An Improvement on the Fibula

A few years ago Mrs. John went along to a talk at her local Embroiderer’s Guild and when she arrived home proceeded to tell me of a New Yorker by the name of Walter Hunt. Don’t worry, I’d never heard of him either!

Hunt’s invention was not entirely novel; it was actually an improvement on a concept that the ancient Romans had used in jewelry, namely, fibulae, or brooches. His was not the first contemporary version of the safety pin either.  A version appeared in 1842 that did not include the spring mechanism that Hunt designed. This feature, of course, exists in virtually all safety pins the world is accustomed to using today.

The safety pin – The descendant of the fibula

Diligent research in the archives – with the help of Mr. Google – told me more. Hunt is often described as ‘the inventor of the safety pin’ (in the 1900’s), but most detectorists know that the safety pin, or devices virtually identical to it, had been in use for more than 2,500 years. Greece and Rome had its own forms of safety pins and clasp called the FIBULA (ancient brooch). There are so many different varieties that they are often used to accurately date an entire archaeological find. The fibula is an ancient precursor to the safety pin and used in the ancient world to keep togas, cloaks, hoods and other kinds of clothing fastened in place.

The fibula developed in a variety of shapes, but all were based on the safety-pin principle. Unlike most modern brooches, fibulae wernot only decorative; they originally served a practical function: to fasten clothing, such as cloaks. … In turn, fibulae were replaced as clothing fasteners by buttons in the Middle Ages.

Big Elaborate Safety Pin

Fibulae also come in different sizes and it is thought by many scholars that the size of a fibula in Rome may have indicated rank. Indeed, they were rare and costly items reserved for the rich. Most fibulae are made of bronze or iron, but some were encrusted with jewels and decorated with enamel.


Typically for the type of fibula shown above, the pin furnished with a spike is inserted, hinge-like, into a pod-shaped head decorated with ornamental knobs, and there ends in a triangular, plate-like pin rest. The head plate above it is decorated with finely incised ornaments and punched circles. The flat, arched bow has a raised, cross-hatched central rib. Presumably with foot knob originally, otherwise intact. This type of fibula was widespread in the early Imperial Period and was especially widely used in the military context.

Cahn Description

My La Tène Fibulae

Below are the fibulae that I have found. Not a patch on the Aucissa one above. :-I guess we didn’t have rich Romans in this neck to the woods, but I feel at home with the rest of the Plebians.

La Tène type FIBULAE © JW

Did You Know?

This section ends with a little trivia, which I found interesting . . . and so might you!

  1. You may have heard of the expression ‘pin money’, meaning a small sum allotted by a husband for his wife’s use, or money for incidental items. When the term was first used in about the 14th century ‘pin money’ was just that. Today mass production has made pins an inexpensive purchase.
  2. Not only the Romans, but many other civilizations such as the Egyptians and Greeks used the fibulae to fasten clothes on the shoulder.
  3. Romans of all classes wore fibulae such as gladiators, patricians, plebeians, soldiers, and slaves.
  4. The La Tene style is the name given to an early type of art and architecture created by an Iron Age people known as the La Tene Culture or the Celts.
  5. The material recovered at La Tene appears to have had little to do with domestic life, and though there are numerous fibulae (brooches), few objects of adornment are of the type belonging to women. For these and other reasons, the site has been variously interpreted as a military garrison or arsenal, trading centre, or votive site. 
  6. The Celts pre-empted the Romans in their construction of a road network across the European continent. Not many people know that!
  7. You may be wondering if Celts still exist. Although they were absorbed by Germanic and Slavic cultures, their descendants still survive today – the Irish, Manx and Scots, the Welsh, Cornish and Bretons. But only 2.5 million speak a Celtic language. Over twenty years ago, the Independent newspaper reported that an learned archaeologist said that the Celts were a ‘myth’. You can read it by clicking HERE.
  8. There are hundreds of different types of fibulae.
  9. Why is the fibula named after a leg bone? Take a look HERE.
  10. Safety pins – whenever you need them, they are nowhere to be found.

11 thoughts on “SAFETY PIN

  1. As usual, you outsmarted me again John!

    Once I started to read your article a thought washed over me…..why is the bone in my leg called a Fibula? I quickly jumped over to Google and did a quick search so I could come back here and share my new found knowledge…..I should have saved myself the time and just finished reading your entire blog first! LOL…

    In fact I think I need to change my search engine from Google, to Mr. Winter!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As always, my friend, another excellent article.. I seem to learn so much from your musing and postings.

    I have heard the term fibula before//.. but as John said, as it relates to anatomy.. and if memory serves, a few times when it applied to brooches.. I did not know that it related to safety pins as well.

    A font of information you are ..


    Liked by 1 person

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