Hair pins were the sign of a respectable married woman in Italy. They were first worn at the wedding, and after that on feast days and special occasions. Only the unmarried and prostitutes wore their hair loose.
Hair pins were worn throughout the country, but the most numerous and interesting come from the north. They were usually worn at the back of the head, piercing and securing the thick braids of hair. They were inserted diagonally or horizontally, so that the decorative heads stuck out at the side of the face. The number of pins worn varied by district. In some places they were worn all round the head, like a fan, but the largest were usually worn singly or in pairs.
This hairpin is called ‘spada’ in Italian, meaning a sword, but the same name was also used for any hair pin with a flat stem, regardless of the shape of the top. The use of a sword as the top probably has amuletic significance. Sword pins like this are typical of the Lazio region.
It was bought as part of the Castellani collection of Italian Peasant Jewellery at the International Exhibition, Paris, 1867.