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.
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And also, it was interesting to see the ‘Semper Fidelis motto on the Devonshire Regiment badge. It is often assumed that it is only used by the US Marines.
I’d never thought of that – most Latin mottoes go in one ear and out of the other, a fact noted by the poor man who tried to teach me Latin 50 years ago. 🙂
I had never heard of Sweetheart Broaches – they were never very common in Australia. However you might be familiar with the following site. If not I hope it is interesting to you
That’s an excellent site. There are some great brooches on there. Thanks for the link, I’m going to enjoy that later tonight. 🙂
I learned something new here, too. This is a beautiful post, Quercus.
Thank you. Old jewellery always has the power to be thought-provoking, these more than others because of the events they were linked to.
I think your last comment sums it up beautifully.
They were something to wear with pride while the menfolk were away fighting to keep the world free from oppression. Also to show support for the men.
Yes, something to preserve a link while people were apart.
I had seen several in antique shops etc and never quite grasped their significance, then I bought an illustrated book on general militaria and there was a section about them.
Last time I checked there were over 900 on ebay – often broken and/or overpriced.
Now you really have surprised me, I thought they were a little scarcer than that.
That’s the thing with ebay – dealers from around the world. There are over 303,000 ordinary brooches, of which 7,000 are butterflies.
A very interesting article about an often misunderstood subject
My pleasure, as someone with an interest in all things military I was turned on to these not knowing quite what they were originally.
They were a revelation to me when I first saw them as nobody in my family seems to have had one.
This goes into ‘I learn something every day’ folder.
I will post a photo of an Army Cyclist Corps brooch next time – specially for you.
Such poignant mementos. Many years ago now, Jackie worked as a home help for those then elderly, still single, sweethearts
Yes, poignant sums it up exactly.