Read My Pins: Jewelry as a Diplomatic, Political and Social Tool

March 25, 2010 at 2:32 am (Art Unravelled)

Madeline Albright's Serpent Pin

My dad works as the City Attorney for a small municipality in Florida. Last year he asked me to find him a snake pin. When I asked him why, he replied that at a city meeting a community activist called him a snake. He wanted to respond to her as former Secretary of State Madeline Albright had with Saddam Hussein, that is by wearing a snake pin on his lapel.

In 1994, the Iraqi press called Albright, who was then U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, a serpent.  Later that year, when meeting with Iraqi officials, Albright wore a vintage snake pin (circa 1860) as a way to send a message.

From that point on, Albright used jewelry not just to make a fashion statement, but a political statement as well.

“The idea of using pins as a diplomatic tool is not found in any State Department manual or in any text chronicling American foreign policy,” writes Albright in her book Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat’s Jewel Box. “The truth is that it would never have happened if not for Saddam Hussein.”

Liberty Brooch, 1997

Over the years, Albright collected hundreds of pins. Last fall, Albright’s collection, including the infamous snake pin, was exhibited for the first time at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design (MAD). The exhibition examined Albright’s collection for its historic significance as well as the expressive power of jewelry and its ability to communicate through a style and language of its own.

 “Secretary Albright’s approach to collecting focuses on the communicative value of jewelry, which often transcends its material worth,” said Museum Director Holly Hotchner. “The pins in this exhibition have all been used as non‐traditional tools for political negotiation and personal expression.”

Last month, Read My Pins: The Madeline Albright Collection exhibition opened at The William J. Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, Arkansas where it will remain on view until June. The exhibition will then travel to Washington, DC this summer and to Indianapolis, Indiana this fall. 

 “I found that jewelry had become part of my personal diplomatic arsenal,” Secretary Albright has said. “While President George H.W. Bush had been known for saying ‘Read my lips,’ I began urging colleagues and reporters to ‘Read my pins.'”

Listen as former Secretary of State Madeline Albright talks about her pin collection at The Clinton Library last month by clicking the video below.



  1. Jewelry Making Tools said,

    How fascinating! That’s incredible how one slight touch, like a pin, could make history. It’s something I never considered when making my own jewelry, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if my jewelry was bought by such an iconic figure!


  2. Vice Mayor Valerie Newman said,

    As a commissioner in South Miami working with Mr. Feingold our city attorney, I have been fascinated by this story. I have begun a collection of pins to signal intent.
    I have a cowboy boot which if I am wearing someone is likely to get the boot….I have a collection of bees because we stepped into a hornet’s nest.


    • onlylauren said,

      I love it… using pins as a diplomatic tool, right there in the City of South Miami 🙂 Thanks for the comment and visiting the blog. I hope to see you again soon.


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