The Language of Pins: Stories behind Madeleine Albright’s Collection

Legion of honor pin owned by Madeleine Albright

I was going to post this earlier but the politics got so ugly I wanted to wait until the dust settled. With the inauguration this week a question I have is what jewelry will the first lady and the daughters of the President wear? I’m sure that and so much more will be analyzed over the next four years. Some of those small choices are not given much thought but for one former White House employee there was a distinct correlation between her pin choice and her mood.

Bejeweled Mickey pin owned by Madeleine Albright, made 1989, Disney

I posted on Instagram art from the all-night event at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston a few months ago. I was unable to attend the special evening events but Madeleine Albright spoke to a group of museum attendees. Some Instagram attendees shared selfies with the former Secretary of State , I’m not posting those but will share a photo of the pin Albright was wearing. I had seen it in a book I read a few years back, Read my Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box by Madeleine Albright. The pin is titled Breaking the Glass Ceiling, by an unknown artist.

Albright had a second pin on with the candidate she is supporting. I won’t mention that either since it only takes one guess knowing which president she served under. So, no more election talk on to the jewels.

The book is a fun read about a collector that happened to serve in a high government office but Ms. Albright’s history of collecting did not start when she got the job of secretary of state, but earlier at age 8. She was the daughter of an ambassador to Yugoslavia on a visit Madeleine’s mother was given an emerald ring surrounded by diamonds. That memory stayed with Madeleine and when she was old enough she was given that ring. The love of pins came from her college days when it was fashionable to wear pins with sweaters. Also in college, the tradition of getting pinned by your boyfriend was to be engaged. Madeleine was pinned by Joseph Albright, they had 3 children. Madeleine was still gifted pins by friends and relatives. Some antique and a few homemade. Below is a pin of beads on safety pin, common at craft fairs and similar to the one owned by Ms. Albright.

 

She had high end brooches as well like these two from Cartier.

Panther pin, Cartier owned by Madeleine Albright

 

Coral, Lapis Bird in Cage, Cartier made in 1944

How did her trademark pin wearing get started? The story is shared by Albright and starts with a snake. See below.

The Serpent’s Tale

The book goes through some of Albright’s family moments where she worn and acquired her pins but I am skipping ahead to her days in Washington where her collection got a lot more attention.

 

The major start to kicking off her jewelry collection in the White House was during Bill Clinton’s first term as President of the United States (1993-1997).  To set the scene, Ambassador Albright was coming in after the first Persian Gulf War and Iraq was required to accept the UN inspections and disclose about all their weapons programs. Saddam Hussein, the Iraq leader at the time, would not comply causing Albright to publicly criticize him. A poem was printed by the Iraq press in retaliation to Albrights behavior. I won’t reprint the poem but use the phrase that caused the start of her pin phase. In the poem the poet referred to Ambassador Albright as an ‘unparalleled serpent’, among other unflattering things. So when Iraq officials were scheduled to meet with her again she need to find the right item to make a statement. This coiled snake pin by an unknown designer was bought a few years back. The reason was unknown to Albright who mentioned in the book to ‘loathe’ snakes. It was perfect though and the press loved it. Albright was sending a message in her own way to the world. This soon became her trademark and still continues to this day.

Albright wearing serpent pin with her ‘don’t mess with me’ face!

Albright has many more pins and stories in this book that could be finished in an evening. A few more from her collection.

Bug Pin by Iradj Moini

 

Lady Liberty clock pin by Gijis Bakker of the Netherlands

Are there any pins you wear to work or wear on your coat for going out? I brought some that belonged to my grandmother that can take a commute to work or errands on the weekend! Thank you for reading and check back for more!

Top hat Eagle pin, 1940 by Trifari

 

2 thoughts on “The Language of Pins: Stories behind Madeleine Albright’s Collection

  • January 23, 2017 at 8:02 am
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    Obviously I’m going to love this blog post! I built the grape leaf cluster she wore to her daughter’s wedding and my dad built the butterfly brooch made with the Australian boulder opals. I love the highlights you shared, what a great message and perfect timing!

    Reply
    • February 20, 2017 at 3:41 pm
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      That is great! I wish she had shared those brooches in her book!

      Reply

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