Gowns, swimsuits, dresses — all important pieces of the story of Miss America. But all pale before the crown.

The headgear that adorns each winner has gone through many alterations, from the odd, Statue of Liberty-esque crest that graced the first Miss America in 1921 to the star-spangled 1930s regalia to the current, four-pointed model.

One of the constants throughout much of the crown’s evolution: Schoppy’s, a Linwood store once based on Atlantic Avenue in Atlantic City.

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“It is easy to say that William Schoppy Inc. was always been involved with the making of the crown in earlier years,” states the Miss America Organization in its timeline of crown history — but not anymore.

“I’d love to get back involved if they need my help,” Schoppy’s manager Dave Talarico said of the pageant. “We’re more than willing to help.” Miss America is under contract with other suppliers, however, and Schoppy’s attempts at outreach since the pageant returned to Atlantic City have not borne fruit.

But no matter, the company takes pride in its time with the crown.

“It’s part of my family’s history, ever since I was 5 years old,” said Talarico, of Linwood. “Whole years could revolve around the pageant. It’s part of who we are. It’s part of what South Jersey is.”

The headgear that Talarico brought out from the back of his Linwood store glittered like a Miss America crown, sparkled like a Miss America crown, but it wasn’t really the Miss America crown — not quite.

It was a backup crown from about 12 years ago, Talarico said. If there had been some kind of emergency, this would have been the one placed on the head of a shocked, tearful victor.

Or, as he put it, “After Phyllis George kicked the 50th anniversary crown down the runway, my grandfather said they need a backup crown, pretty much.”

That pageant in 1970 was the first Talarico saw live. By then his grandfather, William Schoppy, had been involved with the crown since the 1930s, when Pageant Director Lenora Slaughter contacted Schoppy about taking over production.

“It took some finagling, but he did it,” Talarico said.

After a variety of styles, the design was formalized in the 1950s to the version still used today, with four points that stand for Style, Scholarship, Service and Success — “Though the labeling of those points was kind of done after the fact,” Talarico admitted.

The crown was made by Schoppy in-house for a while before several jewelers, including Adoro Jewelry and current crown producer KA Concepts, took over production, the Miss America Organization said, though for decades the company “added their Schoppy trademark to each crown” before the pageant.

“Basically, it’s cast white metal plated with sterling silver, decorated with rhinestones,” he said — 733 of them, according the Miss America organization.

“We just made one a year for them,” Talarico said. “Miss America got to keep her crown.”

Former Miss Americas have brought in their crowns for maintenance and repair — George’s was especially “mangled,” he said, after it fell off her head and she inadvertently kicked it — including soldering work and the replacement of stones.

“We have a pretty good relationship with ex-Miss Americas,” he added.

Talarico sifted through catalogs and pamphlets advertising Schoppy’s Miss America line, some dating back to the 1950s. Most of it was was assorted regalia available only to the national, state and local pageants themselves — crowns, pins, bracelets, trophies, even a scepter.

“The scepter wasn’t given to Miss America every year, so it got knocked around every pageant,” Talarico said.

There are still Miss America items available from the store, including coins, pins and the red “Miss America Bear” — “A one-hit wonder for us,” he said of the stuffed animal from 2000, when the crown was gold for the millennium.

Schoppy’s involvement with Miss America ended at or around the time the pageant moved to Las Vegas in 2004, and though it will return in 2013 the Miss America Organization is still under contract with vendors and suppliers carried over from the past decade, including KA Concepts. The organization did not comment on Schoppy’s request.

Still, Talarico said, “I’m glad it’s back, even though we don’t have a lot to do with it anymore. ... The pageant is such an important part of Atlantic City. I feel like it should have never left in the first place. All the local volunteers really missed it. I don’t understand it at all. I just want to say, the pageants’ history and mystique has been created by local Atlantic City and South Jersey people. They volunteered to make it a success over several decades.”

Atlantic City and Miss America “always belonged together,” he said. “Nobody can take that away from them. ... Maybe it’s the beginning of the way back. I still feel optimistic. I still feel they can regain their prominence together.”

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Five years as Ocean County bureau chief, 12 years as regional news editor (not continuous), 10 years as copy editor (also not continuous), all at The Press of Atlantic City.

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