Tuesday, 17 March 2015

History Of Cuff Link Closures. 1800's To 1970's.

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These are my observations as I perused (one by one) the patents from the 1800's to 1970. Please don't hold me too accountable for omissions or small mistakes. I have highlighted years and styles for quick reference. 

 Here we go, I hope you enjoy.... Cuff links and closures. The cuff link has gone through a strange and varied history. Cuff links are not just limited to men's wear, and the ladies are finding them just as fashionable as men. This is not a new idea, as women wore them ages ago. Going through Patents, I will try to give a brief history of the cuff link and closures.


1800's. Bean Backs, Button Backs, Ball Backs, Clip Backs (finger prong). 


Cuff links generally reflect the times they were made in. Cuff links fall into a few categories. Bean backs were one piece cuff links with the back looking somewhat like a small bean, or football. Ball backs were just that, a small roundish ball at the opposite end of the cuff link. Button backs had a small button at the back that could be either fixed (not moveable), or on a centred pivot. Clip backs (as I call them) were generally square and had two clips at the back as the attachment of choice. These clips moves up and down to close or open. Their common name known to most collectors are "Finger Prong" cufflinks. The last photo shows the open and closed position. You would open the cufflinks, put them through the cuff holes and simply close them. The prongs look quite smart as they show on the opposite side of your cuff. See examples of all cufflink styles below:

Antique Ball Back Cuff Links
Bean Back Cuff Links

Button Back Cuff Links

Clip Back Cuff Links

These were the styles to choose from in the 1800's. All were functional and my favourite are the clip back just because of the closure mechanism. Stones or depictions of flowers, nature, and work (like mining picks, shovels, wheelbarrows etc.) were the norm. Cuff link closures basically did not change much during this era and fine examples are still to be found. Sometimes an older clip back or cuff links from this era will have the patent month, day, and year, or the last two numbers of the year stamped into the back. Antique examples are very unique.


1900-1910 bean back and ball back.


Bean back and ball back cuff links continued into the early 1900's. Although the styles were changing with a bit more design on the fronts, button back and clip backs were falling out of favour.


1920's. Snap cuff links, swivel back, double sided, retractable chin, and the collar button with tie stay.

The 1920's went into high gear in the cuff link trade. Types of closures seemed to spring up everywhere and were all vying for top spot. Two piece snap cuff links (second photo) had just emerged. See below.

Swivel Back Cuff Links
Snap Cuff Links

Other styles included cuff links with ends that moved on each (or one) end connected by a bar or wire. Swivel back ( a smaller example of the button back pivot, and over all looking a bit like a bean back) became popular. Double sided stationary cuff links, that did not move, connected by a single shaft. Pull out spring loaded cuff links.  The first retractable chain cuff link. Collar button with tie stay, (looks like a small button with an elongated triangle on the opposite end). The button half went through the collar holes and the triangle part hooked onto the tie. The first patented crude tie clip with jagged teeth. Cuff links connected by a chain. The options and choices must have made them feel like modern times had finally arrived!


1930's. Snap cuff links, double toggle, and large bullet toggle.

were having their final decade. Some of them were being made with semi oval extensions in the hopes of wooing the public. But the snaps were thought to be hard on clothing and they were fast falling out of favour. 1936 brought in the first patent on the modern day toggle closure. Pat. # 002052437 was attributed to H. G. Anderson. Amazingly, a double toggle also came out. The cuff link was comprised of a toggle closure on each end. That's it. That was the cuff link! The first solid closure that I refer to as a "bullet" toggle also came out. Unique in shape. See photo below:

Bullet Back Cuff Links

 These "bullet" toggles are rounded off at each end like a bullet. This style was more the exception than the norm. They will be smooth with no cut in circles at the ends. The toggles will be longer than those produced in the following years. I think they look cool as hell, by making a smooth classy transition to the end of the cuff link. Some say toggles were not widely accepted during the 1930's but, by the look of the number of patents on them, they sure were waist deep in 1930's cuff link history.


1940's. Today's rounded end toggle, oblong toggle, flat end toggle, and slanted end toggles.

Cuff links finally settled in to look more like today's closures. They were rounder and the ends had that little extra cut in piece for aesthetics. Some toggles were "fixed" and did not move so were clearly not toggles at all. The first "oblong" toggle was out. See photo below:

Oblong Back Cuff Links

          Below: Classic 1940's cuff links feature "lines" on toggles and shafts.


