• Antique Animal Jewelry

Trench Art and Wartime Jewelry

Two WWI rings given to those who contributed to the war effort by donating their gold in return for an iron replacement, inscribed 'Gold gab ich für Eisen 1914' (I gave gold for iron 1914)

Antique Animal Jewelry

Trench art is the general name given to decorative items made by soldiers, prisoners of war, or civilians, during a war. Trench art jewelry is often separated into two different groups: jewels actually made by the soldiers themselves, 'trench jewelry', known in French as 'bijoux des tranchées' or 'bijoux des poilus' (an informal term for a late-18th century to early 20th-century French infantryman, meaning, literally, hairy one), and the wartime jewels made by jewelers or civilians 'at home' eager to show their support for the war effort and the members of their family serving on the front lines.

Trench art as a term comes directly from the pieces of art, including jewelry, made by soldiers who were actually in the trenches during WWI or by wounded soldiers who were recovering. However, it has since become a kind of general umbrella term for any wartime jewelry made from the Napoleonic wars onwards, and particularly anything made using whatever was to hand, such as scraps of metal from coins or artillery shells that were beaten into new shapes and/or engraved.

19th-Century Wars

Gold gab ich für Eisen

In 1813, Prussia went to war with France in what was known as one of the Wars of Liberation, to free themselves from Napoleon Bonaparte's forces that were occupying Prussia. Severely lacking in money after paying so much to the French occupation, the Prussian Royal family asked the aristocracy and upper classes to donate their precious jewelry, particularly gold, to help fund the war effort. In return, those who contributed were given 'Berlin Iron' jewelry as an inexpensive replacement.

Many of these Berin Iron pieces were inscribed with the phrase, 'Gold gab ich für Eisen' (I gave gold for iron), or 'Für das Wohl des Vaterlands' (For the welfare of our country/ the fatherlands), and some of them are also dated 1813 or feature a portrait of the Prussian king at the time, Frederick William III.

A 'voided Maltese cross' in Berlin iron with a medallion head of Frederick William III of Prussia at the center. The reverse is inscribed 'Unvergeslich 1813' (unforgettable 1813) © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A group of Prussian medals originally worn by a proud veteran. From left to right: a war merit medal inscribed '1813-1814' on the obverse; an iron cross, 2nd class, inscribed '1813' and 'FW' under a crown, presumably for King Frederick Wilhelm (III) of Prussia; a commemorative medal for the combatants of 1813-1815 made of bronze - Via emedals.com

A wedding ring replacement inscribed, "I gave gold for iron", Berlin 1813 Museum of the City of Dortmund, via Wikipedia

'I gave gold for iron in 1813' Berlin iron ring, via The Prussian Correspondent

100 years later, Austro-Hungary revived the fashion for 'Gold gab ich für Eisen' jewelry to fund their war efforts in 1914. Many citizens donated their gold jewelry, particularly wedding rings, to the government in exchange for iron jewelry. Once Germany joined the war, German citizens began to do the same.

This was a ring made when gold was given to raise money for the treasury during World War I, c. 1914

Via Bell and Bird, exhibited at the Deutsches Goldschmiedehaus Hanau Museum in 2011

Austro-Hungarian 'I Gave Gold for Iron 1914' War Fund Ring

From Erica Weiner via Pinterest

An iron band set with rose gold on the inside and emblazoned with the words 'Gold gab ich für Eisen 1914 O.S.K.' (I Gave Gold For Iron). Wearing the iron jewellery was an overt statement of your patriotic commitment to the country, and many chose to continue wearing such rings long after the war was over

Via Butter Lane Antiques

This ring, made in 1914, has a German Iron Cross at the center with embossed foliate detail to either side and the markings “1914 DHG” denoting the Deutsche Heimats Gruppe or 'German Homeland Group'. The 'I Gave Gold for Iron' movement encouraged German citizens to donate their gold jewelry to support the war effort. On the exterior of the shank is inscribed (as an approximate translation), 'In order to prove loyalty to the homeland in this difficult time, to it I give gold for this iron.'

Via lot-art.com

The Siege of Paris

From September 1870 to January 1871, Prussia sieged Paris and brought an end to the Franco-Prussian War that had begun in July 1870. The siege culminated in France's defeat, and the establishment of both the German Empire and the Paris Commune. Several kinds of commemorative jewelry were made and worn, particularly by the defeated French, to remember the event.

Ring worn by members of the League of Patriots commemorating the (lost) war of 1871 against the Prussians. Inscribed, 'France souviens toi' (France remembers you). Silver-plated brass

Via Les Bijoux Regionaux: Les Bijoux des Français

A silver medal given to pigeon fanciers who lent their pigeons to the government during the siege of Paris. This event saw the use of message pigeons to send post out to the rest of France from trapped Parisians. The pigeons were flown via balloon over enemy encampments and then released, and the city’s main pigeon-fancying society, 'L’Espérance', were the main group responsible for lending its birds to the cause

Via Les Bijoux Regionaux: Les Bijoux des Français

Trench Jewelry - WWI & WWII

Many pieces of jewelry were made in the trenches by soldiers who were either on the front lines or in support trenches, especially in quieter parts of the line. Wounded soldiers were also encouraged to work at crafts as part of their recuperation, with embroidery and simple forms of woodwork being common.

