The Diamond Buckles: 1790s


George III shoe buckles in gold, paste, and enamel, c. 1780-5

George III shoe buckles in gold, paste, and enamel, c. 1780-5

The Diamond Buckles

There is a set of avaricious people who are easily duped : the allurements of gain blind them and lull their suspicions. M. Pasquier related the two following anecdotes:—the one occurred previously to our political troubles, the other more recently. [The second will appear in a subsequent post.]

“A rich but niggardly old banker had a pair of shoe-buckles worth a thousand louis. He frequently paid an economical visit to the pit of the opera, and, having selected a snug corner, he would seat himself with his back against the wall, to enjoy the master pieces of Gluck and Sacchini. One evening, during the performance of Œdipe à Colone , an elegantly dressed young man seated himself next to the banker, and entered into conversation with him. He suddenly stooped down, rested his foot on the seat before him, took the gold buckles from his shoes, and, having rolled them in a piece of paper, put them into his pocket. Observing that these movements excited some manifestation of surprise on the part of his neighbour, he said:

“‘You are no doubt astonished to see me take out my buckles, Sir, but you would do the same if you were forced to wear gold ones, in consequence of having been robbed as I have, of a pair of diamond buckles, worth six thousand livres.’

“‘How Sir! robbed do you say, of a pair of diamond buckles. Where?’

“‘Here, Sir, at the opera. Whilst all my senses were entranced by the strains of Gluck’s celestial music, some theives came and seated themselves near me for the purpose of concealing one of their companions, who stooped down and putting his hand under the seat, dexterously unfastened my buckles. Did you ever hear of such an artfully contrived theft?’

“‘Bless me, Sir, you alarm me, your buckles were worth six thousand livres. I would not give this pair, which I am wearing, for twenty-four thousand livres. You may therefore easily imagine that I should be very sorry to lose them. I had better take your precaution, and then I shall feel easy. “The worthy banker removed his splendid buckles from their place of safety, wrapped them in his handkerchief, and deposited them in his pocket. In ten minutes after, they again shifted their places, and the banker’s new acquaintance, whose companions were in possession of the booty, politely wished him a good evening. The rage and mortification of the unfortunate dupe may be easily conceived. He never again set eyes on his diamond buckles; and his only compensation, for the loss of them, was a dearly bought lesson of experience.”

Napoleon Memoirs, Étienne Léon Baron de Lamothe-Langon,  1837

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Shoe buckles, which held together the two closure flaps of an 18th century shoe, could be made in iron or steel, or in hallmarked silver or gold. They might be engraved, or cut in fancy designs, or set with jewels or paste. Paste was, of course, the more sensible option because shoe buckles often worked their way loose and were lost. Buckles set with real gemstones were the mark of parvenues and royalty. The imposture suggests the well-known pick-pockets’ stratagem of calling to a crowd, “Watch out for pick-pockets!” Each gentleman claps his hand over his wallet, thus alerting the thief as to its location.

The author of this item seems to have had a penchant for imposture. That historic person over at Haunted Ohio wrote a post on the “prophetic ghost” of the late King Louis XVI, which came from the pen of Étienne Léon Baron de Lamothe-Langon. One can do no better than quote her assessment of M. le Baron.

“I had better confess frankly that the problem with this story is that M. le Baron was, not to put too fine a point on it, a liar and forger of historic documents. His History of the Inquisition in France was written using (he said) previously untapped ecclesiastical archives at Toulouse–archives, which, as was discovered in the 20th century, never existed. He also created seemingly authentic books such as the memoirs of the Countess du Barry.”

Still, as the ingenious gentleman, who obviously knew a dupe when he saw one, has not asked us for any money “up front,” as the Americans say, one may still enjoy the anecdote and profit from its salutary lessons.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



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