'Handpin'

Irish, 6th-7th century AD
From Craigywarren Bog, Skerry, County Antrim, Ireland

Long pin with a head resembling a hand

This decorative bronze pin is so big it would have been worn on a cloak. It is a fine example of a distinctive medieval Irish pin type. Handpins were in fashion from the fifth to the early seventh century. The name comes from the idea that the projecting tubes at the top are like fingers and the lower part resembles the palm of the hand. Here the palm has a curving pelta-based design set against brilliant red enamel. A herringbone pattern runs around the edge. The central hole held a cord used to twist round the tip of the pin to secure it when it was in use.

The bold use of red enamel is a special feature of Irish and British fine metalwork in the early middle ages. These pins were worn at the same time as big, enamelled, open-ring brooches. Some are also known to have been made in west Scotland, which shared the same cultural traditions.

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More information

Bibliography

M. Ryan (ed.), Irish archaeology illustrated (Dublin, Country House, 1994)

S.M. Youngs (ed.), The work of angels: masterpiec (London, The British Museum Press, 1989)

L. Laing, The archaeology of late Celtic (London, Methuen, 1975)

H.E. Kilbride-Jones, Celtic craftsmanship in bronze (London, Croom Helm, 1980)

Dimensions

Length: 23.400 cm

Museum number

M&ME 1880,8-2,132

MCS4452

Gift of Sir A.W. Franks

Location

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