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!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Cool New Site

So, I rarely get too excited by new sites, but I must admit, I am fascinated by this one -

It is an image identification search engine, using pattern recognition algorithms to locate where an image is being used on the internet. You upload or paste the URL where an image is located and it gives you everywhere it is being used online, as well as similar ones. My first thought was it was a great way to track if anyone is using your photos without permission (I don't really care too much personally, as long as we are credited, but my son is a professional photographer and gets a little pissy about it). But the site lists other uses for it, too -

* Find out where and how an image appears online
* Find websites containing more information about an image
* Attribute an image to an author or source
* Find high resolution versions of an image
* Research the usage and placement of editorial or stock images
* Find modified or edited versions of an image
* Research corporate imagery or brand usage online
* Track the popularity or distribution of an image online

Right now it is in Beta, so only about half the images I searched came back with any results, but I have had fun playing with it and have a feeling that this is going to be a site to watch. I am not really geeky enough to even pretend to understand how it works, but am just geeky enough to know it is very cool technology!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Backing the Underdog

Well, in addition to our website, we started offering our items two months ago on GoAntiques. This week, however, we received an email announcing that GoAntiques has been sold to something called the WorthPoint Corporation. Sounds disturbingly similar to the Hanso Foundation from the TV series Lost, which I freely admit I am addicted to. Not a very descriptive name, but as long as we don’t have to try and sell jewelry on an island in an alternative reality, it is cool, I guess.

I did not think it would affect us much, until we got another email yesterday, announcing that they were going to start their own auction platform to go up against eBay. That IS pretty exciting. I have been a long time eBay user – sold my first item there in 1997. I have watched eBay go from a revolutionary buying and selling venue, to well, whatever it is today. eBay has managed to systematically obliterate what was once a true global selling community. As a seller, I stopped using eBay as a viable sales site a long time ago, going from Gold Powerseller status listing over 100 items a week to occasionally throwing a listing or two up as an advertising method to drive traffic to our site. Why? eBay slowly but surely destroyed what made them so wildly successful in the first place. They lost track of their roots and refused to listen to the opinions of their users – buyers and sellers both. Their customer service is non-existent. They decimated the feedback system by not allowing sellers to leave negative feedback for deadbeat buyers. They manipulated fees – at one point announcing they were lowering fees when in reality they were raising them on the back end which was an insult to the intelligence of sellers all over the world. As both a seller and a shareholder, I have had it with eBay. From what I have read online, it doesn’t matter anyway, as eBay has a “secret” plan to change their format anyway, at least according to this writer.

Over the years, I have watched many other auction sites try and fail to take on the monolith that is eBay, so I am trying not to get too excited. But I truly believe that eBay this time has alienated enough of their sellers that GoAntiques and WorthPoint have a shot. I wish them well and will try and support them in their effort. I hope you will, too!

Enough of my rant, here is some pretty jewelry from our latest site update to look at and if you are in the Baltimore area next week, come visit my partner Beverly (Clayton Antiques) at the Baltimore Antique Show!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Researching Antique Silver Jewelry

So I figured it was about time I put something in this blog besides “Please come look at our jewelry!”

I do hope to make this blog a viable resource for people researching antique jewelry instead of just a vehicle for self promotion. There just do not seem to be enough hours in the day lately, but I am going to do my best to update it with good information more often. Although I will not completely give up “Come look at our jewelry!” - I DO think we have cool stuff : )

I thought I would start out with some of the available books and online resources available to research silver jewelry. I love silver jewelry and through the years almost every fine designer has worked in silver - from Faberge to Tiffany & Co. to David-Andersen. Typically (though not always) pieces are more affordable than gold, yet done with as much attention to detail as the finest gold or platinum. From the funky stuff sold by artisans at street fairs to the highest priced Faberge tiara, there is a charm and beauty to silver that is priceless. A couple of my favorite books I use to research a piece are –

Fred Rezazadeh’s - Collectible Silver Jewelry: Identification and Value Guide
This is a great book, with beautiful pictures and good examples and overviews of silver jewelry from many eras, broken down by country with lots of information on marks. If I had to choose just one silver resource book, it would be this one.

