Jewelry Pin: Peace Sign Symbol

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The peace sign was originally commissioned by the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (C.N.D.) and created by artist Gerald Holtom. Completed on February 21, 1958, it was first used publicly during the Easter Week March from London to the Atomic Weapons Research facility at Aldermaston, England. The symbol itself is a combination of the semaphor signals for the letters "N" and "D", standing for "Nuclear Disarmament." In the semaphor sugnal system, the letter "N" is formed by a person holding two flags in an upside-down "V," with their arm outstetched at about a 45 degree angle from their body. The letter "D" is formed by holding one flag pointed staright up and the other pointed straight down. These two signals superimpoosed over each other form the shape of the peace symbol.

A conscientious objector to war, who had worked on a farm in Norfolk, England during the Second World War, Holtom later recounted to Hugh Brock, editor of C.N.D.'s publication, Peace News, explaining the genesis of his idea in greater depth:
"I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representation of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya''s peasant befire the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it."

The peace symbol flag first became known in the U.S. later in 1958 when Albert Bigelow, a pacifist protester, sailed his small boat outfitted with the C.N/D. banner, into the vicinity of a nuclear bomb test site. The opeace symbol button was imported into the U.S. in 1960 by Philip Altbach, a freshman at the University of Chicago, who traveled to England to meet with British peace groups as a delegate for the Student Peace Union (S.P.U.). Altbach purchased a bag of the peace symbol buttons while in England, and brought them back to Chicago, where he convinced the S.P.U. to reprint the button and adopt it as its symbol. Over the next four years S.P.U. reprinted and sold thousands of the buttons on college campuses throughout the U.S. Since then, scores of versions of the peace symbol have been printed and reprinted, with print runs going into hundreds of millions during the next forty-five years by organisations the world over. It's graphic power derives from its complete simplicity: anyone can draw it. (when drawing it, always extend the vertical line from the top of the circle to the bottom, so it does not look like the trademark for the Mercedes-Benz automobile company, to which it has no relation. The symbol is not copyrighted nor owned by anyone or organisation. In computer unicode the peace symbol is U+262E: ☮ However, many browsers will not have a font that can display it.

Over the years, beginning during the polarized era of the American War in Vietnam (1961-1975), the ultra-conservative, opro-war John Birch Society, concocted a disinformation program in the U.S. falsely claiming the peace sign to be a satanic, anti-Christ symbol. This was a well-organised effort to defame and marginalise the growing use and widespread popularity of the symbol. Still today, we hear from customers who have only heard the false story put forth by the Birch Society through churches in the U.S. during the Vietnam War. The power of myth can be enduring. Finally, a book with the detailed history of the true origin of the peace symbol will be published by the National Geographic Society, in April 2008, to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the peace symbol. We will carry the book. You may pre-order the book through us. (see our Books for Teaching section of this website).