The History of Bluebird of Happiness Jewellery
Many Australians love the iconic little blue bird that has perched upon generations of children's jewellery. This traditional jewellery symbolises "The Bluebird of Happiness" but where did the story begin, and what is the history of bluebird jewellery in Australia?
The Giddy Aunts have followed the stories of these tiny feathered fellows down memory lane to discover the earliest bluebird jewellery sighting. Our findings may surprise you!
The Bluebird's Meaning
While the "Bluebird of Happiness" is a recognised saying today, birds of blue have long symbolised hope, happiness or love in many different cultures. However not all birds of blue are the bluebirds - or the Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) - found on the bluebird of happiness jewellery. Other birds such as the blue jay, kingfisher, blue tit, blue rock-thrush, blue grosbeak, the indigo bunting, qingniao and swallows have their own stories but it was specifically the Bluebird of Happiness featured on children's jewellery that the Giddy Aunts were looking for.
Stories About the Bluebird of Happiness
Stories of "The Bluebird of Happiness" are found in literature and art including "L'Oiseau Bleu" ("The Blue Bird") a popular Lorraine folklore story included in "Tales of the Fairies" collected by Madame d'Aulnoy (1650-1705). The Bluebird of Happiness also features in a play published by Maurice Maeterlinck in 1908 which was translated into English by Alexander Teixeira de Mattos, playing on Broadway from 1910 and London's Haymarket from 1912.
The "Bluebird of Happiness" also appears in numerous songs, poems and movies including "The Bluebirds" written by Henry David Thoreau 1859, "The Decay of Lying" Oscar Wilde 1891, "Bluebird of Happiness" sung by Jan Peerce 1934, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" sung by Judy Garland 1939, "The Blue Bird" movie starring Shirley Temple 1940, "The White Cliffs of Dover" written by Nat Burton 1941, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" written by Ray Gilbert 1946, "Bluebird of Happiness" sung by Gracie Fields 1948, "Gonna Find Me A Bluebird" sung by Marvin Rainwater 1955, "I Wish You Love" sung by Frank Sinatra 1964 and in the 1968 Beatles movie "Yellow Submarine" the leader of the Blue Meanies claims his cousin is the Bluebird of Happiness. More recently, just about every Disney princess you can name seems to have a chat with a bluebird at some stage of her story!
Blue Birds in Jewellery
Contemporary "Bluebird of Happiness" jewellery features a blue enamel bird on silver or gold bracelets, rings, earrings, brooches, lockets and pendants. Some Australians recall personal bluebird jewellery family stories dating back to the 1920s and your Giddy Aunts were excited to learn about one family with five generations of bluebird fanciers. The engraved gold bluebird brooches pictured here belong to a Grandmother, Daughter and Granddaughter!
Jewellery featuring all sorts of birds was popular well before the 1920s. A jewellery style easily confused with the Bluebird of Happiness is the English Victorian Swallow. The swallow symbol has long been used in jewellery and tattoo design as a symbol of "safe return home" and many sailors had swallow tattoos to commemorate miles or journeys completed. During the sentimental Victorian era swallow pendants and brooches were also set with blue turquoise for good luck. As there are already similarities between the shapes of swallows and bluebirds, there may have been influences between the designs and the blue stones may have added to the mistaken identity.
The History of Bluebird of Happiness Jewellery
There are many examples of antique swallow jewellery but the earliest mention we've found of specific "Blue Bird of Happiness Jewellery" is in the Daniel Low & Co 1892 mail order catalogue.
The Daniel Low Emporium was in Salem Massachusetts and sold jewellery, cut glass, homewares, keepsakes and curios; quality items at fair prices, with something for everyone. Daniel Low capitalised on the tourist memento market by commissioning a spoon with a Salem Witch on the handle. Could the enterprising Daniel Low also be responsible for first popularising enamel Bluebird Jewellery with the message of happiness?
