18th Century Shirt Buckles

Shirt buckles are a sort of brooch that men wore to close the long slit at the front of a shirt. In many cases, these are worn on top of a ruffle; in other cases, they close a fairly plain slit on the shirt or are pinned to a neckcloth. The waistcoat is unbuttoned far enough down the chest to display the shirt buckle.

This page includes several illustrations of men wearing shirt buckles, descriptions of shirt buckles (mostly from the Proceedings of the Old Bailey), as well as some extant examples of period jewelry that could be identified as a shirt buckle. I've also included some places where you can buy a shirt buckle, if you're looking for a reproduction to wear.

Men wearing shirt buckles

There are also a few examples of women wearing similar brooches – see for example Mrs. George Turner (c. 1767), Eunice Huntington Devotion (c. 1770), and Letitia Anna Philippa Pervis (1778).

Descriptions of shirt buckles

The stories from the Old Bailey are similar to other thefts of small objects of value; shirt buckles are stolen (often from a glass case or similar shop display) and then sold to a pawnbroker for ready cash. While there is usually a concise description in the list of stolen goods at the beginning of the trial, I have included further details from the victims/shopkeepers and/or pawnbrokers when I found them interesting.

  • “two stone shirt buckles, value 2 s. 6 d. … I am a pawnbroker; I took in a breast silver shirt-buckle, set in stone, of the prisoner at the bar. … I am servant to the keeper of New-Prison; when the prisoner was brought in, I searched him, and found in his pocket this buckle. (Producing a silver one set with stone.)” (OBP 10th May 1758)
  • “three stone breast buckles set in silver, value 12 s. one red stone breast buckle set in silver, value 2 s. four yellow stone breast buckles set in silver, value 4 s.” (OBP 9th December 1761)
  • “one stone shirt buckle” (OBP 14th July 1762)
  • “one gold shirt-buckle set with garnet stones, value 16 s. and one shirt-buckle set with glass paste … On Saturday morning last, between 9 and 10 at night, the prisoner came into my shop under a pretence of buying a shirt-buckle; I shewed him some, I saw him conceal one in his hand, which was a garnet one set in gold; I looked so close after him that he could not put it down again without my seeing him; he said, he had one at home he would make an exchange with me, he said it cost 17 s. He went out of the shop, and told me he would bring it; I followed him, and overtook him in the passage to the Post-office, I took him by the collar and led him back to my shop, and said, he had stole a shirt-buckle from me and I should punish him. A constable was going by, I called him, and gave charge of him. The prisoner said, he hoped I would not expose him, and begged for mercy, and would have down'd on his knees in the shop, and put down two shirt-buckles on the counter; I only saw him take one, but he had taken a paste one set in silver, and a garnet one set in gold, I know them both to be mine, by my private mark.” (OBP 18th May 1763)
  • “a silver shirt buckle set with diamonds, value 10 l. … I put the buckle in my bosom, and went flashing among people that were smartish drest; after that I went to Mr. Yates: a young fellow there laid a wager it was not worth 3 s. and to decide the wager I went to Mr. Davidson, to know the value of it. I asked what it was worth, and said I had laid a wager about it. He stopped it, and said it was a diamond buckle.” (OBP 11th December 1765)
  • “a paste shirt breast-buckle set in silver, value 5 s. … I am servant to Mr. Murthwaite, a pawnbroker, at the corner of George's-court, Princess-street, near Leicester-fields; the prisoner came and said he wanted to buy a shirt-buckle; I shewed him a good many; he said there was none that he liked; then he shew'd me this, and said it cost him 7 s. saying it was very difficult to get into his shirt, and he wanted to change it: I bought it of him for 4 s.” (OBP 15th July 1767)
  • “a breast stone shirt-buckle, a paste shirt-buckle set in silver, and two garnet shirt-buckles” (OBP 5th July 1767)
  • “the prisoner came dressed in a blue coat, a gold button to his hat, a sword, a diamond shirt-buckle to his shirt, as appeared to me” (OBP 9th September 1767)
