Fobs A Brief History

November 28, 2018


As promised, here is the second part to the fob appreciation and styling post from last week . Now to be clear, if you're reading this i'm sure you're just as addicted to fobs as I am . And I have some interesting info for you all .

I always thought the fobs I collected originally had a specific function or purpose . This isn't to say that they they don't, however the sort of purpose I imagined does not hold true for all of the fobs . There are so many different styles and types of fobs from the beautifully chased Georgian pinch-beck pieces through to the flamboyant Victorian revival fobs of the 60s and 70s . What has always struck me about fobs is how gorgeously decorated they are- like jewellery . I have found this rather convenient, as I love to wear fobs so its even better if they happen to be beautiful too .



Here is something I didn't know ; The word ‘fob’ refers to both the small ornamental fobs as featured in my last post, but also the short chain / strap to which they are attached . This chain hangs out of the pocket where a person would store their pocket watch, and it seems that the decorative little jewelled fobs we love were attached to this chain to make it easier to find the watch . Which I have to say, makes me think of a keyring. 



The fobs are not always just for decoration though, many of them have a carved intaglio seal of their family crest, a short phrase or picture, or even their name engraved into a jewel on the base of the fob . This would then be used to stamp into melted wax and seal a letter . I am personally enamored with these darling seals and it is something I look for when examining a fob and deciding whether it is coming home with me . In particular, I love the seals that have interesting Rebuses ; Short phrases are turned into a puzzle with the use of pictures and words, some examples are : ‘deeds not words’ , ‘souvenir cherie’ and ‘fidelle’ next to a picture of a dog . 



The fobs I mainly find are the ones that look a bit like a pendant with a stick attached at the bottom; these are antique pocket watch winders. They vary in era, style, size and shape . I have collected small fairly minimal brass keys, all the way to large very swirly and decorated Victorian pocket watch winders complete with fabulous jewels nestled into either side on the key's handle . As far as I can see from my own research and talking to other more experienced antique dealers, the sole purpose of these fobs are to wind up pocket watches . You will find these keys have inner steel or brass workings with a very thick case of gold around the outside of the key . My understanding is that this is necessary for the keys function- gold (depending on its purity of course) is considered a soft metal , not exactly ideal for making tools out of . The inner metal frame reinforces the key, while the gold adds that lovely shine and preserves the piece from tarnish and potential rust .

Fobs were designed for men and women to start with when first appearing around the late 1700s, and enjoyed continued popularity through the 19th century . The fob chains and decorative fobs all eventually became more associated with the male appearance, but as all jewel lovers will know, thankfully gender confines no jewellery in today’s age and fobs are enjoyed by all, wherever you fall on the gender spectrum.

From my own collecting, the sort of charms I often notice accompanying fobs and the fob chains (confusing i know ), are the little silver engraved coins. Now sometimes they aren't engraved, and they have been simply collected for luck or a keepsake. But if you can find the coins that are engraved, they are beautifully done and it's so fun to try and find you own name engraved. One of my favourite fob tokens is a little 1902 Victorian coin with the word ‘JIM’ engraved on the front .


The best places so far that I have found fobs are at portobello market in London . I often look round antique shops in Hertfordshire and whenever we get out of the county and go for a weekend trip away , I always seek out the junk shops and antique jewellers to see what goodies they have . Disappointingly, I rarely find fobs in these places. I have found a few Victorian engraved coins and I always find charms and chains, but the fobs seem to be thin on the ground here . A market like portobello road is filled with antique dealers and there are plenty of watch keys and trinkets to be found .



Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this brief little jump into the history of the fob . I have provided links to the references I used below if you wish to read up in a bit more detail on fobs. 

Danielle x


History of the watch fob

Fobs and Seals

Watch Fob

Learn about antique pocket watches,chains and fobs



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