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Shirt buckle – a decoration appearing in a costume of the Podhale region, used to fasten a man's shirt on the chest. It was purchased for the collection of the Tatra Museum by Juliusz Zborowski, a director of this institution, from Ignacy Prokop “Magdziarz” of Ratułów for the price of three million Polish marks in 1924.


Shirt buckle – a decoration appearing in a costume of the Podhale region, used to fasten a man's shirt on the chest. It was purchased for the collection of the Tatra Museum by Juliusz Zborowski, a director of this institution, from Ignacy Prokop “Magdziarz” of Ratułów for the price of three million Polish marks in 1924. Juliusz Zborowski, a linguist by education, became involved with the Tatra Museum in 1918. He became a member of the Board of the Tatra Museum Society and acted as its chairman in 1920-1921. In January 1922, he was appointed head of the museum; at the same time, he was entrusted with the responsibility of custodian of the ethnographic collection. Zborowski began to implement his programme to transform the institution into a scientific and research facility. He wanted the Tatra Museum to become a centre which stimulates and coordinates research on the region. He began to expand the department of folk culture. Acting as the head of the museum and being the only employee of the ethnography department, he had limited possibilities to search for items in the area and purchase them in person. Therefore, he used the help of intermediaries – highlanders who bought ethnographic objects for the museum while wandering from village to village. Such "agents" included, for example, August Zając from Czarny Dunajec, a wandering trader of cattle medicines and devotional objects, from whom the museum purchased, in the interwar period, hundreds of objects he had found in attics and chambers in highlanders' homes, and Ignacy Prokop “Magdziarz” of Ratułów, a maker of clips, pipes and belt buckles, who sold nearly 130 objects to the museum in Zakopane, including 72 shirt buckles, and his workshop (table and tools) from 1888, used for the production of buckles and pipes.
Zborowski deliberately expanded, up to several hundred objects, the collections being the subject of interest of researchers arriving to Zakopane so that those collections could become the base for their research. It was precisely the case of the shirt buckles analysed by Włodzimierz Antoniewicz (Metalowe spinki góralskie [Metal buckles of highlanders], Kraków 1928). His research material in the Tatra Museum consisted of about 330 buckles from the oldest private ethnographic collections created in Zakopane in the late 19th century, as well as from later ones of the 1900-1914 period (they were acquired by the museum by 1927) and buckles acquired by Zborowski from highland traders. Everything seems to indicate that buckles purchased from Ignacy Prokop “Magdziarz” in the years 1923-1926 (37 items in 1923, 26 in 1924, 6 in 1925, and 3 in 1926) were acquired for the museum collections as old specimens because there is no information in inventory records by whom and when they had been created. It is known from accounts of people who knew Ignacy Prokop “Magdziarz” that he himself often made the purportedly old specimens. Ignacy Prokop not only produced buckles and pipes for highlanders, but he also took them to Zakopane to sell them to visitors.
“As soon as a collector or amateur of folk antiques wished to acquire an authentic old-fashioned buckle or pipe, Prokop was already promising to them that «he would find such somehow». But as there were not enough old buckles in the countryside, he faked a cast or forged buckle that was desired, lending it an old-fashioned look that he knew well, got it all mucked up with soot and sharpened it by a rock, «and so beautifully he made the buckle that no one would tell on the outside that it had only recently been forged»” (W. Gentil-Tippenhauer, Andrzej Opacian-Kubin Polska Sztuka Ludowa (Polish Folk Art), Y.9:1955, No. 6).
We present one of the shirt buckles bought from Ignacy Prokop “Magdziarz” coming from Ratułów – a centre of craftwork known in Podhale since the 1880s, where clips, buckles, pipes, hat chains and bells were created. By the end of the 19th century, buckles have been an indispensable element of the male costume of the Podhale region. They were used to fasten highland shirts at the neck or on the chest as shirts didn't use to be fastened with buttons. They were sewn according to a cut of an oblong poncho, which means that the front and back of a shirt were made from a single piece of homespun linen folded in half, in the middle of which a hole for the head was cut out. The edges of the fabric were sewn up on the sides, leaving holes for wide, long sleeves. A slit at the neck made it possible to put on the shirt over the head. The slit was fastened with a metal buckle in such a way that two edges of the shirt slit were pulled out through a hole in the middle of the buckle and they were pierced with a pin attached to one side of the buckle opening. Buckles of varied forms, richly profiled, decorated with openwork, engraved, stamped or embossed ornament, had not only a practical but also an aesthetic function – they were a valuable and desirable ornament of an outfit. In the 19th century, buckles were usually made of brass and nickel silver – an alloy (occurring in literature under the name of alpacca) containing about 40% copper, 35% nickel and 25% zinc or silver. The oldest buckles worn by Tatra highlanders were cast from molten brass in a flat clay mould, the so-called lanki, decorated with openwork and a stamped ornament.
Later ones, cut out from brass or nickel silver plates were decorated with a punched or engraved ornament of geometric motifs. In the Podhale region, there were buckles circular in shape with a circular notch in the middle and buckles in the shape of a rhomb, topped with a cross, with a hole in the form of a heart in the middle and cut or embossed knobs on the upper arms, as well as stylised heads of birds with curved beaks pointing upwards. As a rule, rhomboid buckles were also decorated at the bottom with chains ending with the so-called brembulce, which were pendants in the form of brass beads or triangles or made of red wool or wire twisted spirally into a tube. At the bottom of a buckle, a przekolac on a chain was usually attached – a decorative curved spike made of wire or a flat nickel silver bar, used to unblock a pipe. The richest and most stunning buckles were worn by young shepherds and farmhands, and more modest ones by senior shepherds. In the 19th century, buckles were made by rural craftsmen in several villages of the Podhale region – Ratułów, Dzianisz, Zubsuche, Witów, Stare Bystre and Chochołów. Buckle makers used humble workshops (a small table with a drawer, bordered with slats on three sides) and tools made by a blacksmith or bought in a shop (a compass, scissors, a hammer, pointed thick scissors, a trihedral file, pliers of all sizes, steel chisels and punches for ornaments). Ratułów was the most important centre for manufacture of metal ornaments for outfits. In Zakopane, buckles were made by Szymon Tatar, who was a guide. Buckles, which were once an important element of a male costume, began to disappear from the highland outfit as early as the late 19th century. It was caused by the fact that in the second half of that century, shirts of a new fashion appeared, which had a slit at the front fastened with buttons, so buckles began to lose their practical function. Buckles worn in later periods served only as ornaments. They were pinned to a festive shirt, fastened to a cucha (a type of jacket), a serdak (a type of waistcoat) or the thong of a leather bag. In the interwar period, they were also made for sale to visitors staying in Zakopane. These were shoddy products as they were manufactured in bulk, on a large scale, of thin sheet metal, mainly for shops in Zakopane. Traditional buckles survived a bit longer, but only in outfits of both senior and young shepherds. Lack of demand from highlanders, who were no longer interested in buckles, and lack of access to traditional raw materials led to the gradual decline of this craft. Until 1914, the manufacturers of Ratułów bought alpacca sheet and wire of differing thickness and used it to make chains for buckles and hats, in Singer's shop in Nowy Targ. He imported those materials in bulk from Vienna. The border with Czechoslovakia established after World War I hampered their import from the south; thus, Singer began importing copper sheet from Bielsko. After World War II, in the Podhale region, there were only a few manufacturers of buckles, who made them mainly for sale to tourists visiting Zakopane. Their preferred processing technique was forging and decorating by embossing patterns with the use of stamps. Due to the lack of copper sheet, not to mention alpacca, they were forced to make metal sheet themselves from scrap. For example, they forged it from handles and old ammunition brought from Silesia. They also obtained sheet metal from old silver coins. Buckles began to regain their importance as a necessary element of clothing in Podhale as late as the 1990s. At that time, many highlanders, especially the young, began to order buckles modelled on those of the 19th-century, but with new designs that began to appear on the market, for example with the image of the Holy Father John Paul II. At present, buckles pinned to shirts are made of not only brass and alpacca, but also silver, and sometimes even gold. Now Bukowina Tatrzańska is famous for the production of buckles and other brass ornaments for male outfits. It can be added that activists of the Podhale Inhabitants Association wear buckles with the emblem of their organisation.
The presented shirt buckle was cut out of brass sheet hammered by hand. It is in the shape of a rhomb, and it has a heart-shaped cut in the middle and a moving pin. It is mounted with a cross, the base of which is formed by a decorative motif called the eye (this is a hole surrounded by two concentric circles, with a space between them filled with small arcs). On the upper arms of the buckle, there are stamped knobs, the so-called bulki, based on low, profiled pillars – three on each arm. At the ends of the horizontal axis of the buckle, there are single eyes pointed upwards with kohutki, i.e. a motif similar to rooster heads. The bottom edges of the buckle are corrugated and serrated, with five small holes on each side (in the case of many buckles, chains with brembulce were attached to these holes). At the bottom, the buckle ends with a triple appendage resembling a bird tail. To the central hole of the appendage, a chain with a przekolac is attached, which at the top is of the same shape as the eye part of the hook and eye. The buckle is decorated with a concave and convex ornament, made with the use of openwork, embossing and stamp punching. The bulging frame of the heart-shaped hole is encircled with a herringbone ornament, over which there are two diagonal openwork cut-outs placed parallel to the upper edges of the buckle. A predominant decorative motif is a circle with a dot in the middle. What also draws attention are suns with rays resembling small arcs arranged in a shape of a "spinner" suggesting rotation, as well as a crescent framed with a radial arc below it and dots above it.

