Hair pins were the sign of a respectable married woman in Italy. Like all Italian hair ornaments, 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 pin is one of a pair. They are both marked with silver marks which show they were made in the Papal States between 1815 and 1860. They were originally worn with an elaborate headdress of gold ribbons topped with a pompom of red velvet, which has also, most rarely, survived. They were bought as part of the Castellani collection of Italian Peasant Jewellery at the International Exhibition, Paris, 1867. The hair pins cost 18 shillings each, and the gold ribbons £1 12s.