Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Collecting Vintage Jewelry Part 8 - Earring Backs

This is another chapter in my ongoing series about what you should be looking for as you assemble a collection of vintage jewelry. In past chapters we have talked about condition, metal backs, types of stone settings, types of stones used, pin clasps, etc.

Today we will examine the types of earring backs which were used in vintage costume jewelry. The most common types of earring backs are the screw backs and clip backs, but there were also several types of pierced earring backs used as well.

EARLY PIERCED EARRINGS were of three types: a threaded stud, a fish hook style and a kidney wire. The kidney wire and fish hooks are still in used today.

In the threaded stud, the post of the earring looks similar to the thread on a hardware screw. The back of the earring twists onto the screw. This type of earring has been used since the 1890s, but it is uncommon today.

The Fish hook is also called a shepherd crook. In this type of earring, the hook is the ear wire and it is in the shape of a hook. It does not have a back. The hook just goes through the ear lobe and rests behind the ear. It is found on jewelry which dates before 1900 and is stil in use today. Earliest forms of the fish hook are permanently attached to the earring itself. Most of those used today are wired to a loop on the earring, but the attached ones can still be found - they are commonly seen on modern sterling silver jewelry.

The Kidney Wire is a thin ear wire in the shape of an upside down letter U. One side of the finding is attached to the earring and the other side goes through the ear lobe. Often the kidney wire is bent at the bottom to form a small hook which will secure the earring wire. Kidney wires have been in use since 1870 and are still commonly used.

The Lever back dates to the 1880s and is still commonly used with newer earrings. The lever back has a fish hook style of wire which has an additional small lever which flips up and folds over the wire to secure it to the ear.

NON PIERCED EARRINGS came in two types: screw back, and clip back. Both of these have several styles which were used on vintage earrings. Many are still in use today, so other design techniques will need to be examined as well to definitely date a pair of earrings.

The screw back earring slips over the earlobe and then a small screw is tightened to secure the earring to the ear lobe. The screw back earrings date from 1894 and were very popular into the mid 1950s.

Clip back earrings have a hinged metal clip on the back of the earring that clips to the ear lobe to secure it to the ear. The clip was patented in 1934 and was also popular in the 1950s and 1960s. They are still popular today. There are dozens of clip designs which were used but here are pictures of a few of them.

Filigree metal clip backs. In this style of clip, the actual clip part is made of a highly filigreed metal design. Damascene from Spain and designer B. David often used these.

The Omega clip is a special type of clip with is formed with a single wire in the shape of an omega which folds over and attaches to the ear. A more modern version of the omega clip has the clip folding over an earring post.

The Comfort Clip Screw back and clip back combination clip dates from the 1950s. It was popular with Miriam Haskell. Napier also used the clip in many of their designs. The clip has a screw back for adjustment but is also hinged so that it easily clips over the ear lobe.

Examining the hardware used on earrings will help you to date your jewelry, so it is helpful to have a good idea of the types used.

Previous blog posts in this series:
1. Collecting Vintage Jewelry - Where do I start?
2. Collecting Vintage Jewelry - What is the condition?
3. Collecting Vintage Jewelry - Type of Stone settings.
4. Collecting Vintage Jewelry - The Creative Use of Stones.
5. Collecting Vintage Jewelry - Metal Settings
6. Collecting Vintage Jewelry - Necklace and Bracelet clasps
7. Collecting Vintage Jewelry - Pin Clasps

Check back soon for the next chapter. We will discuss a variety of dress and fur clips which were used on vintage jewelry. Be sure to visit my website Vintage Jewelry Lane. I offer a wide range of vintage earrings and designer vintage earrings with all types of earring backs.


  1. I can't find any information about when an unthreaded post came into use. Also, any help to disinguish earlier screw backs from later ones?

  2. Hi,
    I've also tried to get dates for this, but the information is a bit obscure.

    In my experience, normal screw back earrings were used mainly up to about the 1950s and 60s. Clips sort of took over then because they are easier to wear.

    In about the 1970s or so, the comfort hinged screw back became popular again. Napier used them a lot on their patent pending earrings, and the numbers on those dates them to the mid to later 1980s.




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