Free Shipping on All U.S. Orders over $30

A Kilt Pin Buying Guide

A Kilt Pin Buyer's Guide from County Argyle

There are few accessories as Scottish as the kilt pin. A staple for both Caledonian men and women over the past 100+ years, these simple yet functional pieces range from workman-like to miniature works of art. If you’ve ever thought about collecting kilt pins — or just finding the right personal pin for the next Burns Night dinner, you’ve come to the right place. We have crafted a short kilt pin shopping guide to the three most common types you may come across online and in antique stores during your travels.

We invite you to read on. If you have questions about a future purchase or an old family heirloom, drop us a line at any time.

Victorian Kilt Pins

When Queen Victoria purchased Balmoral Castle in 1852, her love of the Scotland landside proved infectious. Scottish tartans, accessories, and customs fueled a minor rage in old Caledonia. The period of 1850 to 1900 marked an era of exemplary Scottish artistry. Local silversmiths (or hammermen) and stoneworkers partnered to produce some of the finest kilt pins ever made.

Pins of this era are easy to spot. While the shapes and sizes may vary, most will combine sterling silver with various colors of agate and bloodstone. The best will showcase native gemstones, such as amethyst, citrine, and smoky quartz.

Some pins will sport a series of hallmarks, typically for local tax purposes. Using online databases, it is possible to decode these glyphs to determine the city Assay Office which verified the piece, the certified quality of the sterling used, and the year in which the piece was finished. Some will include a mark or initials noting the maker or foundry that completed the pin. Pins made by local smiths or for specific families may have these marks missing, which in no way impacts value. If you need assistance decoding marks on a personal piece, contact us and we will be happy to help.

When shopping for Victorian-era pins, a jeweler’s loupe is essential. Be sure to check the stones for chips or replacements. If the center stone or adornment feels loose, don’t worry. Many jewelers added these after the fact, wiring them to the center of the pin. The setting may feel a little wobbly, but they have lasted the past 150 or more years without issue.

Early 20th Century Pins

When many people think of “old” kilt pins, they think of the classic Ward Brothers design — a circle of tooled silver with a large central stone. While the design predates the Ward Bros. studio, it became one of their signature styles in the early 1900s. If you are browsing sterling silver pins with central stones, sometimes flourished with a stag, a thistle, or other design, you are likely looking at a Ward Bros. piece. Over the next several decades, their work dominated the industry and influenced Scottish design. Traditional agate and bloodstone soon fell out of favor as amethysts and, more often, citrines took their place.

When shopping for early 20th century kilt pins, keep an eye on the hallmarks. A simple “WB” or “WBros” — sometimes in a rectangle or diamond — indicates a Ward Bros. original. Later in their history, they did make silver plated versions of their most popular styles. The full sterling originals are almost always marked with traditional silver marks or stamped “Sterling” or “Sterling Silver.”

If you are looking for a quality sterling piece with a strong Scottish bloodline, these pins represent an excellent place to start.

Costume Pins

For many shoppers, a historic piece would be nice. The risk, however, is that a day at the Highland Games could lead to a family treasure lost somewhere between the clan tents. If you need something beautiful, sturdy, and affordable, you can’t go wrong with a costume kilt pin. Since the middle of the 20th century, companies like Miracle, Jacobite, and Mizpah have produced beautiful modernist accessories with traditional Caledonian designs.

Pins from companies like Miracle and Jacobite are easy to spot. They look like older pins, but the metal is thicker and shinier, and the stones are colorful and almost always pebbled (cabochon). The plus is that you will find hues and combinations never seen in nature — a bonus when complementing those hard-to-match tartans. Both companies typically mark their designs with a simple, clear wordmark.

Mizpah, a name based on a traditional Victorian-era sweetheart pin, focused on mimic versions of other companies’ designs — most often Ward Brothers. We have often had the exact same design in sterling (Ward Bros.) and silver plate (Mizpah). These duplicate styles are almost always marked with the Mizpah wordmark, often next to a pair of overlapping hearts.

When shopping for costume kilt pins, follow your heart. If the color and style catch your eye, it’s the right pin. Prices rarely cross the $100 mark and can usually be found for much less.

This brief kilt pin shopping guide highlights the most common types you may find. In our travels we have secured pins carved from oak and antler, some set with elk teeth or grouse feet, and even one or two crafted in Paris from gold. If you want to see these in person, check out our calendar and find us at a Highland Games near you. If you don’t feel like leaving the house, you can browse our online gallery for easy shopping.

Leave a Reply
Subscribe to the County Argyle Newsletter

Get 10% Off
Your First Purchase

Subscribe to our monthly email newsletter and get a discount code for 10% off your first purchase.