Monday, June 24, 2019

My Ties to Tie Clips

When I was in college, I played the contrabass clarinet in the concert band. The contrabass is a huge clarinet, pitched two octaves below the standard clarinet in Bb. It is over six feet tall and must be played standing up. This configuration posed an unusual problem.

Single-reed player Jay Easton playing the Bb contrabass clarinet, showing the size of the instrument. His website additionally features many unusual clarinets and saxophones. Click here to listen to him playing the instrument (Mr. Easton plays in a modern style; I also enjoyed playing more traditional melodies).

I had to wear a necktie for many concerts, with the result that the tie would swing forward and interfere with the keywork on the instrument. When I explained this to my musician grandfather, he replied that he had a present for me.

Clarinet octave key tie clip.
It turned out to be a tie clip made from the octave key of a clarinet. This solved the problem in a most perfect and suitable way. You can imagine how happy I was to locate the clip recently in a box of small items I had in storage.

The tie clip compared to the octave key of a standard soprano Bb clarinet.

I treasure this tie clip because it has memories both of playing in the band and of my grandfather, who after a career as a professional tuba player, settled down in Canton, Ohio and had his own music store.

A pencil from my grandfather's music store.

At the same time he gave me the clarinet tie clip, he also gave me this set of tie clip and cuff links, shaped like grand pianos.

That box contained a number of other novelty tie clips, mostly gathered as fun collectibles that reflected other interests. I never wore any except the clarinet key, and that one not since college. Here are a few favorites:

For a while I had a metal detector, and while they do work, the learning curve is considerable. Any detectorist will confirm that what you mostly find are those old pull tabs from beverage cans. So I really enjoyed the humor of this tie clip, which is not made from a real pull tab, but is a specially made solid piece of jewelry.

I love hand tools and anything to do with them, including these vintage tie clips.

This thermometer tie clip really works, and the scale is printed horizontally so that it can be easily read when worn.

From the handcuff theme, this is obviously a policeman's tie clip. It came with a money clip marked for the Cleveland Police. It probably wouldn't hurt to wear this one while driving.

Everyone from Cleveland knows the Cleveland-Cliffs company, long a giant in the mining and shipping of ore. This tie clip shows the ship Edward B. Greene, named for the president of the company in the 1930's.

You may recall my post on the wooden Budai statue. Here he is in triplicate, as a tie clip and cuff link set. (Although made of ivory, this set certainly pre-dates any ban on that substance.)

The Budai are all carved very well. Even on the underside which does not show, the feet and toes are clearly defined.

When I started collecting items, I trained myself to recognize real amber, tortoiseshell, etc. That skill came in handy when rescuing this amber tie tack from the twenty-five cent box.

Perhaps my most amazing tie clip was a present from my sister. (We have an ongoing contest to see who can find the best presents for each other. I can assure you that the competition is fierce.) When we were growing up, we used a silverware pattern called Flair, made by Rogers Brothers and originally produced in the 1950's. We loved this set which embodied many happy memories for us. 

In recent years we have even augmented our holdings of Flair, adding serving pieces, baby sets, and the like. Imagine my surprise when my sister came up with this Flair tie clip, which must have been made in the '50's for the use of salesmen selling Rogers silver. I cannot imagine there are many of these around.

The Rogers Brothers Flair pattern tie clip. Like the pull tab, this was specially made as jewelry, not cut down from some utensil.

The tie clip next to a Flair demitasse spoon for comparison.

The clarinet key tie clip was a real life saver, while the others were collected out of a sense of fun, each representing an interest in my life. Let me know if you have a favorite among these, or if you have a favorite piece of jewelry with a story behind it.

All photographs and original objects property of the author.


  1. Dearest Jim,
    What a fascinating post about some artfully designed tie clips!
    Being a contrabass clarinet player indeed made you appreciate this very first tie clip, gifted by your musician Grandfather.
    Your entire collection is exceptional, and look at the details on the ivory ones!
    You and your sister kept up with very unique and special gifts, that is precious as a memory.
    Pieter does have a special gold tie pin with a story behind. Just read a couple of days the info from his Mom's letter explaining that due to her always ending up with a lost earring, she had this tie pin made of the single one for his Dad...
    Sending you hugs,

    1. Hello Mariette, I love the story of the single earring-tie pin. That is the best combination, an heirloom with a story behind it (and gold into the bargain).

