Earrings Aid Identification (Feb, 1938)

Earrings Aid Identification
Metal earrings are now being worn by English fishermen for identification in case of accident or death at sea. The metal pendants are stamped with the names and addresses of the wearers.

  1. Julie says: September 28, 200712:59 pm

    Can this possibly be true? They got this far with the brainstorm but never managed to take it just one little step further, to an engraved bracelet with a safety clasp?

  2. Julie says: September 28, 20071:02 pm

    Maybe 1937 saw an epidemic of English fisherman’s hands being pulled clean off their wrists in the line of duty and I am just ignorant

  3. Blurgle says: September 28, 20071:12 pm

    This is actually decades after the first ID bracelets were designed. They never became popular because too many men who needed them – fishermen, sailors, soldiers – worked in jobs where hand jewelry could actually be dangerous. If an ID bracelet got snagged in a two-ton net, it would likely just tear right off, taking the hand with it. (Safety clasps, the kind that would break in such a case, are extremely recent – I first saw them in the late 1970s.)

    It also didn’t help that these men often worked elbow-high in salt water, and salt water corrodes most metals.

  4. Blurgle says: September 28, 20071:14 pm

    I should have mentioned: that man is not an English fisherman. English fishermen do not sport crewcuts and wear military-style caps.

  5. Julie says: September 28, 20071:17 pm

    Good points, but the earlobes also seem so vulnerable to being ripped off if caught (though less likely).

    If I ever become an English fisherman in 1938, it’s an engraved anklet tucked safely inside my boot, or nothing.

  6. Blurgle says: September 28, 20071:44 pm


    A boot is a really bad place to store ID, especially if there’s a possibility the person’s remains won’t be found for a while. In warmer water the feet will often detach from the body within a week or two, and when that happens anything in the boots gets washed out and lost. ID near the torso – in a shirt pocket, for instance – is more likely to remain with the bulk of the body.

    But to be honest the best form of identification in such a sad case is a dental X-ray. It fails, of course, if the missing person hasn’t been reported missing and isn’t in the system, or if he wasn’t X-rayed while alive (or if the head isn’t found), but compared to DNA it’s fast, incredibly cheap, accurate, and definitive.

  7. Blurgle says: September 28, 20071:46 pm

    Oh, and I agree with the earring-ripping part completely. I keep wondering if someone at Popular Science found this photo somewhere and concocted an interesting story to go with it, especially since that man looks more like a German naval officer than an English fisherman.

  8. Sorcerer Mickey says: September 28, 20071:53 pm

    Tattoos are the answer! A traditional ornamentation of seafaring tars.

  9. Blurgle says: September 28, 20073:01 pm

    Absolutely, if the body is found within a few weeks. After that they’re not nearly as useful.

  10. Stannous says: September 28, 20079:14 pm

    One of the most ingenious and famous versions of this is the Aran (or Irish) knit sweater:
    From its origins, the Aran sweater has been intimately linked to clans and their identities. The many combinations of stitches seen on the garment are not incidental, far from it. They can impart vast amounts of information to those who know how to interpret them. The sweaters were, and remain, a reflection of the lives of the knitters, and their families. On the islands, patterns were zealously guarded, kept within the same clan throughout generations. They were often used to help identify bodies of fishermen washed up on the beach following an accident at sea. An official register of these historic patterns has been compiled, and can be seen in the Aran Sweater Museum on the Aran Islands.

  11. Roger Knights says: January 10, 200810:42 pm

    Seafarers traditionally wore a pierced earring (remember pirates?)–there was a superstition that it was good for health (vision?) in some way. So this would have been a natural progression.

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