A Faux-Riveted Ring

Analysis Steven E. Sheldon

Ring sample on loan from Mr. M. Shearer

As is commonly known, nearly all maille from antiquity intended for use as armour consisted of interlocking rings of iron, where the open rings are fixed solid by the use of a tiny rivet. The style of the rivet may vary, either being of the European style which utilizes a small triangular wedge, or the Eastern style which utilizes a true Ďrivetí in the modern sense; a tiny cylinder of metal with the ends upset so as to join the ring ends together. This is the case almost without exception, the exceptions being possibly very early examples of maille, repair rings, and rings intended for parade use.

It was with great interest, then, that I responded to Mr. Shearer when he claimed to have a "faux" riveted ring. That is, a ring that was obviously intended to look riveted but was, in fact, not. I offered to examine the ring using imaging equipment at my disposal, publish my findings, and return the ring to Mr. Shearer. He graciously accepted.

To be sure, I was skeptical that the ring was not actually riveted. Early on as a student of maille armour I was presented with a sample which was thought by its owner to be faux-riveted. In fact, close examination proved that the garment was the "genuine article", being fully riveted in the European style. What had understandably mislead the owner of the article was the fact that the rivet heads and backs, being polished through possibly hundreds of years of wear, were nearly impossible to detect. Under high magnification, however, the boundaries of the rivets became clear. Additionally, some rivets could be found that had broken loose over time, whose boundaries were then quite clear.

Below is an image of a rivet head from the above-described riveted article. Though to the naked eye the rivet material of this ring is nearly indistinguishable from the ring metal itself, at high magnification it is readily seen. The edge of the rivet point, protruding from the ring surface, is just inside the drawn-in white boundary.

European-style rivet head; 60X

As it turned out, Mr. Shearerís ring is, I believe, a true faux-riveted ring. Examination of the ring under the microscope reveals no discernible seam, even at 200X magnification. Below are images of the rings overlap region:

Inside of ring overlap; 10X         Inside of opposite overlap; 10X

Note that even at higher magnifications still no rivet seam can be seen:

Ring overlap area; 60X        Opposite overlap area; 60X

Rivet "head"; 60X

Clearly the ring does not have an actual rivet set into it. Another difference that is notable about this ring is the method of flattening the overlap region. On all true riveted maille specimens that I have examined, it is always the case that the ring ends were overlapped over one another first, and then flattened, each end being crushed into the other. An example of this can be seen here:

Authentic riveted ring overlap; 10X     Authentic riveted ring overlap; 60X

Note on the faux riveted sample, however, how obvious it is that the ring ends were flattened independent of one another. In the following pictures, the tool marks left by the flattening process clearly do not match up with the opposite ring end, even if we account for the distorted out-of-round shape of the ring:

Arrow denoting tool mark from flattening process; 10X

Interestingly, my first attempts at reproducing riveted maille produced similar results. This is because I originally attempted to flatten the ring ends first, and then move them into an overlapped condition. The picture below shows the result. Note the very similar tool markings as compared to the faux riveted ring:

Reproduction Eastern-style riveted ring with improper flattening technique; 10X

By now Iím sure the burning question in your mind is why? Well, the short answer is, "I donít know." It seems likely to me that this is a very late period (relative to the time that maille was in use, not relative to the time-span that the SCA covers) artifact. My primary reason for this is the cross-section of the wire, which is round. According to E. M. Burgess, "Round wire, a sign of degeneracy in mail, was not generally used until very late Ė after 1500." Since maille was still manufactured using "traditional" riveting methods until at least the 19th century, it seems likely to me that this ring is even later than that. It is obvious that the ring has been worked so as to give the appearance of having been riveted. It does not appear to ever have been welded shut, for if it had been the tool markings would clearly bear that out. So what we have is a butted ring, albeit with overlapping ring ends, that is intended to look like a riveted ring.

The ring is exceptionally stiff. That is, it is difficult to force the ring open using only ones fingers. Perhaps this ring is an attempt to produce a ring stiff enough to hold together without being riveted, so as to save the labor of the riveting process (though one must marvel at the labor that has gone into stamping each ring end with a fake rivet head and then overlapping them). Perhaps this is a type of repair ring, designed to be woven into a damaged garment and yet blend in with its riveted companions. Whatever the case, it provides an interesting footnote in the history of maille armour.

Steven E. Sheldon
June, 2000


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