ATTLEBORO - Everyone knows Attleboro is the Jewelry City, but less well known is the name the city made for itself in the making of souvenirs connected to important persons, places and things in the nation's history.
Pins, spoons, letter openers, medallions and charms are just some the items made by companies such as Bates & Klinke, Watson & Newell and the Robbins Co. in the first half of the last century that were distributed to tourists at a wide range of historical sites across the country.
In addition to being collectible, durable and in some cases valuable - such as the sterling silver spoons made by Watson & Newell - they represent a portal into the natural, political and cultural history of the country.
Each is a starting point for curious minds young and old who want find out more about a place, the people connected to it and its significance, said Carleton Legg, director of the Attleboro Area Industrial Museum, where the items are on display in a special exhibit.
Some of the sites for which mementos were made include Abraham Lincoln's birthplace, the Civil War prison camp in Andersonville, Ga., the Gettysburg battlefield, Mark Twain's boyhood home in Hannibal, Mo., the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. Capitol, Thomas Jefferson's home at Monticello, Washington's home at Mount Vernon, Andrew Jackson's home in Nashville, Tenn., the Pony Express Stables Museum and the Cripple Creek Colorado Gold Miners Camp.
Landmark souvenirs include those made for Mammoth Cave National Park, Great Smokey Mountains National Park, Yosemite National Park, Mount Rushmore National Monument, the Mount Washington Cog Rail Road and Death Valley.
Cultural sites or events city manufacturers helped commemorate were the 1939 World's Fair and the home of songwriter Stephen Foster.
The exhibit came about as the result of a request for information about the commemorative industry from an author writing a book about the 100th anniversary of the nation's forest service, Leanne Pisani, assistant museum director, said.
The author, Kenneth Barrick, wanted to know more about the companies that made souvenir pins and other items for the parks. As a result, workers hauled out the museum's extensive collection of commemoratives made in the city as well as information about the companies that made them.
"That's what got us spurred on, seeking these pieces out," she said. "So we thought we'd display them."
Attleboro figures prominently Barrick's chapter on souvenirs, but, unfortunately, publication of the book has been delayed until the market for coffee table-type books improves, Pisani said.
But meanwhile, area residents can see the items for themselves and ask questions of Pisani and Legg about the various pieces which millions of Americans who visited these sites from all over the nation bought, collected and treasured for years.
Legg points out that today, a souvenir is often a T-shirt or a baseball cap; 100 years ago, more durable items were made and were meant to last.
"These were fine pieces of work," he said. "These have value, they were worth something. They are not novelty pieces, they are precious stuff."
If you go ...
WHAT: American Souvenirs: Made in Attleboro
WHERE: Attleboro Area Industrial Museum, 42 Union St., Attleboro
HOURS: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays
ADMISSION: Free, but donations accepted.
GUIDED TOURS: $4 adults, $3 children
GEORGE W. RHODES can be reached at 508-236-0432, at email@example.com and on Twitter @SCAttleboro.