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Mr. Madison's Shoe Buckles

On February 27, 1801, James Madison, Senior died in Orange, Virginia. His eldest surviving son, James Madison, Jr. (Father of the U.S. Constitution, author of the Bill of Rights and 4th President) inherited a 5,000 acre estate, the enslaved people and a Georgian manor known as Montpelier. Among the personal property inherited by James, Junior were these "paste" shoe buckles. The actual age of these buckles has not been pinpointed. Did James, Senior inherit them from his father, Ambrose, when he died in 1732? Did James, Sr. purchase them during his lifetime? We really do not know. James, Senior lived from 1723-1801 so it is logical that the buckles date to the 18th Century.

Fashion history blogger Delores Monet wrote: “Shoes are the foundation of every outfit. They allow a person to move safely and comfortably on unforgiving surfaces, protect the foot from the elements, and add that final statement of panache.” You can find evidence of the “final statement of panache” from the earliest decorative braided/woven leather sandals to today’s decorative footwear creations.

Interestingly, while the Egyptians created footwear to fit the right and left food, European footwear was crafted to fit either foot. As the shoes were worn, they would eventually conform for a proper fit for either the right or left foot; provided you always put the same shoe on the same foot! This changed in the 19th Century and shoes were crafted specifically to fit a right or left foot.

More excessive decorative footwear briefly emerges in the 1100s and returns and remains a fashion statement in the 14th and 15th centuries with the poulaine; the exaggeratedly long pointed toe. Also prominent were the embossed leather or elegant fabrics and other embellishments. Fashion footwear would remain a decorative accessory from that period onward.

(Photograph courtesy: Medieval Design.

NOTE: 2021 - Mr. Madison's shoe buckles are on loan to Belle Grove Plantation.

In the 18th Century, shoes underwent numerous stylistic evolutions, even in Colonial America. Some fashions would tie over the instep and at other times they would be fastened with interchangeable buckles. The working class Colonist would wear inexpensive metal buckles or shoes that fastened by tying. The wealthy wore buckles crafted of silver or brass and often embellished with ornate filigree and/or sparkling “paste” jewels, such as you see in the photograph of the Madison buckles. Decorative buckles were worn by both men and women. The buckles in the photograph below, on exhibit with other Madison belongings, were James Madison, Senior’s. While not intricate in metal work, they are decorated with very fine paste diamonds.

You might be asking yourself “What is paste jewelry?” Paste stones were basically a special leaded glass cut into gem-like forms. The stones would then be “foiled” ("cupped" in the foil) in an aluminum-like material and then set into silver to enhance their appearance to replicate precious and semi-precious jewels. At first, these types of stones were created in response to a surge in highway robberies. Following the French Revolution many were reluctant to wear their expensive gems. The quality and craftsmanship of these replica jewels were equal to that of the actual jewels that they were sought after even by royalty. 18th Century paste jewelry was normally of a higher quality than in the 19th Century. Perfectly round stones will not be found in the early and higher quality paste jewelry. 18th Century paste jewels could be fashioned in many different colors and were usually completely crafted by one jeweler. In the 19th Century, there may have been one person who designed the jewelry, another who crafted the setting and another who set the stone(s).

In this photograph (left) is a beautiful "opulent and increasingly rare 'Queen Anne' paste necklace, circa 1760, in the desirable shade of aquamarine blue."

Rowan & Rowan

" It has the typical ribbon fittings of this era and is designed to be worn attached to ribbon. The necklace is 12 inches in length, each aqua paste measures 1/2 an inch by 1/2 an inch and the pendant drop measures 1.5 inches by 3/4 of an inch."

Rowan & Rowan

Rare full size opulent 19th C. French ormolu crown paste stones jewels in category Antiques:Opulent French 19th C. Religious Jeweled Crown Paste Stones,

(Photo -

This high quality of replica stone work was done from 1700-1865. It can be difficult to determine antique paste from vintage (1930s-40s) as the process was reproduced and mechanized.

A fine example of the similarity of work can be seen in this photograph of a turn-of-the-Century (1899-1900) silver, "amethyst" and "diamond" necklace. Perhaps the purple is not as rich in color or not as luminescent as the pre-mechanical process; but it is still lovely.

Paste jewelry, like costume jewelry, were finely crafted pieces. Don't be fooled by the term "costume" - the ensembles worn by women of by gone eras were termed "costumes" and jewelry was selected to be worn with that specific costume; thus, costume jewelry. If you have a question about your high-end paste and “costume” jewelry, take it to a licensed appraiser.

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