Engraved Coins / Love Tokens / Sweetheart Jewelry

Jewelry made from coins, as well as whatever other materials were to be found in a pocket or around the area, first enjoyed popularity amongst sailors facing long periods of separation with no guarantee of their return. Voyagers, as well as convicts being sent to Australia, also often engraved coins with images of ships and love messages to send home and be kept by loved ones. It was a fashion that came to prominence during the second half of the 18th century, losing popularity with the advent of the whaling trade in 1830 (which made ivory the more popular choice for engravings) and the cessation of transportation of convicts in the 1840s.

However, the art of engraving coins and making jewelry from them enjoyed a revival during the world wars, particularly WWI, where soldiers on the front lines would craft pieces during periods of waiting or while recovering from injuries to send home; so that they could be worn by loved ones or sold on to raise money for the war effort.

A series of 6 'trench art' engraved coins with various popular sailor's motifs, including joined hearts and ships, which often would have been depictions of the specific ship that the sailor was aboard, as well as religious and sentimental messages like, 'Study Peace & Practice Love as Angels do in Heaven Above'

Antique Animal Jewelry

Love tokens - above, a couple's name inscribed on a penny with a heart pierced by cupid's arrow, on the back is an anchor and date, 'Feb 7th 1774'. Below, a large Georgian penny shows a behatted sailor holding a fish and a knife, with a fishing boat and a larger ship in the background, inscribed, 'William Halert'. On the back, hope stands by a fouled anchor, with two ships in the background, inscribed, 'Elizabeth Roch'

From St James's Auctions - The Barker Collection of Engraved Coins - Auction 37

This is likewise not a piece of true 'trench art' sent home from the front lines of a battle or war. It's actually a mourning piece, demonstrating the general spread of the fashion of hand-engraving coins in the Georgian and Victorian eras onwards, and many coin engravings like this one may well have been made during wars to commemorate those who died at home Antique Animal Jewelry

An engraved coin showing the HMS Britannia on one side and an elegant couple, she with flowers and he with a cane, on the other with the inscription, 'When this You See Remember me - 1781'. The HMS Britannia served in the Royal Navy and in the American War of Independence in 1778

From St James's Auctions - The Barker Collection of Engraved Coins - Auction 37

A finely engraved coin depicting the Battle of Waterloo (1815) - on one side is a battle between kilted Highland soldiers and the French, on the reverse is a mounted British officer attacking a Frenchman

From St James's Auctions - The Barker Collection of Engraved Coins - Auction 37

A George III 'Cartwheel' twopence, smoothed and engraved. On the obverse, a mermaid on the sea holding a comb and mirror while a ship vanishes behind. The border shows 4 ships and anchors and the name 'James Cock'. The Reverse has 4 cherub's heads on hearts and a verse, ' May Guardian Angels - Thear Soft Wings Display - And Guide you Safe thrue - Every Distant Way - May you in Every State - of Life Most happy bee - & in your Leouger hour - Think of Mee'. The coin was possibly engraved by a convict being transported to Australia; three convicts named James Cock were transported in the early 1800s

From St James's Auctions - The Barker Collection of Engraved Coins - Auction 37

WWI Trench art sweetheart pin brooch made from Belgian coins and copper '1914 MONS 1918'

From Ebay via Pinterest

A sweetheart ring made in the WWI trenches depicting a wren and fashioned from a farthing

Antique Animal Jewelry

A WWII Sweetheart jewelry piece made from a silver Australian Florin coin cut into a heart shape and suspended from a silver Lieutenant's rank bar.

Via Bytes

A sweetheart bracelet made from silver Australian Florin coins during WWII. All eight coins have been cut and filed with the central panel cut into a chubby heart shape. The panels that have not been worn smooth have crests matching the central panel. End pieces are filed smooth, and bent into a simple hook and eye closure. Interior of the bracelet has all the details of the coins still fully visible

From The Deeps via Etsy

WWII Trench art pendant necklace from New Guinea, c.1944. Made by an Australian soldier, using the tools and materials at hand. A heart filed out of a threepence coin, framing the face of King George VI like a cameo. On the reverse, the soldier sanded the coin smooth, then engraved and dated the piece as a gift for his mother. The souvenir floats in a little pool of light likely made using military-issue resin/epoxy. The coin itself retains the deep and varied patina of trench grit, hovering still in this clear and clean, heart-shaped space - From The Deeps via Etsy


Some trench art rings were also made from coins, like the sweetheart jewelry above, where the coins were filed and cut down and bent into shape. Other rings were made from lumps of aluminum from nose cones or other fallen or discarded parts of weapons or artillery.

