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“Paper of Pins” Folk Song

Black cat in a pumpkin "A Merry Halloween" vintage card picture

HAPPY HALLOWEEEEEN! BWAAHAAHAHAHAAA! Betcha thought I was done blogging this week, huh? Well, not on your life!

Because I’ve enjoyed writing and researching this Freaky Fairy Tales series SO MUCH, I’ve decided to do another folk ballad dissection, like I did for The Twa Sisters in honor of creepy Samhain.

"Storytelling" by MirrorCradle

“You listen to Grampa’s story or no candy!”

As I mentioned before in the Twa Sisters post, “If you know your folk songs, it’s very rare to find a story song that is sung exactly the same if you compare different versions.”

Naturally, “Paper of Pins” is no exception, but it gets interesting to compare the songs depending on the area they are said to originate from. It’s also known as a children’s song that allows room for making up verses. And for the record, I’m not going to even pretend that this is an exhaustive review of this song and its variations. This is just what I knew beforehand and what I could find ^_^

The first version I ever heard is what I’m calling the Irish version: “Paper of Pins” by the Clancy Brothers, and it displays the same concept found in all its sister versions:

The young man comes to the girl and offers her his love or other gifts if she will marry him. She scornfully refuses. After several similar exchanges, he typically offers his MONEY. She accepts. He withdraws the offer: “You love my money but… not me” (Fresno State).

The first gift he offers is “a paper of pins,” which took a few searches to discover, but I found a great explanation:

Straight pins (shaped like nails, but *much* smaller and thinner) used to be sold stuck through a paper (many pins side by side, kind of woven in and out of the paper)…They are used in sewing and used to be relatively costly, so a “paper of pins” would have been a nice gift from a young man to a girl he admired (Yahoo Answers).

An old paper of pins


This does not impress the girl, so he offers her a golden bouncing ball, and then offers her a rocking chair, and then a silver spoon to feed the baby (not sure if they already have a child, or if he’s talking about eventual offspring, but it’s not important). Finally, he offers her “the keys to the chest and all the money that I possess.” This gets her interested, and she agrees to marry him if he gives her his money, but now he realizes the truth and he laughs at her:

Ah ha ha now I see,
You love my money but you don’t love me,
And I’ll not marry, marry, marry, marry,
I’ll not marry thee.

In a more Celtic punk version of this song by Irish-American band The Tossers called “Paper and Pins,” the verses are exactly the same until the very end. After the young man sings his part, the girl gets the last word and adds,

Well Ah-ha-ha now I see you’d like to get married but you don’t like me
so I won’t marry marry marry marry I won’t marry you

*raises fist slowly* For the women’s lib? Maybe?

Medieval painting of a lord and lady

Now I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger…

There are a number of English versions of this song as well.

This English version of “Paper of Pins” by Raymond Crooke stars an apparently very rich, or very desperate young man, and of course a shrewish girl. The young man offers her a paper of pins, and then “a coach and four so [she] may ride from door to door”, “a little lap dog to carry with [her] when [she goes] abroad”, “a gown of green, that [she] may shine as any queen”, “a dress of red all bound around with golden thread”, “a blue silk gown with golden tassels all around,” and “my hand heart that we may marry and never part” Aww! So sweet! But the girl says “I’ll not accept” to all of them, INCLUDING his hand and heart, the harpy! After he offered you tons of beautiful things and a dog, AND his heart?

But of course after he offers her money, she says she’ll take “the key to his chest that she may have gold at her request,” but he replies, “And now I see that money is all, a woman’s love is nothing at all!” Sounds like a good stopping point, but the girl makes a reply of EGADS! proportions:

“Then I’m determined to be an old maid and take my stool and live in the shade, and I’ll not marry at all, at all, and I’ll not marry at all!”

Wow. “I’m not going to get married out of spite because you gave me your heart BUT YOU WOULDN’T GIVE ME MONEY!” What a catch.

A medieval manuscript piece of a woman in a chair, and a man with a sword in his chest, and he's ripping his heart open

“EWWW your heart is so icky! Where’s my money?!”

Other well-known titles are variations on “Madam, Will You Walk?” and “The Keys of Canterbury” which goes back at least to 1849. This site lists a hefty number of other title variations on this song that make me sick to think about, so we’ll stick to these two.

In “Madam” he offers her a silver pin “to pin up your hair and your fine mus-e-lin” or “donotuse-e-lin” (or “six rows of pins” or “the keys of Heaven, to lock the gates when the clock strikes seven”…oy), followed by his heart, and finally “the key of my des’/And all the money that I possess?” When she accepts, he says,

When you could, you would no
Now you will, you shall not
So fare thee well
My Catherine Sue.

