I love good stories and, of course, shopping for vintage costume jewelry. On this particular day, I got a good dose of both. I had been wandering around at an antique show in Dallas for an hour or so when I started to walk past a number of tables grouped together covered with unique beads, antique findings, and beautiful, old jewelry from every era. There was also something rather interesting…a huge box filled to the top with metal shoe clips.
These were nothing like I had ever seen before, so I was determined to find out where they came from and the time period when they were worn. Little did I know, there was so much more to their background than I could have ever guessed.
The Craft of Cut Steel
During the mid-1800s, the French began making shoe clips out of cut steel. It took an incredible amount of work and skill to create these as each tiny piece of steel was hand faceted.
Craftsmen most likely used a lathe which is a machine tool that rotates the work piece on its axis to cut, sand, or drill, giving it symmetry on an axis of rotation. Lathes are often used for working with wood, glass, and metal.
Cut steel is sometimes mistaken for the mineral marcasite. After hand faceting each piece of steel, the stud was individually attached by a rivet through a metal frame which can be seen on the back of the shoe clip. With marcasite jewelry, the bead is glued or set in sterling silver.
Cut Steel Shoe Clips
The majority of cut steel shoe clips were made in France. Here are photos of the back with the markings PARIS and FRANCE. Also, notice the detailed riveting:
Faceted cut steel was created to mimic the sparkle of diamonds. It was this sparkle that made it so desirable. In addition to shoe clips, cut steel was also used in making buckles, necklaces, bracelets, earrings, brooches, hair combs, and chatelaines.
Toward the end of the 1800s, shoe clips began to be manufactured in England as well. Cut steel continued to be fashionable in Europe during the Victorian era through the early 1900s.
An Incredible Shoe Clip Story
It is not often that one will come across these intricately made vintage shoe clips. However, on this day I was staring at an entire box of them! How did the seller end up with so many? It fascinated me, so I asked the man standing behind the table.
He began by telling me he had discovered there was a woman who had collected these cut steel shoe clips all her life….4,000 to be exact! However, she never wore them. They just sat in bags and boxes throughout her house. She simply loved to collect them.
After she passed away, the items in her estate were sold off. He personally bought every shoe clip she owned because they are so scarce. I could not wait to dig through this treasure box and take several of these home with me!
I spent a good long time looking over many of them, setting aside those that still had lots of sparkle and no rust. After I made my purchase I thought, These are going to make beautiful bracelets! And they did!
I have a feeling the fashionable French women of the 1800s would definitely give me their approval.
Kimberly Moore is a vintage costume jewelry expert, blogger, speaker, and author of Beauty in a Life Repurposed. To learn more, visit her website at kingdomsparkle.com.
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