accessories will be easier, and any searches for research purposes will be more likely to return all the appropriate records and types.
The first part of my task was to identify the items that had been recorded with outdated terms according to the revised guide. To do this I searched on HOOKED TAG, DRESS FASTENER (DRESS), DRESS HOOK and any other likely object types that we could think of.
My next job was to use the photographs to check that the objects were correctly described. In most cases it was relatively straightforward to identify a Hooked Tag as these were generally of three different basic forms:
- Early Medieval hooked tags
These are the simplest type. They are often sub-circular with a hook and two holes punched for attachment. Of all the types of hooked tags, these were the most scarce, with just 18 examples recorded by the SWYOR office.
2. Post Medieval hooked tags with an attachment loop at the rear, hidden by the plate.
These are of various shapes but they have an attachment bar or loop attached to the rear, and a hook projecting from one edge. The most common types tends to be circular, trefoil or triangular. Some of these are very ornate, being of silver gilt and decorated with filigree.
3. Post Medieval hooked tag with a projecting attachment loop.
These are probably the most common type of Post Medieval hooked tags. They have an attachment loop which projects, usually from the top of the tag, with a hook extending from the opposite side.
Other types of dress hook
The new Finds Recording Guide also encompassed object types other than hooked tags, so next, I had to find and check these. Once again, I searched lots of different object types, then I created lists and worked through these amending the description and other details as necessary.
While hooked tags have sharp hooks, hook and eye fasteners have blunt hooks that slotted into an eye on a corresponding piece. They take several forms, but they should all now be recorded as DRESS FASTENER (DRESS).
One of the most common types of hook and eye fitting, but a particular favourite of mine, are oval plates with projecting sewing loops, decorated with a fleur-de-lis or perhaps a plume of feathers.
A more complicated type is composite, with a decorative front plate mounted on attachment loops and hooks or eyes made from wire.
Another form of hooked fitting is the double hooked fastener, which has two hooks projecting from opposite sides of the plate. There are both Early Medieval and Post Medieval examples, but the SWYOR office has only recorded three examples, all Post Medieval. These should now be recorded as DRESS HOOK.
Also fitting into the DRESS HOOK category are hat hooks which is a group which I have a soft spot for. These are recognisable from their distinctive S shaped sharp hook, but are harder to identify when that is missing.
During the categorisation exercise, I examined hundreds of SWYOR hooked fastener records, and now they can be summarised in the following table. These figures are likely to change as more objects are recorded, and as the data cleaning work continues.
|HOOKED TAG||EARLY MEDIEVAL||18|
|DRESS FASTENER (DRESS)||62|
|DRESS FASTENER (UNKNOWN)||6|
Function and Use
The function of the large numbers of Post Medieval hooked tags remains uncertain. They all have sharp hooks and do not appear to have corresponding eyes. Most are decorated, suggesting they were designed to be seen. The most thorough study of hooked tags is by Brian Read in his 2008 book ‘Hooked-Clasps and Eyes’. His examination of surviving costume and contemporary art historical depictions suggests that they were sewn to clothing with the attachment loop, and then hooked directly into material. Depictions in art show them worn on women’s backs, fastening a collar or shawl to the waistband. They are also seen on straps used to hitch up a woman’s skirt; an early version of Edwardian skirt-lifters.
Read’s book contains a comprehensive classification system, and the PAS Finds Recording Guide recommends that it is used. I therefore started to list those records that did not have Read classes entered, for later amendment. Once it became clear that lockdown was unlikely to end quickly, the SWYOR office provided funding so I could purchase a copy of Read’s book myself, in additional to the one in the office. I could then start the task of checking and entering the Read class for each record, which is still ongoing. It will be interesting to see if some types are more common than others when this work is complete.
Hooked on fasteners?
It has been interesting to really get to know one object type in detail, and I didn’t know that dress fasteners could be so interesting. By tackling the revisions required to follow the newly updated guide during lockdown, I have been able to review over 300 records. This type of task would not have been completed during normal times as the entering and describing of finds hand in for recording would always take priority! But now, next time we have a hooked fitting to record and we are wondering whether to use HOOKED TAG or DRESS FASTENER (DRESS), hopefully all the existing, freshly data-cleaned SWYOR records will lead us to the right choice straightaway. I’m certainly looking forward to the chance to record some more once we can take in finds for recording again. I’m hooked!
Brian Read (2008) Hooked-Clasps and Eyes. Langport: Portcullis Publishing
Helen Geake (2020) Hooked Tags and Other Dress Hooks and Eyes – PASt Explorers Finds Recording Guide on the PAS County Pages of the website.