Unlike the round bullet style, the oblong cuff link closure was flat on all the lengths and only rounded at the end tips. Sides were not rounded. Closures also included a flat end toggle with four straight sides, imagine a rectangle. Chain cuff links also came into vogue. Two metal ends with a simple chain to connect them. The 1940's were moving closer to today's standard.


1950's Clip on cuff links, barbell toggle, hinged folding cuff links, whale tail, short bullet toggle, and a double top V cuff link. 

We kept on using some of the same closures. The oblong toggle was one that  held strong and continued into the 1950's. A new addition was a clip on cuff link where a toggle went through the button hole on one end, and a money clip looking attachment ran around and just slid on to the opposite cuff. A unique toggle that appeared in the 1950's was a toggle that looked like a barbell. Round in the middle with a ball on each end. Actually, quite a nice look that just didn't seem to continue for whatever reason. The barbell toggle was a very classic 1950's addition. The double toggle cuff link also resurfaced. Two toggles and a shaft. The toggles were the cuff link heads. Odd, but serviceable. Folding cuff links were having a resurgence as well. Most of these were cuff link heads attached to what would look like the bottom half of a safety pin, but with a working hinge. Another type that should have held on, consisted of a "V" shaped wire. The toggle was at the bottom of the V cuff link. The two ends of the V each held a small cuff link head. Imagine, two cuff link heads on each button hole! Great invention, but unfortunately it also got passed by. The fifties had kept the standard closures,  while the experimental types never seemed to make it far enough down the runway to fly. The slightly rounded two piece whale tail toggle. They took a slightly rounded head piece and added a flat bottom held on by two metal clips. See photo below:

Whale Tail Toggle Cuff Links

I'm not sure why, but I believe this was probably a cost saving measure as this made the inside hollow and less expensive to produce. The first patent I have seen for this was in 1949. 


1960's. Rectangle toggles with round ends, mesh cuff links, and double toggle cuff links with rounded (rather than square) ends.


Rectangle toggles with round ends also came in fashion. Bullet toggles also returned but were shorter than the originals. Another style was a solid toggle that when viewed from above was wider in the centre and then slimmed down to rounded ends. Somewhat like the bullet style, except with a much wider centre where it met the shaft. Finally today's classic toggle had arrived. Round with etched machined points. Another curiosity had returned with a slight twist. The two toggle cuff link. Only now, each end was now oblong instead of rectangular. It kept trying.... In 1968, the first wrap around mesh toggle came out,  Patent # 0003418699. A new style had finally been developed and time would be the judge of its longevity. It didn't last more than another decade. See photo below for an example of a mesh wrap around cuff link:

Mesh Cuff Links



1970's. Cuff link bracelet, interchangeable cuff links, cuff links with a safety chain for the toggle, and a toggle with safety wire wrapped around it.


Cuff link designs were more about safety than reworking the closure mechanisms. The mesh style cuff links as shown above seemed to have waned with the seventies, and their popularity began to fade. One interesting design that did come out though was the "cuff link bracelet". It consisted of a bracelet that went around the outside of the cuff and was held together by a toggle or a separate cuff link put through the bracelet's end holes. Imagine a more bejeweled and larger sized mesh wrap cuff link. You ended up with the best of both worlds. A snazzy bracelet and a pair of cuff links! The next idea I personally think was great. Interchangeable cuff link heads. Didn't like the look for tonight's presentation? Snap on another look, and be a new man in seconds! The seventies seemed to be just as much into securing your cuff links. A small plate was invented to fit over the toggle when it was in the open position. When the toggle closed, it held the cuff link securely in place so if the toggle turned a bit, the cuff link would not fall out. Cuff links with a safety chain. The chain ends had rings. One ring was attached permanently to the shaft. The other ring slid over the toggle after it had entered the button hole. Secured! Another unique invention, the wire toggle. This was a wire that wrapped around the toggle which prevented the toggle itself from moving in either direction. Looked as good as it worked. Well, there's my quick rundown of cuff link closures. I'm sure I have probably missed a few. I was just looking through the patents from the 20's to the 70's and thought I would post this as a small info. blog. Please bear in mind that quite a few of these designs carried on into later years and the beginning dates are just that, the years of patented invention. I hope you enjoyed this small look at cuff link closure history. Please visit my online vintage shop to see some of these examples for sale. Just press the link below.  

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