Thursday, March 3, 2016

18th Century Bling

We left off in yesterday's post after I went exploring on several new permissions, and although I had dug a really great bullet, I was still unsure what I had.  I didn't want to go home empty-handed, so I drove over to the cow field to see if I could sneak out a few more bullets.

That field is getting slim (although I look forward to getting back in there with a bigger coil sometime), and it took me a while to find a patch we hadn't thoroughly searched yet.  When I finally did, though, I started recovering quite a few three ringers and Williams cleaners in a tight area, the usual finds for this camp.  Right in the middle of the bullet patch, the GPX gave a nice high tone.  While the low tones usually indicate lead bullets, a high tone could be small brass.  It could have been small aluminum trash, but with all these bullets around I was hoping for a soldier's button.  What I found was... Well, see for yourself.

The large stone was in fabulous shape.  But what was it?  Glass?  Gemstone?  Could it be a diamond??  And then there was the back.  It came out of the ground shiny, with just a few small spots of tarnish.  I've seen enough dug silver to know that it probably was authentic from the patina.  But beyong that, I knew very little.  It appeared to have a shank, so I was thinking some sort of fashion button.  I had so many question.  What was it?  How did it end up in the cow field?  Could it be old enough to have been dropped by a Civil War soldier?

I spent a good bit of time searching the web for the right set of key words that would unlock the mystery.  I was shocked when I finally found a match - this was not a button per se, but rather part of a broken set of late 18th century paste stone sleeve links (cufflinks)!!

Shirts in the 1700's served as undergarments, meant to be always worn under an overcoat.  The shirt was the utilitarian wear, meant to preserve the outer clothing from getting soiled too quickly.  The sleeve cuff included a pair of button holes, which could be tied shut with ribbon or fastened with sleeve button links.  These links could be made out of a variety of materials, including bone, horn, copper, silver, and gold.

The links that I found have a silver back, along with a stone of either rock crystal or paste stone set in the style of the earlier Stuart crystal jewelry.  Paste stone was a type of leaded glass developed for jewelry in the mid 18th century.  While an imitation of natural gemstones, it was desirable in its own right and not a cheap knock off like we think of rhinestones today.  These links would have been quite fashionable for a man of some amount of status in the late 1700's.  Below is a very similar complete odd paste stone cufflink, found during an archeological dig at Harvard Yard.  The author writes that the links "were particularly fancy, suggesting that at least one student was very fashionably garbed at 18th-century Harvard."

So how did these aristocratic sleeve links end up in a Virginia cow field?  I'll probably never know the answer.  I found no other items from the period in that field - no flat buttons, knee or shoe buckle fragments, or other civilian accoutrements.  There was no evidence of an early house site.  In fact, besides very modern aluminum rubbish and farm iron, we found a few Civil War era buttons and a whole lot of bullets.  I suspect that it's quite possible that the cuff links, then already an antique at 60+ years old, were being taken home as a souvenir by a returning Union soldier before being accidentally left behind in camp.  I can't ever prove that of course, but you can be sure I will return to scour that spot for more evidence, and maybe even the other half of the broken link!!  Thanks for reading, God bless you, and happy hunting!

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