Silver gilt dress pin


British Museum

British Museum

This is one of the largest and most unusual dress pins that has survived from Anglo-Saxon England. Dress pins like this, with long shafts, were typical of Anglian culture areas in eastern England.

The head of the pin displays a symmetrical design that resembles an owl, or perhaps a human mask with large round eyes. On closer inspection it becomes clear that the large eyes are also bird heads in profile, with raptor-like beaks. What appear to be ribbed 'eyebrows' from the front are also serpents with open mouths that spring from the beaks of the birds. The upper axe-shaped section of the pin is undecorated. If this upper element of this pin is taken into account, yet another view of the pin emerges. In this reading, the overall image is that of a frontal helmet, with a plain casque and nosepiece, round eye sockets and ribbed brows.

This kind of visual pun is typical of Germanic art styles. For example, the purse mount in the shape of a helmet from the Domagnano treasure (see Related Objects) displays similar hidden images in garnet cloisonné. Even closer to this pin are the symbols and decorative elements on the helmet from the ship-burial at Sutton Hoo, when viewed from the front.

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  • Title: Silver gilt dress pin
  • Date Created: 550/599
  • Physical Dimensions: Length: 15.40cm; Width: 4.35cm
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: tinned; gilded; chip-carved
  • Subject: animal
  • Registration number: 1883,0401.176
  • Place: Excavated/Findspot Sleaford
  • Period/culture: Early Anglo-Saxon
  • Material: copper alloy; tin; gold
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Franks, Augustus Wollaston. Excavated by Thomas, George William