Ignacy Prokop “Magdziarz” of Ratułów – probably the creator of the buckle – had a colourful personality. He wandered from one village to another in Skalne Podhale, dressed in a highlander costume, carrying gusle in the left sleeve of his cucha, inherited, as he assured others, from Sabała. In his leather bag, he had many chains, buckles and pipes, which he made on his own. He was also a collector of old highland objects – paintings on glass, spoon-holders, bands, cressets and the like. He sold them to holidaymakers in Zakopane and Nowy Targ. They were not always originals from old cottages; more often, they were fakes that he made, blackened with something to look old. He sold them at a high price, strongly emphasising their museum value. He usual offered “the gusle from Sabała, a buckle from a robber so-and-so, a belt of a famous shepherd from Liptov, a spoon-holder blackened with age, which he, Prokop, searched for walking in Orava for a long time, ” Antoni Zachemski wrote in Ziemia Podhalańska (Podhale Region) in 1938. And further, “Prokop has learnt that there is a museum in Zakopane that acquires and stores such old-fashioned highlander ‘junk’. He took the most valuable items that he had on hand, and went there. The sale of the first ‘transport’ was apparently quite smooth. But after a while, the director of the museum started to more scrupulously examine the old-fashioned junk brought by Prokop and less frequently expressed the desire to purchase this or that object. Finally Prokop realised that he did not want to mess around with the director and he appeared in the Tatra Museum less and less often.”

Elaborated by Zofia Rak (The Dr. Tytus Chałubiński Tatra Museum in Zakopanem), © all rights reserved


Men's shirt buckle


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