Museum of London – Saucy Badges » Meriel Jeater

Inside the Museum of London » Meriel Jeater.

Cataloguing the Museum’s collection of medieval pilgrim badges for Collections Online has been a great opportunity for me to look really closely at our objects and sometimes to find out that items are not at all what they appear to be. A great example recently has been a tiny little badge in the shape of a comb.

This little badge (no. 8737) was catalogued in 1908 as a pilgrim badge of St Blaise with the following entry: ‘Blaise, Saint; a comb, with double row of teeth, divided by a foliated bar in the centre; 13th-14th century’. It was found at Dowgate Hill near the River Thames in the City of London.

These comb badges were thought to relate to St Blaise as he had been martyred in the 4th century by being pulled apart by iron combs (before being beheaded). Some of the relics of St Blaise were kept at Canterbury Cathedral in a shrine by the high altar so it was thought that comb badges may have been brought by pilgrims visiting Canterbury.

While I was cataloguing this badge I double-checked its old record card, which had a better picture than the one in the 1908 catalogue. I noticed something rather odd about the decoration in the centre. What had been described as a ‘foliated bar’ (i.e. a band of foliage such as leaves) seemed to be a line of four phalluses joined by a wavy line. This was very intriguing. As I wasn’t sure whether to trust the photograph I went to the store to look at the object itself. When I peered at the object I realised the photo was correct – there were no leaves on the object, just phalluses.

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Follow-up on The Leather Purse with Metal Frame – pt 1

The original documentation that I wrote for this leather purse with metal frame project was intended to be read while actually viewing the purse. So I decided that I needed to write another article which included pictures of the purse. Unfortunately I did not have a digital camera at the time that I made the purse, so there are no “in progress” shots, but I still have the purse and have used it for many years. I learned a LOT from making this purse, including what I will do differently next time!

Since I made this leather purse with metal frame, I have seen even more types of purse frames, including purse hangers. Museums and curators often describe both purse frames and purse hangers as “cast.” Some purse frames and purse hangers are definitely completely cast, but I think that parts of the plain purse frames are just hand formed. They did cast many of the pieces that I soldered together as one piece. Soldering was a difficult process in period, so casting in one piece and riveting things together were the preferred techniques. I used silver solder to put things together, but much “low end” period soldering was done with tin and lead solders.

The leather purse with metal frame that I made is too big for me. It has a natural tendency to collect ten pounds of “stuff”, something that I have never liked even in the “real world”. The actual size of the purse lid is   7 1/16 inches wide by 5 1/16 inches tall. The purse bag portion is almost 9 inches deep with a bottom insert of 9 ¾ by 3 3/8  inches.

When I made the purse lid, I was concerned about it opening and things falling out. So I added a hand made leather toggle and a handmade silk tie to wrap around the toggle. What I discovered is that I never use it! It is just in the way when I want to get into the purse in a hurry. The weight of the purse lid and purse frame tends to naturally hold the purse closed. I suppose if I did a lot of jumping jacks or running, the flopping around that leather purse with metal frameensued might allow things to fall out. Under normal walking conditions the purse lid stays closed. If I were to put LARGE things into the purse so that it barely closes, I would use the leather toggle and silk tie. I would also use it if I was concerned about pick pockets.

The first picture that I am including is of the purse in the position that it is in when it is on my belt. The picture shows what I mean about a natural tendency to stay closed. The pivot of the purse lid is against my body and supported by the leather loops, so the purse frame and purse lid tend to naturally hang down flat.


The next picture shows the purse lid. You can see the frame and rivets clearly. The Purse lidenameled piece is also riveted in place. The rivet that sticks up in the middle of the edge of the purse frame is bent over on the other end to form a loop, and the tie (handmade red and yellow silk cord) is tied to this loop.



The inside of the lid, showing the birch board, the long rivet that has been turned into a inside of lidloop, the silk cord, the peaned over rivets that hold the enameled medallion in place and the more neatly finished rivets around the edges that hold the frame to the lid.


An up close shot of the hinge area. The support bar is slightly bent from use (it is about 12 hinge areayears old), but it was originally straight. The distance from the end of the finial on the left end of the support bar to the end of the finial on the right end is 5 7/8 inches. You can see where the upper and lower portions of the purse frame fit on to the support bar and allow it all to become a big hinge.


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Making a Leather Purse With a Brass Frame – pt 5

I made a pattern for the leather portion of the purse from muslin. I cut out the leather and sewed it to the frame. In period they would probably have used waxed linen thread. I didn’t have any black linen thread, so I chose to use black artificial sinew instead. I used two needles on each cord and double stitched the entire purse. I chose to do this for both strength and appearance sake. Double stitching with linen thread was commonly used in the manufacture of turnshoes.

The purse clasp is made from a toggle and a silk string. Toggles of this type are commonly used on shoes and boots. I have seen them at the Museum of London and the City Museum of York. The toggle was made by rolling up a triangular piece of leather, cutting a slot through the roll with a sharp chisel and threading the end of the triangular piece of leather back through the roll.  Some historical purses use the same sort of pressure fittings commonly used in modern framed coin purses, but it is often impossible to determine how a purse was kept closed from the archaeological remains. The Sutton Hoo purse has an elaborate locking mechanism.[1]

Once the bag was in place I drilled three holes in the edges of the enamel roundel and riveted it to the purse lid. I chose to do a simple clinch rivet because of the danger of cracking the enamel by flexing the copper too much.

= Coming next – My thoughts on this project, and a bibliography

[1] Evans, p. 85