Navigation Menu+

breast-pin / brooch

breast-pin – A pin worn for fastening, or for ornament, on the breast; a brooch. — Webster, 1882

brooch – An ornament, in various forms, sometimes set with jewels, with a tongue, pin, or loop, for attaching it to a garment; usually worn on the breast. — Webster, 1882

Fashion Notes. Round and oval-shaped brooches are again fashionable. – Iroquois Herald, December 29, 1882.

In the Little House books, a female’s wearing of a decorative brooch, breast pin, or collar pin mirrored the popular jewelry style of the day and was a natural part of “dressing up.” In Little House in the Big Woods, Laura describes not only the beautiful dresses worn by Ma and the aunts, but the pins that adorn them: Aunt Ruby’s sealing wax rose, Aunt Docia’s round cameo, and Ma’s scalloped gold bar pin that was “as long as as wide as Laura’s two biggest fingers.” (See Chapter 8, “Dance at Grandpa’s.”)

In On the Banks of Plum Creek (Chapter 24, “Going to Church”), Ma’s clothes and jewelry are again described in detail, when Ma again wears the gold breast-pin to Christmas services at church. It’s here that readers surmise that breast pins are worn by adults. One of Laura’s Christmas tree gifts is the little china jewel-box with the gold cup and saucer on its top, which puzzles Laura until Ma tells her that it’s “a nice place to keep a breast-pin, if some day Laura had a breast-pin.” Ma clearly had more than one pin in her jewelry box, didn’t she?

The first time Laura dresses up to go to the dime sociable among adults – dressed as a young lady – she borrows Ma’s mother-of-pearl shell pin to wear on the frill of lace at her throat. It’s not until after her engagement to Almanzo Wilder that Laura is given a gold bar pin of her own to wear; “on its flat surface was etched a little house, and before it along the bar lay a tiny lake, and a spray of grasses and leaves.” (These Happy Golden Years, Chapter 25, “The Night Before Christmas”) Is Laura wearing this gold pin in early De Smet photographs? It’s hard to tell. And since the gold pin doesn’t seem to have survived and isn’t among Laura’s possessions at Rocky Ridge Farm, it’s impossible to know exactly what the pin looked like. Gold bar pins etched with a house, lake, and plant-life are frequently for sale on internet auction sites, plus they can often be found at antique stores, suggesting that the design was a popular one. The gold bar pin above is mine!

Pins were a popular gift item for special occasions, not only from sweethearts but from parent-to-daughter upon graduation. If you look at photographs of Mary Ingalls taken during her years at the Blind School in Vinton, she’s wearing a bar pin at her throat. Was it a gift from Ma and Pa, or did she, too, have a suitor?

The advertisement shows gold (plated) bar pins which could be earned as premiums for selling subscriptions to The Youth’s Companion. — The Youth’s Companion 41(Boston: Perry & Mason, Publishers, October 1883), 445.


breast-pin (BPC 24, 31)

brooch (FB 26; THGY 33)
     bar pin / bar-pin (THGY 19; PG)
     cameo (BW 8), see cameo
     gift from Almanzo to Laura (THGY 25; PG)
     gold / gold bar pin (BW 8-9; LHP 15; THGY 25)
     pearl-shell pin / pearl bar pin (LTP 20, 24; THGY 19), see also mother-of-pearl
     square gold pin / brooch with strawberry in it (THGY 31)
     wax rose (BW 8)