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Sweetheart jewelry a symbol of love, pride

Photo by Heather Middleton

Photo by Heather Middleton

Through writing letters from the front, soldiers serving during World War I and World War II stayed in touch with loved ones back home.

Sometimes, soldiers sent home battlefield mementos in the form of handmade jewelry. Back home, loved ones created their own keepsakes to commemorate the soldiers in harm's way.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, in partnership with the National Museum of Patriotism in Atlanta, has a permanent exhibit entitled "Rescuing a Piece of Romantic History" that showcases what is known as "sweetheart jewelry," said Pat Stansbury, executive director of the National Museum of Patriotism.

The exhibit, which has been on display since 2001, is located between the Terminal North baggage claim area, and the MARTA train station entrance, said David Vogt, manager of the Airport Art Program at Hartsfield-Jackson.

"This collection appeals to everyone, beyond jewelry lovers and military enthusiasts," said Vogt. "These pieces allowed many families to express their patriotism and support for the soldiers serving overseas, which is very fitting with so many military personnel traveling through the airport."

According to Nicholas Snider, founder and chairman of the National Museum of Patriotism, parents, siblings, girlfriends and wives of soldiers commemorated the troops by creating and wearing jewelry items such as pins, bracelets, buttons, necklaces and lockets. This practice grew in the United States between 1917 and 1919.

"The tradition started in 1917, by an Ohio farmer," said Snider. "He started that concept, because he had two sons in the Army."

The airport exhibit also displays a different type of sweetheart jewelry that is considered "Pacific War art." Soldiers would create jewelry in their spare time with found items and would send it to their loved ones living in the U.S., said Snider.

Stansbury said soldiers created jewelry, such as engagement rings, from items like spoons.

A troop would break a spoon off from the handle and bend the handle into a ring. The ring was then mailed to the soldier's sweetheart, she explained.

Soldiers would also convert bullets into jewelry, Snider added.

"Most of it is manufactured, but the pieces that were handmade were made on the battlefield," Snider said.

Snider said the exhibit displays approximately 250 pieces of sweetheart jewelry from his collection.

He said he has collected more than 10,000 sweetheart jewelry items since 1983.

Snider said his passion for collecting sweetheart jewelry happened by chance. He was at a military show in Connecticut and was in search of military patches.

According to Snider, he spotted some wing pins decorated with rhinestones at a vendor's table.

Snider said he approached the table and asked the vendor what they were.

Snider said the vendor responded, "They are military sweetheart jewelry."

He said it has been fascinating to collect a part of history that many people did not know existed.

"He is the largest collector of sweetheart jewelry ... in the world," said Stansbury.

Snider said his collection is housed in various locations, including the National Museum of Patriotism, at Hartsfield-Jackson and at warehouses.

"Nick [Snider] owns a few warehouses and has a lot of his collections there," said Stansbury. "It is mostly for the jewelry, but he has other collectibles."

Stansbury said a traveling exhibit of sweetheart jewelry is displayed in museums such as the Dahlonega Gold Museum Historic Site, in Dahlonega, and The Columbus Museum, in Columbus. The exhibit is showcased during holidays such as Valentine's Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, she added.

Snider said he has authored two books about sweetheart jewelry entitled, "Antique, Sweetheart Jewelry," which was published in 1997, and "Sweetheart Jewelry and Collectibles," published in 1996.

Snider said he felt obligated to write both books, because sweetheart jewelry is a unique part of American history that his late father, a history teacher, would have wanted him to document.

"I still collect," said Snider. "I am not done."