This image shows aluminum rings made during WWI by wounded soldiers. Starting with the fragment of German aluminum nose cone on the left, it shows four stages in the creation of the ring, ending with a full ring decorated with an eagle taken from a German soldier's button

© IWM EPH 4364

French trench rings made from aluminum and copper or just aluminum, 1914-18

Via Les Bijoux Regionaux: Les Bijoux des Français

A trench art ring made from white metal (probably aluminum) and copper, inscribed 'Ypres' which was a battle in Belgium during October & November 1914. It was probably made by a soldier during this battle for his sweetheart - Antique Animal Jewelry

Trench art brass ring from WWI inscribed 'Ypres' in curving script

© IWM EPH 5916

This ring was made by a soldier in the trenches of WW1 and is made from brass. The inscription details war rations on the front lines in Germany. Translated, it reads, '35g of bread or 1 flaxen or 25g flour'

Antique Animal Jewelry

An unusual WWI trench art signet ring crafted from the aluminum nose cone of a German artillery shell, with an applied Hope, Faith & Charity motif on the face (likely added once it had been sent back home)

Via 1stdibs

The Totenkopf (skull, literally dead's head) is a common motif in German WWII trench art jewelry. According to Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the Totenkopf was a reminder that you should always be willing to put your self at stake for the life of the whole community, and the symbol was used by several specific WWII German units as well as generally by the Germans

Via liveauctioneers.com

German trench art ring made by soldier with an engraved helmet, crossed bayonets, and the year 1940 and initials or a unit designation on the front plate, engraved manually

Via Lot-Art.com

A WWII trench art bracelet possibly made from aircraft alloy, engraved with a Soviet Russian Air Force Cap Badge and two fighter aircraft - Via militariazone.com

These are not a true piece of 'trench art' since they're not associated with a particular war or conflict, however, these were made by sailors using nothing but what was to hand, as trench art is. These are very rare Georgian sailor's ring that have been handwoven around catgut and/or fishbone or whalebone, to spell out ‘REMEMBER’, 'AMITIE' and 'FIDELLITE' - a sentimental gift to hold close across the oceans

Antique Animal Jewelry

Shrapnel & Artillery Shell Jewelry

A lot of trench jewelry made by soldiers on the front lines was made for loved ones at home, but sometimes jewelry was made to be sold on by jewelers back in the home country to raise more money for the war efforts. Discarded weaponry like shrapnel was also a common material used for trench art.

An advertisement from the French 'l'Illustration' magazine for jewelry made from shrapnel by soldiers on the front line during WWI - Via Les Bijoux Regionaux: Les Bijoux des Français

A German WWI bracelet fashioned from an artillery shell with a small Iron Cross (apparently from a stickpin), oak leaves, and a well-designed faster and hinge with safety chain

Via liveauctioneers.com

WWI German trench art sweetheart bracelet made from the copper sabot off of an artillery shell (brass driving band from an artillery shell). The outer surface shows the grooving made by the passage of the shell through the cannon barrel. The band has an applied black enameled iron cross flanked by oak leaves. The inscription inside the bracelet reads 'In memory of the Great War 1914/15'. This was a popular late war and post-war souvenir item in Germany - Via liveauctioneers.com

A pair of decorated shell-cases from WWI bearing the names of two French villages that were totally destroyed during the war and were not rebuilt later

Via Bytes

A hand-decorated shell-case and an example of French First World War 'Trench Art' from the Western Front. The design beaten into it features the name 'Cote 304' -a reference to one of the salient features of the battlefield of Verdun. It is one of a pair, both made from French 75mm shell cases. The other carries the name of another Verdun hill: 'Mort Homme'. Both have been given (or have naturally attained) a dull green patina. They were presented to the Imperial War Museum by artist Richard Wentworth.

© IWM EPH 3146

German WWI trench art made from a shell-case depicting a Belgian lion & 'Ypres', c.1915

From Ebay via Pinterest

A pair of WWI German Cairoware trench art shell-cases, the brass bodies with inlaid shaped panels and Arabic script decoration, marked 'Berndorf Fried Krupp Ag 1914', and 'Patronenfabrik Karlsruhe 1916'

Via liveauctioneers.com

Medals & Brooches

During WWI, attempts were often made to boost morale by sharing encouraging news. One such piece of news came via French newspapers boasting about the superiority of the French 75mm canon. This quickly became a popular motif in brooches and pendants made by jewelers of the time.

75mm canon pendants c.1914-1918, gold or gold and silver

Via Les Bijoux Regionaux: Les Bijoux des Français

Small brooches that feature the design of an eagle clutching a pearl in its beak or claws, designed by the aviator and painter Henri Farré (1871 - 1934), were also very popular.

Aviator brooches, gold, 1914 - 1918

Via Les Bijoux Regionaux: Les Bijoux des Français

Other designs from France often feature the French symbol of the rooster, sometimes alongside the English lion, their allies.

Patriotic medal from 1914-1918 with the French rooster looking towards the constellation of Leo (the English lion) with the words 'Ni vous sans moi - Ni moi sans vous' (Neither you without me - Nor me without you) showing solidarity between allies and taken from the story of Tristan and Isolde

Via Les Bijoux Regionaux: Les Bijoux des Français

To wrap up, here's a photo of some of Antique Animal Jewelry's trench art collection:

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