The brooch in the featured image is one of the earlier ones you will see about. It is a hollow silver horseshoe with the dates of the Boer War on the front and a Victorian crown at the top of the badge. It’s actually hallmarked 1904 on the back, but sweethearts can be a bit like that, and aren’t always as accurate as you would like.
The earliest sweethearts date from the 1890s but the first surge of popularity took place during the Boer War (1899 – 1902) then in the Great War things really took off. This is logical when you think there were millions of men in the army, and consequently millions of wives and girlfriends to buy the brooches for.
At this time they also became cheaper and less well made. Brass and enamel sweethearts from this time are very common, as are the ones with plain mother of pearl surrounds.
There were other styles, including ones mounted on rifles and swords (though you’ll have to settle for rifles at the moment as that’s all the photographs I have).
The next step up in terms of quality were the silver rimmed mother of pearl brooches, often stamped “Sterling Silver Rim” on the back. There were also silver badges and silver-rimmed tortoiseshell brooches. The silver ones are often stamped “Silver” or “Sterling” on the back, but the silver rimmed tortoiseshell brooches are usually hallmarked.
These two brooches demonstrate another feature of collecting – the Machine Gun Corps was a war-raised unit and existed from 1915-22. Their brooches are sought after by collectors of Great War memorabilia, despite the fact they shouldn’t be rare – over 170,000 men served in the corps during the war.
By contrast, the Royal Engineers aren’t a sought after unit as there were so many of them – in August 1917 there were 295,668 men serving in the RE. Despite being common, and made from tortoiseshell, the RE brooch does have a significant advantage over the more desirable MGC brooch – it is hallmarked on the back.
This allows us to tell that it is sterling silver (the Lion), was hallmarked in London (Leopard’s head) and dates from 1916 (letter a). The maker’s mark “C Bro” is the mark of Corke Brothers and Co.
This is just a brief view of sweethearts – there are other types so, as my photography catches up there may be other posts on the subject.
They have a much closer connection to the men of the Great War than medals, for instance. At least you can be sure that most of these brooches were bought by soldiers and worn by mothers or girlfriends. Sometimes you find one still pinned to its original card, where it has been stored in a drawer for years, but most seem to have been worn.
Contrast this with the medals from the Great War. Many, when sold by families, are still in the boxes, having never been worn. My grandfather kept his in a drawer and never showed them to anyone. We all thought that his mother had thrown them out when she threw away his brother’s medals. Having lost a son and a son-in-law, she got rid of everything connected with the war and refused to discuss it until the day she died in 1930. Those who died in the war, of course, never even saw their medals.