  • “a garnet shirt-buckle set in gold, value 10 s. … The prisoner came into my shop to buy a shirt-buckle: there was another man came with him. The prisoner took up one and put it in the hand of the other man. I thought by their behaviour they had a mind to rob me. I sent for Mr. Shotten, a neighbour, who came. I said they had got a buckle. The prisoner said he had it not. I put my hand in the cuff of his coat, and got hold of something, but cannot say what it was. The other man got out at the door and ran away. The prisoner laid hold of my hand, and forced it out from thence; but whether it was a ring or shirt-buckle, I do not know. After they were gone I found a diamond ring behind a chest in the shop. I missed a garnet shirt-buckle, which I never found again.” (OBP 5th April 1769)
  • “a stone breast-buckle set in silver” (OBP 18th October 1769)
  • “one silver breast buckle” (OBP 16th January 1771)
  • “one gold shirt breast buckle, value 18 s. … one shirt breast buckle with diamonds and rubies set therein, value 30 l.” (OBP 20th February 1771)
  • “1 gold breast buckle set with garnets, value 10 s.” (OBP 11th September 1771)
  • “1 silver breast buckle, value 3 s.” (OBP 11th September 1771)
  • “one stone breast buckle, value 4 s. … one stone breast buckle, value 4 s.” (OBP 4th December 1771)
  • “one brilliant diamond breast-buckle, set in silver, value 70 l. …
    Tinsdale. These diamonds in one paper, I was told by Lyons, came out of the breast-buckle; I thought there had been twenty-one; there are but twenty.
    Sir Robert. They were all brilliants, and I never saw a finer buckle in this world. (The diamonds shewn to Sir Robert.)” (OBP 9th January 1772)
  • “garnet breast buckle set in gold, value 3 s.” (OBP 9th September 1772)
  • “a diamond shirt buckle, value 10 l.” (OBP 26th June 1773)
  • “one diamond and emerald breast buckle set in gold and silver, value 9 l.” (OBP 8th September 1773)
  • “one paste breast buckle, value 14 s.” (OBP 12th January 1774)
  • “a gold breast buckle with garnets set therein, value twelve shillings” (OBP 13th September 1775)
  • “a silver shirt buckle set with stones, value eighteen pence” (OBP 13th September 1775)
  • “a gold breast buckle with garnets set therein, value twelve shillings” (OBP 13th September 1775)
  • “a pearl breast buckle, value 5 s.” (2nd July 1777)
  • “a silver shirt buckle, set with diamonds, value 10 l.” (OBP 29th April 1778)
  • “(The pocket-book was produced in Court and deposed to by the prosecutor.) There was a square breast buckle in a piece of paper in it.” (OBP 4th April 1779)
  • “a shirt-buckle, with stones set therein, value 3 s.” (OBP 8th December 1779)
  • “a breast buckle set with garnets, value 12 s. … ELEANOR WHITE sworn. … I am a millener, sometimes in the house and sometimes out, as I can get employment. I have two children to maintain. … Did you walk with a cane? - Yes. I had a riding dress on … one held me down the prisoner took my breast buckle out of my shirt and my braid from behind my hair. Was that breast buckle set with garnets? - Yes, it was.” (OBP 10th May 1780)
  • “a stone shirt-buckle, set in silver, value 2 s.” (OBP 28th June 1780)
  • “a silver shirt-buckle, set with stones, value 6 s.” (OBP 30th May 1781)
  • “a stone breast-buckle, set in silver, value 2 s. (OBP 11th July 1781)
  • “three gold shirt buckles, value 10 s. … and one stone shirt buckle, value 1 s. 6 d. … I missed three gold shirt buckles … and a stone shirt buckle set in silver” (OBP 4th December 1782)
  • “I bought a gilt breast buckle the day before, with five stones in it” (OBP 10th September 1783)
  • “one gold breast-buckle, value 5 s.” (OBP 29th October 1783)
  • “a stone breast-buckle set in silver, value 12 d.” (OBP 10th December 1783)
  • “one paste shirt buckle, set in silver, value 12 d.” (OBP 14th January 1784)
  • “one silver breast buckle, value 6 d.” (OBP 23rd February 1785)
  • “a gold breast buckle, value 5 s. … It is an oval breast buckle, it is a very particular buckle, it has a double tongue, and it buckles to my shirt like a shoe buckle.” (OBP 29th June 1785)
  • “one gold enamelled shirt buckle, value 8 s.” (OBP 19th October 1785)
