If you have Black Country ancestors from the eighteenth century , you may find their occupation was “Toy Maker”. This doesn’t refer to toys as we know them today, but to small, intricate items for personal use. In the Black Country, these were often made of steel, and included jewellery.
Steel jewellery, which was made by riveting faceted steel studs onto a thin steel base before polishing the “gems” to a brilliant finish. Such jewellery may have been worn as imitation jewellery, in the same way that “paste” jewellery would be in later times, but it was highly fashionable in its own right.
Wolverhampton-made steel “toys” were famed for their intricacy and sparkle. Local craftsman John Worralow made pieces of such delicacy that they were admired by followers of fashion all over Europe, and in 1782 he was appointed steel jeweller to George III.
Here are a few examples of Wolverhampton-made steel jewellery:
Tortoiseshell and steel haircomb
Eighteenth century fashion also created a market for steel buckles. These were used to ornament shoes, as well as items of clothing:
Knee buckles, used on breeches
As fashion changed, knee and shoe buckles became less in demand. Sketchley and Adams’ Trade Directory for 1770 lists 116 buckle makers and a further 30 steel toy makers in Wolverhampton – by 1818 there were only twelve. Buckles remained fashionable only on formal court dress.