No matter where in the world you hail from and the language you speak you will use phrases and sayings that have been passed down the generations, the original meanings changing over the years. One such expression is “pin money”.
A quick google search would define the term today as:
Pin money is an English term for a small or insignificant amount of spending money to be used for trivial purchases. It formerly referred to money a husband or guardian gave to a woman annually for her personal (dress) expenses.
One of earliest references to pin money comes from a will dated AD 1542 from York (UK), in The Testamenta Eboracensia – A Selection of Wills from the Registry at York. The clause reads:
“I give my said doughter Margarett my lease of the parsonadge of Kirkdall Churche… to by her pynnes withal.” (“I give my said daughter Margarett my lease of the parsonage of Kirkdall Church … to buy her pins with”).
Pins were expensive items in those days and only used by the wealthy; the poor used sharpened thorns to hold their hats in place and keep their garments together. There are references in literature, including in The Canterbury Tales, to monks and friars making pins. A guild of pinmakers was first mentioned in 1376, and the livery company, the Company of Pinmakers, was incorporated in 1636.
Because of their expense, pins were regarded as the ideal gift to the ladies in one’s life, and many merchants received financial bonuses with the caveat that the money was to be used ‘for her pyns’.
Pins were very important in medieval times, and were made from bone, fish bones, wood, thorns, ivory, shell and metal. Pins were used to hold fabric together to be sewn, and to hold other clothes together, and fine bronze or copper alloy pins they were used to pin together ladies headwear — wimples consisted of bands of cloth pinned together around the top half of the head and also from chin to the top of the head, and veils pinned to the bands.
Pins were made by drawing brass or copper alloy wire (through a die) to the required length, sharpening one end, and coiling softer, finer, wire around the other end to form a ‘head’.This process requires 14–16 different steps, all done by hand. Pins were valuable luxuries in medieval times.
In the C14th, the English parliament passed an act allowing the pin-maker to sell his pins in “open shop” only on the 1st and 2d of January of each year.This was intended to prevent the sale of these “luxuries”, as they were then regarded, to too great an extent. It was on these two days of the year that the court ladies and city women of high and low degree flocked to buy them, having first been provided with pin money by their husbands.
Over time, pins became much cheaper and the money could be spent on other items, but the expression remained.
By the sixteenth century husbands were expected to give their wives an allowance (referred to as ‘pin money’), usually a substantial amount, with which to buy clothing and manage the household. The amount and terms of the ‘pin money’ were often written into the marriage contract.” Pin money could also be awarded to the wife if the husband died or if the couple separated—serving “as a sort of safety net at a time when women had few legal rights.”
In the Netherlands, the term speldegeld (‘pin money’) dates back to at least the fifteenth century and was used to describe a small sum of money that was added to the price of a product or service for the benefit of the female members of the family.
By the nineteenth century in the USA, the term pin money referred to supplementary income a woman made by selling her needlework.
Today in our household we use the term for the money that we set aside in our budget for my personal spending most of which is (appropriately) spent on needlework related items !
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