Even if you click through to the full-sized image of this vintage newspaper advertisement posted to Twitter by Dr. Bob Nicholson, historian of Victorian pop culture, you can’t actually see the sassy (I suppose they would have said “saucy”) risque garter clips (“clasps”) actually being offered for sale with mottos like “Hands Off” and “Thus Far, No Farther”. It’s OK, though; I’m fine with ogling the shapely legs and fancy stockings:


The sales copy does not disappoint, even if “Philopene” made me dive for Google:

These elegant Motto Clasps can be attached to any style of garter and present an effect which, like the clasp itself, is simply “out of sight.” Suitable for Philopene, Birthday, and Wedding Gifts, or a rich and acceptable present at any time to maid, wife or widow. Everyone buys them, ladies and gentlemen alike.

As for the notion of a philopene gift, Google left me scratching my head. There are instances of the word in Victorian poetry and plays that suggested connotations of memory and love, but it wasn’t until I finally twigged that “philopene” is the adjective form of a noun “philopena” that I found a definition. It turns out that “philopena” is or more properly was (courtesy Mirriam-Webster) a Victorian game of sorts “in which a man and woman who have shared the twin kernels of a nut each try to claim a gift from the other as a forfeit at their next meeting by fulfilling certain conditions (as by being the first to exclaim ‘philopena’).” According to Mirriam-Webster the roots of the word are the Greek philos (loving) and Latin poena (penalty), suggesting that the gift was a penalty of friendship or love and thus further giving me the idea this was no game for strangers. Which makes, I suppose, risque garter clasps quite eminently suitable?

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