Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 39, September 1995



There can be few objects in more frequent daily use around the home than ordinary, straight-shanked pins. Yet at one time their use was the prerogative of the rich and nobly born, and the sale of metal pins to the general public-like that of lace and furs-was severely restricted.

Metal pins in what could be called the "modern" style are thought to have been used for the first time in Britain in the 16th century. They are associated with the name of a Queen of England, Katherine Howard, wife of King Henry VIII. In those days the finest pins were made of brass- as many still are today - and their manufacture was an infinitely complicated operation. Queen Katherine's pins had globular heads of fine twisted wire attached to the shanks. As many as 18 different processes might be involved in making a singleone.

Attempts to reduce the labour which pin-making involved evidently resulted in a faulty product, for pins are the subject of some of the earliest legislation enacted in Britain for the protection of the consumer. An edict of 1543 stipulated that pin heads must be firmly soldered and shanks "well shapen, the points well and round filed, canted and sharpened." No pins might be marketed which did not conform to these rules.

It was not until the mid-19th century that a machine was patented in London which could make pins out of single pieces of wire. This machine is the parent of all the automatic presses now in use. Busy factories in the English Midlands consume hundreds of tons of metal each year, transforming them into pins of many types and sizes which go out to all parts of the world.

They may be pins of brass or steel. They may vary in size from the heaviest blanket pin to the tiny gilded slivers - weighing around 4,500 to the ounce - which are used in mounting entomological specimens. They may be the sturdy pins relied on by industry and commerce. Most frequently they are the ordinary household pins of which families the world over use - and lose - hundreds every year.