Witch's heart: from Scottish highlands to London society to the indigenous people of North America
Georgian jewelry was often sentimental and heart brooches were popular gifts. One popular style was an open heart brooch called a witch’s heart. The tail of a witch’s heart twists to the right side and is a shape that has been in use since the 15th century. Over time, they have symbolized love, loyalty, betrothal, and even protection. Tiny metal witch’s hearts were often pinned to baby’s blankets as a charm to ward off evil spirits.
They gained in popularity in Scotland in through the 17th century when they became known as a Luckenbooth, named for the closed booths in the jewelry quarter near St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh where they were initially sold as talismans to protect loved ones.
The styles became more decorative and sentimental over time. These brooches often had a crown above one heart, or two intertwined hearts with Scottish motifs like the St. Andrew's Cross or the thistle. This silver piece from mid 18th century Scotland is two interlocking hearts, a thistle crown, and is engraved in the back with the betrothed’s initials.
By the 18th century, the witch’s heart had taken on a meaning beyond a talisman—they were given to a loved one as proof of being “bewitched” with love. As love tokens to the Georgians, they were most commonly made of garnets, symbols of love and friendship. The crowned, entwined hearts signified loyalty to the “bewitching” one. The double heart, as seen in the c1800 garnet and paste example above, generally indicates a committed love relationship, such as betrothal or marriage.
The influence of these Luckenbooth or witch’s hearts wasn’t limited to Great Britain. By the 18th century, Luckenbooth tokens featured heavily as trade items between the British and the indigenous peoples of North America. The indigenous people traded beaver and other furs and received clothing and jewelry in return. In particular, for the Haudenasaunee (Iroquois or Six Nations) it became a popular motif. The Iroquois created their own brooches, like the one below from the mid 1700s, and their version of a witch’s heart was reflected in their own silver work.
The heart itself became a well-known symbol in Iroquois art and clothing. When the Haudenasaunee silversmiths copied the Scottish patterns they left off things common in the original pattern and interpreted the design as their own education, environment or customs dictated.
The heart is a ubiquitous symbol, but this particular curved design has endured across centuries and cultures. In the Georgian era, they were given to someone who captured the heart and bewitches another. Do you think a Jane Austen character might see one of these brooches and think it's perfect for that special someone?
"...there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody, and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her."
Ginny Redington Daws and Olivia Collings, Georgian Jewellry, ACC Art Books, 2019