- Museum number
- Object: Witham Pins
Silver-gilt linked triple pin set. Each disc-headed pin is of composite construction, the shaft being cast separately and riveted to the disc via a highly schematised animal-head terminal on the hipped pin-shaft. The head of each pin is gilded and densely chip-carved. Each pin is attached to the next by means of an elongated lozenge-shaped link with pierced circular terminals through which a wire loop connects them to the adjacent pins. The links are chip-carved with spiral ornament, and pecked. The central and left-hand pins, though differing in detail, evidently belong to the same original scheme; both have been repaired at the junction with the pin-shaft. They share a cruciform design consisting of an equal-armed cross with expanded terminals and circular 'arm-pits', set at an angle to the pin-shaft. They have collared central settings originally set with glass, and the perimeter of the cross has a punched border. On the left-hand disc, one arm contains pure interlace, two others, symmetrically interlacing plant ornament springing from a 'flowerpot' base, while the fourth arm has a winged animal enmeshed in a skein of interlace. The three remaining arms have occasional punched details. The middle disc is the largest; its panels are filled with winged animals with lightly incised collars and other body markings enmeshed in interlace; confronted pairs in the two upper arms, an addorsed pair and a single animal of the same type as the confronted animals in the lower arms. All have punching on their bodies. The right-hand disc is evidently a replacement, being different in style and layout. Here also the cross-pattern with (empty) central setting is observed, but based instead on a cross with expanded terminals. A rope-pattern border encloses the entire disc and there are plain borders to the lentoid spaces between the arms, each of which contains a different creature ensnared in occasionally leafy interlace; two are in profile, two spread-eagled. All have inlaid glass eyes, are pecked, and tend to be a little ragged about the edges, in contrast to the sinuous lines of the ornament on the other pins. The backs of all the discs are plain, but that of the last is gilt.
- Production date
Diameter: 4.20 centimetres (head)
Diameter: 4.40 centimetres (head)
Diameter: 4.80 centimetres (head)
Length: 12.10 centimetres (centre pin)
- Curator's comments
The pins, which are usually known as 'the Witham Pins', were found (according to the Fiskerton parish registers) in the River Witham during the dry summer of 1826; they were presented to the Archaeological Institute (later Royal Archaeological Institute), by Robert Swan, Registrar to the Bishop of Lincoln. They were probably found, with many other antiquities, during the work of improvement of the navigation and drainage of the Witham, which was started in 1826 under Act of Parliament - they may be among the antiquities mentioned by a correspondent in 'The Gentleman's Magazine' in that year (xcvi, pt. 2, p. 300). See also 'Annual Register', 1826, 127.
See pp. 2, 10-14, 16, 17, 20-22, 31, 57, 58 and pl. XVIII.
Bibliography: Smith, R. A. (1925a): Examples of Anglian Art, 'Archaeologia', lxxiv, 241 ff. and fig. 13; 'Archaeological Institute, Memoirs . . . of the History & Antiquities of the County & City of Lincoln', 1850, xxxi; Weigall, A. (1927): 'Wandering in Anglo-Saxon Britain', London, 172; Jenny, W. A. v. and Volbach, W. F. (1933): 'Germanischer Schmuck des frühen Mittelalters', Berlin, pl. 44; Romilly Allen, J. (1904a): Anglo-Saxon pins found at Lincoln, 'The Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist, new series, x, 52-3; Kitson-Clark, M. (1941a): Late Saxon pin-heads from Roos, East Yorkshire and South Ferriby, Lincolnshire . . . , 'Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society (Literary and Historical Section)', v, 334; 'The Reliquary and Illustrated Archaeologist', new series, xiii (1907), 134 and fig. 2; Pijoán, J. (1942): 'Summa Artis', viii, Madrid, fig. 80; Wilson, D. M. (1960a): 'The Anglo-Saxons', London, 143, 149, 220, fig. 33 and pl. 55; Smith, H. C. (1908): 'Jewellery', London, 74; Dunning, G. C. and Evison, V. I. (1961): The Palace of Westminster Sword, 'Archaeologia', xcviii, 145; 'British Museum: A Guide to Anglo-Saxon . . . Antiquities . . .', London, 1923, 98 and pl. ix.
Webster & Backhouse 1991
This is the most elaborate and complete surviving set of linked dress pins, which are the most spectacular manifestation of the Middle Saxon taste for showy dress pins. A number of single examples survive which have been pierced for attachment to another, and some (e.g. Wilson 1964, pl. IIIa) still have their linking elements.
Stylistically, the pin set is closely linked to a number of major art-works of the second half of the eighth century: the distinctively crisp interlace, the springy beasts with pricked ears and pointed wings and the spread-eagled creatures all find parallels in such pieces as the Gandersheim casket (Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum, Braunschweig, inv. no. MA 58), Croft cross (St Peter’s Church, Croft on Tees, North Yorks.) and Leningrad Gospels (Alexander, J.J.G. 1978, ‘Insular Manuscripts 6th to 9th century’ (A Survey of Manuscripts Illustrated in the British Isles, vol. 1), London, no. 39). An origin in northern or middle England for the pins is likely, an attribution which also fits the pin set's find-place and the distribution of most of the other English provenanced pieces in this style. In this connection the pins' plant ornament, first recognised by Bakka 1963, is worth noting; its long-lobed leaves and central bud find parallels in the smallest brooch from the Pentney (Norfolk) hoard (reg. no. 1980,1008.6) and in less schematised form on the Ormside (Cumbria) Bowl (The Yorkshire Museum, York, inv. no. 1990.35).
Select bibliography: Brøndsted, J. 1924, ‘Early English Ornament’, London/ Copenhagen, 138-9, 140, 219; Kendrick, T.D. 1938, ‘Anglo-Saxon Art to AD 900’, London, 170; Bakka, E. 1963, Some English Decorated Metal Objects found in Norwegian Viking Graves, ‘Årbok för Universitetet i Bergen: Humanistik Serie’, no. 1, 17-19, 22-3; Wilson, D.M. 1964, ‘Anglo-Saxon Ornamental Metalwork 700-1100 in the British Museum, Catalogue of Antiquities of the Later Saxon Period’, I, London, cat. 19 and refs; Wilson, D.M. 1984, ‘Anglo-Saxon Art’, London, 67.
- On display (G41/dc3/sA)
- Exhibition history
2001 6 Apr-26 Sep, York, Yorkshire Museum, The Golden Age of York: Alcuin and Charlemagne
1987-1988 11 Sep-30 Jan, Scunthorpe, Borough Museum & Art Gallery, The Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Lindsey
- Antique repair.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- found 1826
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number