Catherine Sue, huh? Okay.

In “The Keys of Canterbury,” he offers her, naturally, the keys to Canterbury,

And all the bells in London
Shall ring to make us merry.
If you will be my joy, my sweet and only dear,
And walk along with me, anywhere.

Of course, she keeps refusing, even when he offers her a hair comb, cork boots from London and York, or a gold (or silver) bell for her servants. In one version, the young man confides in his servant, and after the servant encourages him to try again, he offers her his money and she agrees, rinse and repeat, but the song ends there and I assume that everyone ends up happy.

And very interestingly, in the first version the girl goes against the grain.  She rejects “a gallant silver chest,/With a key of gold and silver/And jewels of the best,” but agrees to marry him once he gives her a dress: “A broidered silken gownd,/With nine yards a-drooping/And training on the ground.” Finally, someone doing something different!

A view of Diana's twenty-five foot long train during the wedding ceremony. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, presided over the couple's wedding

Fun fact: Princess Diana’s dress was almost 9 yards long

There are also American versions of “Paper of Pins,” including one from the Ozarks (mountainous region between the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains) called “Keys of Heaven.”

In “Keys of Heaven,” it’s the girl who starts out singing, declaring that even if he gives her the keys of Heaven, she won’t “walk and talk with [him].” He offers her a silken grown and a wreath of flowers for her head, a coach with six black horses, and THEN. A miracle!

I will give to you the keys to my heart,
And we’ll be married till death do us part,
Madam, will you walk? Madam, will you talk?
Madam, will you walk and talk with me?

And she actually says yes! Finally, a song with a happy ending that uplifts true love and not the desire to marry for money!

In fact, the American versions I’ve found tend to have happier endings. They even sing a version of “Paper of Pins” in the 1956 movie “Bus Stop”  starring Marilyn Monroe, whose character is a girl from the Ozarks! It’s sung by The Four Lads, and the point of view is strictly from the young man, who has offered her a paper of pins and a feather bed, but all she wants is his house and his money. So he declares,

Well here they are take everything
My house, my money, my wedding ring
And in the bargain I’ll throw in me
If you will marry me

And the song is so peppy, I can only assume that she’ll take him up on his offer, for good or ill.

My gosh, there are so many versions, it’s starting to hurt my head, so I’ll stop there, but you can read more if you’d like.

But the version I really wanted to get to, one from Scotland, is the one I want to end on. And if you’re curious what this whole entry had to do with Halloween, well, now you’ll see.

This version starts off with a man making an offer of a “pennyworth o’ priens,” which another version translates to “pennyworth of pins,” “if you’ll gang alang wi’ me m’dear, if ye’ll gang alang wi’ me?” Of course, she says no, so he offers her “a braw snuff box (or bonny snuff box),/Nine times opened, nine times locked,” then “a silken goon (gown)/Wi’ nine stripes up and nine stripes doon (down),” “a nine stringed bell/Tae call yer maid when’er you will,” and finally, say it with me, guys,

“I’ll gie you a kist o’ gold
Tae comfort you when you are old
If ye’ll gang alang wi’ me m’dear, if ye’ll gang alang wi’ me?”

“These are fine words you say
So mount up lad you’ve won the day
I’ll gang alang wi’ you m’dear, I’ll gang alang wi’ you.”

So she gangs alang wi’ him…but wait…something’s not right…

They’d scarcely gone a mile
Before she spied his cloven heel

Cloven heel? *gasp* THE DEVIL!! *thunderclap*

Woodcut of the devil and a woman



“I rue I come wi’ you” she says, “I rue I come wi’ you.”

No kidding! I’m glad to see she’s taking this seriously. The devil may look silly in those pictures but, I mean…he’s the devil.

The devil replies,

“I’ll grip ye hard and fast,
Gold won your virgin heart at last
And I’ll no part wi’ you m’dear, I’ll never part wi’ you.”


The woodcut of the devil sitting on a man

Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to take gold from satan?

And as they were galloping along
The cold wind carried her mournful song
“I rue I come wi’ you” she says, “I rue I come wi’ you.”
“I rue I come wi’ you” she says, “I rue I come wi’ you.”

*organ chords* THE. END!

And of course, the name of this song? “The Devil’s Courtship/An Dro” by The Battlefield Band.

And the moral of our story is, don’t marry for money, it never works out. And if you do, who knows…he might be the devil in disguise.


Whew! I didn’t know as many of the songs I wrote about today, so I had a lot of research to do! Well, I hope you enjoyed Freaky Fairy Tale month, guys! I had a heck of a fun time putting it together for ya!

Happy Halloween, my readerlings! Now, I’m gonna eat some candy.

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