  • “a silver breast-buckle, set with stones, value 10 d.” (OBP 22nd February 1786)
  • “a silver shirt buckle, value 14 d. … I lost a shirt buckle the 29th of April, between four and five; I was in my shop, the prisoner came to look at some plated shoe buckles; I shewed him some, he fixed on a pair, and asked for some knees to match them, I turned round, and he got a silver shirt buckle over his little finger, he had not time enough to hide it, I saw him put it into his waistcoat pocket; I shewed him a pair of knee buckles that would match them, he said, these will do, make out a bill, and I will call again, and he put down two shillings; and I said, there was no occasion for that, he took it up again, I said, you'll please to give me my silver shirt buckle out of your pocket; he said, your shirt buckle! and out he ran, I ran after him, and several more; before I could get to the turning, he came upon me, says he, you may search me if you please, and see if I have got any thing of the kind; I said, I suppose you have hid it now; and I offered five shillings to any body that would find it, and some persons went to look, and found three of my silver thimbles, and a person brought the shirt buckle.” (OBP 31st May 1786)
  • “one gold breast pin, value 20 s. … I am a taylor; I live in Great-Bell-alley, Coleman-street; the prisoner took from me a gold breast buckle, called a pin; on the 12th of June, I called on a father-in-law of mine, in Little Suffolk-street in the Hay-market, and when I had done my business there, I called at a public house adjoining to this house, and this buckle I had in my shirt; and between my father-in-law and me some aggravation took place, and the tongue of the buckle broke” (OBP 19th July 1786)
  • “one stone breast buckle, set in silver, value 4 s.” (OBP 18th April 1787)
  • “one gold shirt buckle, set with garnets, value 5 s.” (OBP 7th May 1788)
  • “a garnet stone breast buckle, set in gold, value 3 s. … I had been down to Woolwich after a ship, and coming home (I live at Edmonton) I happened to see some breast buckles in this man's window laying for sale; I went in and asked him the price of a silver breast buckle; he said one was eighteen-pence and one was one shilling; I offered him fifteen-pence for one; he said he could not take it; he went and asked his master, and he came down and said no; he asked me eighteen-pence for the buckle; he called his master, and said he had lost a garnet breast buckle; and I picked it up from the ground and gave it him” (OBP 9th September 1789)
  • “a stone breast buckle, value 5 s.” (OBP 8th July 1789)
  • “a silver breast buckle, value 2 s.” (OBP 26th May 1790)
  • “six stone shirt buckles set in silver, value 6 s.” (OBP 9th January 1793)
  • “a gold shirt breast buckle, value 7 s.” (OBP 20th February 1793)
  • “a silver breast buckle, value 1 s.” (OBP 30th October 1793)
  • “a silver breast buckle, value 14d. … in the pocket of Sarah Crutchley was found the silver breast buckle in a pocket-book or housewife” (OBP 15th February 1797)
  • “a silver breast-buckle set with stones, value 1s.” (OBP 12th July 1797)
  • “a gold breast-buckle, value 3s.” (OBP 12th September 1798)

Possible period shirt buckles

Museums seldom identify this type of jewelry as a shirt buckle, and it's difficult to know whether all of these brooches would have been worn in this way (other than Met 2010.106, which was actually worn as a shirt buckle in a 1773 portrait).

The heart-shaped style does relate to a traditional Scottish jewelry shape, the luckenbooth (so-named for the lockable booths/stalls/workshops where such brooches were made and sold in Edinburgh). The design also was used in trade silver to the Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands.

The pinchy heart shape has also come to be known as a “witch’s heart” – though I find no evidence that it had any such connotation in the 18th century, many of these pieces are marketed as such by modern purveyors and antique dealers, perhaps to add a sense of mysticism.

So – I’ve included a lot of pieces here that look like they could have been shirt buckles, but for the most part, I don’t know for sure that they were.

Where to buy a reproduction shirt buckle