18th Century Sleeve Links

A pair of shank-buttons linked together for the cuff of a lady’s shift or a man’s shirt. Also called “sleeve buttons,” and sometimes (in modern descriptions) as cufflinks.

This notebook page is divided into three sections: extant examples of sleeve links, portraits and illustrations of men and women wearing sleeve links, and places where you can buy your own sleeve links.

A more precise description from Diagnostic Artifacts in Maryland: “button-like clothing attachments that were not actually sewn to the garment. For the most part, this category consists of pairs of buttons attached by a metal chain link or bar, known today as cufflinks. Each button could be inserted into a buttonhole, and the tension between the two buttons connected by the metal link would hold the garment together.”

Gold sleeve-buttons appear in wills (for example, the wills of William Burnham, 1764, Thomas Fisher, 1771, and John Barclay, 1779).

People wearing sleeve links

  • The Pot-Boy, c. 1720
  • Elizabeth “Betje” Van Dyck Vosburg by Pieter Vanderlyn, c. 1725
  • Adam Winne by Pieter Vanderlyn, 1730
  • Life-size horse with huntsman blowing a horn by John Wootton, 1732
  • The House of Cards by Jean-Siméon Chardin, c. 1736-1737
  • Deborah Glen, c. 1739
  • Jacques Dumont Le Romain playing the guitar by Maurice Quentin de la Tour, by 1742
  • The Duke of Devonshire’s Flying Childers by James Symour, 1742
  • Cornelis Wynkoop by Pieter Vanderlyn, c. 1743
  • The Hon. John Spencer, his son the 1st Earl Spencer and their servant, Caesar Shaw by George Knapton, c. 1744
  • Portrait of two boys, probably Joseph and John Joseph Nollekens by Joseph Francis Nollekens, c. 1745
  • The idle 'prentice return’d from sea & in a garret with a common prostitute, 1747
  • Trade card of William Baylis, pencil seller, c. 1748
  • Louis François Roubiliac by Andrea Soldi, 1751
  • A Sportsman by Edward Haytley, 1752
  • Joseph Mann by John Singleton Copley, 1754
  • Young girl writing a love letter by Pietro Antonio Rotari, c. 1755
  • The Comte and Chevalier de Choiseul as Savoyards by François-Hubert Drouais, 1758
  • Benjamin Badger by Joseph Badger, c. 1760
  • Mrs. Richard Galloway by John Hesselius, 1764
  • Joseph Warren by John Singleton Copley, c. 1765
  • A scene in Love in a Village by Johan Joseph Zoffany, 1767; see versions at the Detroit Institute of Arts and Yale Center for British Art
  • Joseph Pemberton by James Claypoole, Jr., c. 1767
  • An experiment on a bird in the air pump by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768
  • Fleetwood Hesketh by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1769
  • The Sailor’s Pleasure, 1770
  • Joseph Nollekens by Mary Moser, c. 1770-1771
  • Thomas Nuthall with a dog and gun by Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland
  • Reverend Ebenezer Gay, Sr. by Winthrop Chandler, 1773
  • Benjamin Waterhouse by Gilbert Stuart, 1775
  • Married Moravian woman by Johann Valentin Haidt
  • Capt. Paul Jones shooting a sailor who had attempted to strike his colours in an engagement, 1780
  • A young mariner by John Durand, c. 1780
  • Patrick Heatly by Johan Joseph Zoffany, 1783-1787
  • A drawing boy by Nicolas Bernard Lépicié
  • John Mix, c. 1788
  • Quarrelsome Taylors, or Two of a Trade Seldom Agree, 1793-1795
  • Lessons for shaving!!!, 1796
  • Samuel Thomas Russell in Samuel Foote’s “The Mayor of Garratt&Rdquo; by Samuel De Wilde, 1810-1811
  • Jack, hove down — with a Grog Blossom Fever, 1811

  • Shopping for sleeve links

    There are several places online where you can buy reproduction 18th century sleeve links:

    In addition, there are several online antique stores selling 18th century sleeve links, and you can often find original 18th century sleeve links on eBay.