The 1892 mail order catalogue advertises:
Blue Bird Jewelry of sterling with blue enamel front and gilded back, symbolizing happiness or good fortune.
"I wish you the happiness of blue birds,
The peace and silent joy of flowers,
And the love of many friends."
Oh My Giddy Aunt! Have we found the first mention of the "Bluebirds of Happiness" jewellery?
There were other makers of enamel blue bird jewellery at this time, and jewellers such as German makers Meyle & Mayer were creating beautiful blue enamel birds around the turn of the century but Daniel Low & Co seems to be the first to really market the story of the "Bluebird for Happiness" along with the jewellery... unless someone knows something we don't know, in which case we would love to hear from you!
The First Bluebird Jewellery in Australia
Daniel Low & Co's Blue Bird jewellery may have been the first Bluebirds of Happiness jewellery, but the question remains. When did they land in Australia?
In 1898, jewellers J.W. Johnston & Co, with establishments in George St Sydney, Bourke St Melbourne and Queen St Brisbane were advertising New Gold Bird Brooches, and there are many examples of the the Bluebird of Happiness concept being part of Australian life between 1900-1930 with Bluebird Cafes, Clubs, Luncheons and Dances. Some of these events also mention a gift or prize of blue bird jewellery but we are still trying to find the first suppliers or makers of the Bluebird of Happiness jewellery in Australia.
We know that after WWII, as a symbol of peace, Brisbane jewellers Wallace Bishops began manufacturing their top selling "Bluebird of Happiness" brooch, along with other Australian manufacturing jewellers such as House of Hawke, Lustre Jewellery and Rodd. Bluebird of Happiness brooches could be engraved with names for Christenings or special occasions, and the much-loved bluebirds soon occupied pride of place on rings, earrings, ID and padlock bracelets, lockets and pendants.
Brian Goldberg (Goldie) started his apprenticeship with the Rodd company in 1952 as a manufacturing jeweller eventually making the rank Australasia manager and remembers the bluebird motif manufactured by Rodd was already well established in Australia by the 1950/60s. Rodd made the dies for the bluebird motif and they were sent away for enamelling. The little Rodd bluebird signet ring pictured is from the 1960s.
Over the following decades, bluebird jewellery continued to grow in popularity as people wanted to "make a child happy with a little Bluebird" and today there are many suppliers of bluebird jewellery, although these days most of the old manufacturers are gone and most bluebird jewellery is now made outside Australia. While the shape of modern bluebirds may vary slightly from maker to maker, there is still a strong family resemblance that marks this little bird as the well-loved symbol of happiness and a tradition that will hopefully continue for many years to come.
What Age is Bluebird Jewellery For?
Today, most bluebird jewellery is made for babies and younger children but this wasn't always the case. Over the years the 'appropriate age' for bluebirds has become younger.
In the first half of the twentieth century Bluebirds for Happiness were given as love tokens to sweethearts and mothers or worn as the "something blue" at a wedding. Around the 1950s, blue bird lockets or rings were also given to girls starting high school as a first precious piece of grown-up, real jewellery.
After the 1970's bluebird jewellery was more usually associated with little children, especially with the popularity of engraved baby brooches and ID bracelets for naming days alongside traditional religious Christening jewellery. As "Teens" and later "Tweens" moved closer to the mini-adult market and away from childhood, the "bluebirds of happiness" stayed firmly ensconced in the popular category of Children's Jewellery.
While the Bluebird of Happiness may be an old-school echo from a more sentimental time, along with forget-me-nots, mizpah and heart-shaped lockets, the meaning of this jewellery continues to tell personal stories that resonate deeply with so many people.
After all, what more could anyone wish for a loved one than the happiness of blue birds,
the peace and silent joy of flowers,
and the love of many friends?
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this blog post has been gathered anecdotally and gleaned from all sorts of bluebird and jewellery fanciers. If you have more information to add to the story, or any corrections, we'd love to hear from you.