      I wish I had inherited my grandfather's musical talent, as well as his tie clip. Playing that low-pitched instrument provided yet another link to my grandfather. He was a tuba player, and when there was not a specific contrabass clarinet part for a piece of music, I often doubled on the tuba part.

      My gift exchange with my sister is still very active--in fact, this past year has been exceptional. Sometimes we say that something is a birthday or holiday gift, but really the best gifts are those given just because you know that someone will appreciate what you have found. --Jim

  2. Love this posting - what a fun collection and the family connection makes it even better.

    1. Hello Architect Design, Yes, the tie clips, as do many of my collections, involve craftsmanship, design, and personal connections, always a winning combination. --Jim

  3. I like all of these tie clips! What a neat thing to collect. Speaking of tie clips shaped like hand tools, my father had one that looked like a shovel. I wore it one Halloween when I was dressed as a hobo (obviously a hobo with a tie!) and alas, I lost it while out trick or treating. He wasn't too upset about it though because he himself rarely wore ties anyway.

    1. Hello Debra, The shovel tie clip sounds fun. I think that parents really don't expect things back when they loan them to their kids. I had kind of the opposite situation. My father had an old sterling skeleton keychain which I admired, and he promised to give it to me when I learned to drive. Unfortunately, he lost the key chain, although I am sure at the time the loss of the keys vexed him more than the loss of the chain. --Jim

  4. This comment came by email from The Vintage Contessa:

    NOW I will BE LOOKING for YOUR COLLECTIONS as well as mine!
    I have been in CANTON, OHIO when I went to visit an INSTAGRAM FRIEND a few years ago!!
    Now how old are those ties you are showing!!?
    Do you still wear a tie for work? Please say YES!
    I can only IMAGINE you have a BEAUTIFUL BOX to HOUSE these in........or maybe two or three?
    THANKS for sharing!!

    1. Hello Contessa, Everyone who has studied American history knows about General Greene--you must be proud to be related to him.

      I have many fond memories of Canton, as we used to drive down from Cleveland every week to visit my grandparents.

      The ties I used here are various ages, some old and some new--in fact, one still has the tags on, and another is just a fragment of a favorite tie that I could not bear entirely to discard. Sad to say, I do not still often wear ties--in Cleveland I was perfectly comfortable wearing them, but in Taiwan any extra layers of clothing are unimaginable. Besides, I mostly work from home now.

      The "lost" clips that had been put away were in a very old wooden cigar box, but some others I keep in the small drawers on top of an antique mahogany dresser, together with various small treasures. --Jim

  5. The clarinet tie clip was brilliant. Memories of you playing in the band, of course, and of your beloved grandfather who was himself professional musician. You are so fortunate that he was musically talented .. it was a great inter-generational gift!

    1. Hello Hels, Yes, I was lucky to have such a grandfather. I do have a few other musical souvenirs from him. Once he came to our house with a bass clarinet he gave to me. He had stopped at a garage sale and bought it for $25. Apparently the bargain-hunting gene also runs deep in our family! --Jim

  6. Hello Jim: I don't think I have ever worn a tie-clip in my life! But then I hardly ever wear a tie!
    I learned a new word today - Budai. I had to Google it. My favourite here is the amber piece.
    I am reminded of when I spent five years learning to play classical guitar. It would have been difficult to wear a tie then...unless I had a clip!
    CLICK HERE for Bazza’s almost abhorrent Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

    1. Hello Bazza, I think that tie pins, clips, and much other men's jewelry belonged to an earlier, often more formal day. Also, there is the consideration that such jewelry is hard on the ties, which are not exactly given away these days. That amber pin does seem to glow with an inner light.

