the STRAP MOUNT - a short history

During the early middle ages belts and straps for equipment were often made of embroidered fabric or were tablet woven. To reinforce these bands at their ends, a small plaque was attached. The usual shape is that of a 'U', with the flat end attached to the strap. Historically there are three methods used to attach the mount to the strap. A single hole for a rivet would lend itself best to use with leather straps. A series of small holes along the base of the mount would be used with small pins (on leather) or with a heavy thread. In the last method the mount has a rectangular slot in one end that the strap would be looped through, a method most suitable for woven straps. The material that these mounts were made of ranged from wood and antler to precious metals. The simplest, such as those found in Viking Dublin, are of roughly shaped wood and are simply embellished with scratched patterns. Carved antler mounts are also common in Norse sites. Artifacts in each of these two materials clearly shows the Norse mania for carving decoration on everything! Cast metal mounts, in bronze, pewter, and other related alloys, were mass-produced for the middle class, and show a range of workmanship (undoubtedly this was reflected in the original price!). Such items were cast using reusable moulds, carved of antler or soapstone. Slightly more up-scale versions had the base metal covered by a layer of silver or gold guilt. Precious metal examples, in silver and gold, are also found. These are often set with semiprecious stones. The 'lost wax' method was employed to make such items, where the moulds have to be broken to remove the finished casting, and many mould fragments have been uncovered. The most ornate examples are those from the burial at Sutton Hoo. These are large gold castings, set with cloisonne garnets.

Early examples of strap mounts, among the Angles and Saxons, are often an elongated leaf shape, fairly narrow and long. This material tends to have geometric designs. By the 900's the 'U' shaped mount was most common. Later the influence of the Carolingian's is seen in increased use of foliate patterns and pierced work. As can be guessed, the major difference between the mounts used by the individual groups can be found in the ornamentation. The Norse designs often contain gripping beasts and interlaced patterns, and are less likely to be symmetrical around a vertical centre line (as is the case with Anglo Saxon pieces). As well the Anglo Saxons and the Norse, the Franks made use of similar mounts.

It was common for these mounts to be also used as jewellery, especially in the middle class. There are many examples that have been found pierced with rings that would have originally been strung on leather thongs. This practice was most commonly used with metal mounts cast of bronze or pewter. In several cases, gold artifacts have been found along with lower quality copies made of the less expensive metals.

I have been asked a lot for information on how the process of Casting Pewter in Soapstone Moulds is done. For that reason, I have added a brief description of the process here:

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All text and photographs © 1994 - 2004, Darrell Markewitz, the Wareham Forge.