Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Researching Vintage Costume Jewelry

So I thought I would write a little bit about researching costume jewelry. When I first started selling jewelry, it was a bit of a fluke. I purchased a large box (the kind a ream of paper comes in) FULL of costume jewelry from the 40’s & 50’s from an estate. Started throwing it up a piece at a time on ebay with no reserve and was just amazed at the prices it was bringing. Decided, hmmm, I had better check into this jewelry thing and have never looked back!

I will break this down in a couple of posts, since there are so many types of costume jewelry to consider. This first one is for finding general information.

Whether you are a collector or dealer of costume jewelry or you just have one piece you are trying to research, the very first place you should go is Jewel Collect

This is an email list comprised of dealers, book authors and collectors from all over the world. Run by Liz Bryman of Liz Jewel has run this group since 1995, it is an extremely active list and you will learn more from this combined group of people than anywhere else in the world. The list is free to join, if you want to become a Registered Member, there is a small annual fee.

There are other groups out there as well that do a good job – JewelryRing is a Yahoo! Group that has a ton of information, as well as a COW (Chat of the Week) discussing a specific designer each week.

JewelryTalk is another Yahoo! Group and they offer a Monthly Newsletter that is full of good tips and information.

Just a little nosing around on the net and you are sure to find a jewelry group that is a perfect fit for you. There are ones for specific designers, ones for advertising items for sale and ones for just talking about jewelry. Some generate a ton of messages, others have less activity – it just depends on what fits you!

The first thing I do when I see an interesting piece of costume jewelry is flip it over to see if there is a signature. While there are many beautiful pieces of unsigned costume jewelry, a signature can tell you a lot about a piece. Once you learn what to look for, that little mark can tell you not only who manufactured it, but sometimes even how old it is and who designed it. There are a number of sites with explanations of marks online, a favorite is Jane Clarke's Morning Glory Antiques. Be sure and explore the rest of her site for all kinds of great research information, images and even vintage magazine jewelry ads.

Elaine Kula’s Antiquing Online has a good designer database as do Dotty Stringfield and Pat Seal at Illusion Jewels.

If you can’t find your mark among these three sites, it may be a more obscure piece. You can try posting your mark to the Illusion Jewels Mystery Marks page and someone may be able to help identify it –

There are a ton of books on Costume Jewelry, from very general ones to extremely specific ones covering only a single designer. A couple that are good general starting books for any jewelry library are –

Warman's Jewelry (3rd Edition)

Collectible Costume Jewelry: Identification & Values

Costume Jewelry Identification and Price Guide (Confident Collector)

Costume Jewelry: A Practical Handbook & Value Guide

A caution about pricing. “Book” pricing and values are typically ones that exist in a perfect world. If the piece is in pristine condition and sold in just the right venue at just the right time, that is the price you may get for it. But prices fluctuate constantly, depending on the condition of the piece, the market in general and what is “hot” at the time you are trying to sell. So take any value listed in a book with a grain of salt, odds are that is not the amount you would get selling a piece in the open market. Ebay is still the standard on what a specific item might sell for, at least for wholesale pricing. If you have identified the designer and hopefully the design name, or at least a general description, you can research retail prices online at jewelry websites as well. What you should NOT do is expect a site owner to do the research for you and value your piece. The website owners have spent years and countless dollars for books, seminars, etc…to research designers and pricing and have worked hard to gain the knowledge that they have. Many will point you in the right direction if you nicely ask for help, but if you email and say “I got this from my grandma, how much is it worth?” you are just as likely to be ignored. Especially if you don't include a picture! If you don’t want to do the research yourself and sincerely want a genuine appraisal, then be prepared to pay for one.

Along with the costume jewelry craze, came a lot of reproductions from people trying to cash in on it. Whether it is bakelite, Miriam Haskell, Trifari, Juliana or many others – if it is a popular, collected piece of jewelry, it is probably being reproduced. Learning to spot fakes is time consuming and sometimes you are blinded to obvious signs of it being a reproduction – we ALL want to find that great hidden deal on ebay or at a live auction. Unless you are really confident in your ability to spot a fake, you should avoid dropping a ton of money on a piece. If you do wind up buying a reproduction (and pretty much everyone has), don’t despair, some are very well done and much more affordable than the real thing, just enjoy the beauty for what it is and hang on to it as a reminder.

Bobye Syverson of The Enchanted Castle maintains photos of over 100 of the most commonly reproduced costume jewelry HERE

So that should get you started in general. Next post we will look at some specific notable jewelry designers as well as some hints on researching unsigned pieces. In the meantime, here are some pictures of some of MY favorite costume jewelry –

Sunday, September 28, 2008

An Update

Well, just updated the site with some new goodies HERE and thought I would share. There is something for every taste, whether you like good old Victorian or more contemporary pieces. Here is a little preview to tempt you to go take a peek - thank you if you do - we appreciate it!