18th Century Sleeve Links

Last updated: Jan 7, 2024

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
  • Portrait of a man, possibly John Baird by John Durand, c. 1770-1776
  • 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
  • Rabbi Raphael Haijm Isaac Karigal by Samuel King, 1782
  • 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” 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.
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