Safety Pins and Cockades

Who says being in debt is a bad thing? It could be a pretty powerful motivator – as Walter Hunt discovered in 1849. Walter was a farmer, mechanic and inventor in New York who owed a $15 debt. (That's about $450 in current American money.) He was playing with a piece of wire when he invented the safety pin – which he so named because it protected you from being stabbed by the sharp end of a pin. He sold the patent rights for $400 and paid his debt.

What, you say, does this have to do with cockades? Quite a bit – because many cockades after 1849 were fastened on with safety pins! Formerly, cockades were attached with straight pins, or sewn directly onto the hat or bonnet. With the invention of the safety pin and its subsequent mass production, people could wear cockades without fear of poking themselves.

These are pictures of two types of safety pins sewn onto the backs of some cockades in my collection.

Walter Hunt was not the first person to have the idea of a pin to fasten clothing. Here’s a picture of some first century Roman pins, called fibulae.

Later, ring fibulae or “penannular brooches” were designed and are still popular in Celtic jewelry today. This is a Viking penannular brooch.

Through the centuries, pins were viewed as rather expensive items of jewelry, hence the term “pin money” used to describe the wife’s savings account for the year. But mass production of the safety pin in the 1800s led to the easy and cheap availability of pins. Now they could be used for such mundane items as diaper pins – or making a political statement with a cockade!

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