Div IV - Buckles & Clasps  (Page 1)

The history of buckles and clasps mirrors the history of our buttons and trim. However, the fully functional use of the buckle for fastening the ends of a belt likely emerged before buttons transitioned from their earliest use as ornamental trim to their functional use as a garment closure. While laced cords and fabric ties were functionally adequate to prevent inadvertent exposure, sturdy belts and attendant buckles were much more suited for securing the weapons and tools used by ancient Greeks, Romans, and other northern Europeans. The buckle on the right is an Ordos culture gold belt buckle from central China - circa 2nd century BC1. The buckle was an important piece of ornamentation throughout the middle ages, and took on its most splendid form in the later 14th century. Metal smiths used precious metals and gems with rich and intricate designs. Buckles remained primarily for the wealthy until the 15th century where improved manufacturing techniques made it possible to easily produce molded and cast buckles available to the general population2.  

The basic buckle design takes several forms including the slide which has one or more bars on the back through which the belt is passed. Clasps consist of two or more pieces with a hook and eye to achieve closure. Some buckles have a bar on the back holding one or more prongs or posts which pass through holes punched in the belt for closure. There is also an interlock design where one side of the buckle passes through an opening in the other half to form a closure that looks like one piece.   As with most other related specialties, buckles and clasps parallel the construction and decoration of our buttons and can be collected and competed in a similar manner. Buckles are made of man-made and natural materials including bone, shell, wood, glass, synthetic plastics and metals ranging from ordinary brass or pewter to gold and silver with precious and semi-precious gems. Most forms of other material embellishment (OME) and decorative finishes (DF) can be found and all shapes are represented.  

Other buckle-type fasteners are included in the buckles and clasps section. These include men and women’s shoe buckles which became fashionable during the reign of Louis XIV in the late 1600s. They found popularity in the American colonies in the early 1700s. Shoe buckle designs ranged from elaborate jeweled versions with precious metals in the earlier period to the more common imitation jeweled versions in the 20th century. A steel and gilt example (circa 1780) is shown to the right. A second device often found with buckle collections is the sweater guard, examples of which are shown in the examples on these pages. The Blue Book classification includes 2-1 Buckles/Clasp types, 2-2 Specific design features, and 2-3 Unlisted. Class 2-2 allows and supports writing awards that focus on specific characteristics such as material types, construction techniques,  decorative finish (DF), other material embellishment (OME) and pictorials. See the footnote at the end of Div IV listing in the Blue Book.
Hover mouse over images to see the back of the buckle or clasp.
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2-1 Buckles and Clasps Types

2-1 Design - Two-piece Clasp - Brass   (3-1/2 x 1-1/2")

2-1 Design - Two-piece Clasp - Brass   (1-7/8")

2-1 Design - Three-piece Clasp - Pastes in White Metal   (3-1/2 x 1-1/2")

2-1 Design - Three-piece Clasp - Brass/OME   (3 x 2")

2-1 Design - One-piece Slide
Syroco (3-1/2 x 2-3/4")

2-1 Design - One-piece/3 Prong
Shell (3-1/2 x 1-1/2")

2-1 Design - Two-piece Interlock - Brass   (4-1/2 x 3")

2-1 Design - Two-piece Clasp (snap) - Celluloid and Fabric   (4 x 7/8")

Click on this image for additional Two-piece clasps
2-1 Specific Design Features - Materials

2-2 Material-Vaseline Glass  (1-5/16")

2-2 Material-Glass with Paint  (1-5/16")

2-2 Material-Enamel  (1-1/4 x 1-5/8")

2-2 Enamel on Silver (Hallmark on back)  (3 x 2-1/2")

2-2 Porcelain - Hand Painted   (5 x 3-1/2")

2-2 Celluloid Shield BM "CZECHOSLOV."  (2-5/8 x 1-5/8")

2-2 Fabric - Frog  (1-3/4 x 1-1/4")

2-2 Celluloid  (3-3/4 x 2-1/4")

2-2 Celluloid  (2 x 1-1/2")

2-2 Celluloid Tight Top  (5 x 2-1/2")

2-2 Celluloid with Pastes  (3-1/2 x 2")

2-2 Bakelite    (4-3/8 x 2-1/2")

2-2 Bakelite (1939 Worlds Fair)  (3-1/2 x 2")

2-2 Transparent Opalescent Glass with Silver DF  (2-7/8 x 1-1/4")

2-2 Brass  (3-1/2 x 1-1/4")

2-2 Brass  (3-1/2 x 1-1/4")

2-2 Silver - Glass OME  (7-1/8 x 3-7/8")
Peasant silver clasp from the south Balkans

2-2 Glass in Metal   (3 x 2")

2-2 Horn with shell inlay (Three-piece)    (3-1/2 x 2-1/2")

2-2 Material-Brass/White metal  (1-1/4 x 2-3/4")

2-2 Glass in Metal  (2-1/2 x 1-3/8")

2-2 Brass (Real Lock)    (1-13/16 x 1")
Mark on Front "Eagle Locks  Terryville  Conn  USA"

2-2 Leather with Brass OME  (1-1/2")

2-2 Bakelite   (1 x 7/8 x 1")

2-2 Modern Plastic   (1-1/2 x 3/4")

2-2 Copper - Wound Wire   (1-15/16 x 1-1/4")

2-2 Pewter with Brass Prongs   (1-1/2 x 7/8")

2-2 Bronze Belt Clasp (Was riveted to Belt)  (2") (Ref. 3)

Click here to see other pre-18th century fasteners

2-2 Brass - Wound Spring   (1-1/8")

Credits and References:
1. Ordos culture gold belt buckle - http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/530382/Scythian-art
2. Gerald McGrath and Janet Meana: Fashion Buckles - Common to Classic
3. Warren K. Tice: Dating Buttons, Published 2003 by Warren K. Tice (documents pre-18th century examples used herein)
4.  National Button Society Blue Book, 2013- 2017, Official NBS Classification and Competition Guidelines

Acknowledgements and Credits:
Special thanks to the collaborators who made examples from their collections available for the images shown on this pages. They include Jerry McGrath, Pat Howard, Jeffrey Lee, Lou Yeargain, Annie Frasier, Phyllis Ross, Jane Johnson, Barbara Barrans, and Gary Brockman. Others who contributed reviews, comments and support include Adrienne Bennett, Gwen Niemisto, Jane Perry, Pat Koehler, Ronnie Wexler and Jane Porter.