Dorothy T. Rainwater’s - American Jewelry Manufacturers
Is an indispensable book for the jewelry collector. It is a must have no matter what style/era/metal you may collect.

Dale Reeves Nicholls & Robin Allison - Antique Enameled Jewelry

Chock full of eye candy for the enamel lover, this wonderful book addresses both gold and silver enameled jewelry. Great information on the major jewelers from the turn of the century to more modern ones, the pictures are just incredible and will have you looking for enamels everywhere you go.

Penny C. Morrill & Carole A. Berk - Mexican Silver: Modern Handwrought Jewelry & Metalwork
If you love Mexican silver, this book is another must have. Again, the photographs here are the star, but there is good information on the major and most collected tallers along with lots of marks to help you research some of the lesser known ones. I begged for this as my birthday present one year from my husband and have never regretted it!

Jackson's Silver and Gold Marks of England, Scotland & Ireland
This one is great to help date UK silver, along with being able to attribute it to a maker.

Online resources are varied and many, but one of the first places I start is –
I cannot praise this site enough, it is an amazing resource for silver of all types and is well-researched and easy to use. I pretty much start here first and rarely go away disappointed. There are photos of over 2,500 silver marks, hallmarks & maker's marks in categories of American Silver Marks, Gorham Date Marks, Tiffany Marks & Dates, British Hallmarks, Foreign Silver Marks, Georg Jensen Marks, David-Andersen Marks, and Mexican Maker's Marks. It also has sections on the history of silver, caring for silver and even Registry and patent dates and ring size converter!

Chicago Silver
is where I go when I think the piece dates from the Arts & Crafts era. They have a great database of makers with pictures of marks, as well as an extensive list of research links. There also is a drool worthy collection of jewels – I love Arts & Crafts pieces!

Online Encyclopedia of American Silver Marks
Has a good database of American silver marks, with a great “Unknown Marks” section where you can post a picture of a mark you can’t figure out.

M. Schon
Marbeth Schon is the editor of “Modern Silver” magazine, as well as the author of two books on Modernist Silver, so is the first place I go when I have a piece of Modernist silver. She also has a “Mystery Marks” section, as well as a link to Christie Romero’s “Basic Hallmark Identification” – a must read for those just starting out or a good memory refresher when confronted with a new mark.

Spratling Silver
The definitive Spratling Silver Resource on the web, including history, hallmarks and discussion forum!

So there you go – that should get you started on your research. If anyone has any questions or a specific piece they are trying to research, don’t hesitate to ask for help! I love trying to figure out a mystery or will get you pointed in the right direction.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Travels and an Update

It has been awhile since I had a chance to update this blog. We have both been traveling – we were at the Brimfield Antique Show in May and then Beverly went straight to the Las Vegas Antique Jewelry Show. It was my first time at Brimfield – oh my goodness! What fun THAT was! Even if I had not bought a thing (and of course, that was not the case, I bought way too much) just seeing everything was a blast. I met a lot of people, ate too much fair food and wore myself out walking. I can’t wait until I get a chance to go back : )

Beverly always sets up at the Vegas show and that is on my list to go to someday as well. Think I will have to really save up my pennies, though – it is a showcase for some of the best antique jewelry in the world. Worth seeing even if I won’t be able to buy a lot.

Beverly will set up next at the New York Jewelry Show from July 25 – 28. If you are in the area, be sure and stop by and say hello – she will be in Booth 202 as Clayton Antiques.

We did manage to sneak in an update to Perfect Jewels and there are lots of new goodies to see. In addition to some great antique jewelry items, including plique enamels, Austro Hungarian, a killer huge 3 carat natural ruby ring, gold in quartz, Tiffany, a to die for Whiteside & Blank enamel locket and an awesome Victorian carved coral dog bracelet, there is also a good selection of fine objects we just could not resist! You will find everything from a screaming Art Deco parrot chrome corkscrew and bottle opener to a very fine verre de soie glass Steuben perfume bottle.

Hope you will pop in and peek when you have a second! Start HERE to get right to the new stuff and thank you as always for visiting Perfect Jewels!