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Horse brass

A horse brass is a brass plaque used for the decoration of horse harness gear, especially for shire and parade horses. Used since antiquity, they became especially popular in England in the 19th century, and remain a collectors item today. One form of horse brass is a phalera, an ornament in the shape of a boss, disk, or crescent, most often used in pairs on a harness.[1] It often had 3 attachment points on the back, two for attachment to the harness and one for attachment of a tassle or "sallong".[2]



Horse brass featuring Gloucester cathedral

Certain types of horse brass have been in existence since before the 12th century in England. They were introduced as decorations but soon became used as good luck and status symbols. These medieval decorations (mentioned by Chaucer) however, have nothing whatsoever to do with the mid-19th century fashion for decorating the heavy, working horse, the brasses for which developed after about 1850 onwards during the flowering of the decorative arts following the Great Exhibition. There are a great deal of unfounded myths surrounding these decorations such as their usage as amulets to ward off the "Evil Eye". The most popular size is 3 × 3½ inches of flat brass with a hanger by which the brass threaded onto a horse harness strap, known as a Martingale In England many of these items of harness found their way into country public houses as the era of the heavy horse declined, and are still associated today as a pub decoration. By the late 19th century wagons and carts were decorated with brasses of all kinds and sizes. During this era working horse parades were popular throughout the British Isles and prize or merit awards were given, some by the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Horse brasses were often highly prized by the "carters", who decorated their horse with them. Other horse brass subjects include advertising,royalty commemoration, and in later years, souvenir brasses for places and events many of which, are still being made and used today.

National Horse Brass Society

The National Horse Brass Society of England has members all over the world and provides publications for members and swap meets.


  1. Phalera, James Yates, M.A., F.R.S., on p894 of William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.
  2. online tack shop w relevant photos and captions

External links


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