      I had not known you play the guitar, but you can see how a tie might interfere. I suppose that is why classical musicians often wear bow ties. --Jim

  7. Hello Jim - The Contrabass Clarinet is certainly an enormous instrument which I have never heard being played - does it have a deep resonate tone. My eldest son used to play the Bassoon which is also a very large instrument and takes up a huge amount of space to carry around.
    Love your tie clips especially the one given to you by your grandfather along with all of the memories that it holds for you.
    I don't know why, but I am personally attracted to those hand tools which appear to be beautiful crafted.
    I have an amber necklace that I love, but would like to know if it is real. I know that you look for imperfections, insects etc, that it feels warm, and that you can insert a hot needle into it which I have never dared to do.

    1. Hello Rosemary, The contrabass clarinet plays lower than a bassoon; it is more like a contrabassoon. You can hear the contrabass clarinet by clinking on the 'listen here' link under Jay Easton's photo, or check on YouTube.

      The contrabass clarinet is rather awkward to carry, because many models do not come apart in the middle, so the case itself is also a good six feet or so long.

      I like all kinds of hand tools, including antique and miniature ones. I have recently obtained a few made in the Cleveland area in the early 19th century.

      The hot needle does not go all the way through the bead--just barely touches it, and also you choose a hidden spot near the drilled hole--but you are right, a carving or fine bead often should not be subjected to the needle test. If the beads are glass, the tip of the needle will not penetrate at all. If the beads are plastic, the needle will soften the material and penetrate slightly, but there will be a smell of burning plastic. If amber or real resin, the smell will be pleasant and resin-y.

      However, the easiest fast check is to look at the holes of the beads where the string enters. Amber is very brittle and chips in a characteristic way. If the holes all look intact and clean, it is probably plastic, but if there are a number of miniscule chips on most beads, right at the string, it is most likely real amber. --Jim

    2. Thanks for those tips Jim - I will take another look at my necklace.
      I stupidly missed the link but will click on it now.

    3. I hope that your necklace turns out to be real amber!

  8. This is marvelous! Not only the tie clips (which are fabulous) but the clarinet. I have never seen such before.

    1. I played the huge contrabass clarinet because they asked me to. It's kind of funny since my 'real' instrument is the tiny oboe. It was fun to explore in the instrument store room and play all the odd instruments languishing there. --Jim

  9. Your lung capacity is great. People in my city hold a festival next Sunday. I take part in a musical accompaniment called hayashi and play a bamboo flute a little.
    Your passion for collection is like a spring gushing out water ceaselessly.

    1. Hello rtc, Surprisingly, the contrabass clarinet only needs a limited flow that is supported with the diaphragm. The object is to set the column of air vibrating, not to send a large quantity through the instrument.

      I am sure you are being modest about your bamboo flute playing. I heard hayashi accompaniment in Taiwan when a traveling troupe came to perform. The music is complex because of its symbolism and interaction with the actors. --Jim

  10. Hello. In Taiwan, is wasabi called 辣根?

    1. Hello rtc, In Taiwan there are several names for wasabi. Most properly, it is called 山葵, the name of the plant. However, 辣根 is also used, although it technically refers to horseradish, a similar flavor. It gets complicated because American/European horseradish is not common in Taiwan, and its name, meaning "hot/spicy root" also fits wasabi. Additionally, horseradish is cheap and real wasabi expensive, so often at cheaper sushi places a kind of imitation wasabi is served, which is ground horseradish tinted green.

      In the end, either term will get you something approximating wasabi. Since I do not like wasabi's flavor (preferring the red pepper type of hot) I never paid much attention, but when I get back to Taiwan, I will ask around and get back to you. --Jim

  11. What a fantastic collection. I have never seen anything like most of the tie clips you picture. The ones I know are all rather dull. I can imagine how pleased you must have been at your grandad's gift. What an interesting instrument to play! Why did you give it up?

    1. Hello Jenny, The contrabass clarinets I played were owned by the school. Since they are rather expensive instruments, and have little use outside of an ensemble, I did not consider purchasing them. However, I do play the regular clarinet, and when I had a house used to practice often for fun. I also played the alto horn, a brass instrument--it's a good thing that my house was far apart from its neighbors! --Jim


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