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When all is not what it seems; ANTIQUES Don broaches the subject of horse and harness decorations.

Byline: bargain hunter Don Rodgers

YOU could be forgiven for thinking this was a brooch - a largish brooch at 55mm in diameter and on the heavy side at 70g - but a brooch nonetheless.

After all, before the invention of buttons, brooches were the main means of fastening clothes, and sizeable brooches were needed for the heavy cloaks worn by our ancestors.

You could also be forgiven for thinking it was quite ancient.

The main decorative motif on this piece is vaguely reminiscent of the stylised owlish or feline faces found on early Celtic metalwork.

The way the object has been put together with rivets, and has been silvered or tinned to give it the appearance of solid silver, are also ancient techniques well known to the Celts and Anglo-Saxons.

However, appearances can be deceptive. This is especially true of objects like this one which have been buried for any length of time. These often look much older than they actually are. For this is actually an 18th century horse boss, not an ancient brooch at all.

Like brooches, horse and harness decorations have a long history. The Celts, Romans and Saxons held their horses in high esteem and great skill and craftsmanship was employed in producing metal wares for them.

Horse decorations reached their zenith in the 15th and 16th centuries when pendant fittings were popular, generally made of bronze or copper, enamelled with the coats of arms of their owners. Curb bits appeared at the end of the 15th century and it was these that had bosses attached to them.

The boss shown here would have been one of a pair, attached either side of the snaffle bit - the remains of the attachment loop can be seen on the back.

Early examples were bowl-shaped but by the 18th century they had become flatter, and these remained popular into the 19th century, often decorated with an individual's own customised design.

Most bosses were round, varying in size from 40 to 80 mm in diameter.

They were commonly made from copper alloys, although pewter became popular after about 1750.

This one is made of silvered or tinned lead and is decorated with what are generally referred to as rococo scrolls, although the regularity and symmetry of the design is far from rococo in feel. I bought it for pounds 10 from a flea market in Abergavenny for its curiosity rather than its commercial value.

Who knows, cleaned up it might actually make an interesting brooch!

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An 18th century horse boss
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 13, 2008
Words:421
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