Saturday, October 3, 2009

How Do You Know About That Stuff? - Part 2 - Costume Jewelry

When I first started listing costume jewelry in my shop about ten months ago, I knew very little about it.  I had collected for years, and, had a decent generic knowledge about time periods and materials.  As I started to sell more and more of it, however, I realized I needed to educate myself for both my own sake, and, for the benefit of my customers.  Over the past several months I have increased my knowledge ten-fold.  I still learn something new every day, and, make mistakes every week.  I do feel much more confident, however, about selecting and describing jewelry, so, I decided to share some of my resources with you here.

Julia C. Carroll is someone who has done a LOT of work for you already!  Her books are large, comprehensive and full of detailed photos and information.  Her writing is very easy to read, and, she includes great resources like glossaries and charts that show designers and key patents.  I received this pair of books as a birthday gift from my dad over the summer and I immediately read each one cover to cover.  It took me a while, but, it was well worth the effort.  My only complaint about these books was that I wished there were more photos of the backs of pieces; especially to help date clasps on early brooches and necklaces.  Don't you know, the next book in the series is about to be released and it focuses on just that topic!  Click here to follow a link to her site and to see the next book ready for release!  (Dad, take note for Christmas 2009.)

There are also many specialty books out there for researching specific types or makers.

And if your budget does not allow you to purchase a big new glossy volume right now, here's a great little book I picked up last spring for $5.00 at a local used book store.  Although published in 1990, it is full of great information about jewelry design by decade; from the 1920's through the 1980's.  It also has some very comprehensively written histories of some important costume jewelry companies, and, in addition to the black and white photos throughout, has a nice section of glossy color plates in the center. 

Some resources that these authors rely on consistently for information include vintage magazines and trade periodicals.  Vintage magazines can be found on-line, at flea markets or, if you are really lucky, at yard sales or estate sales.  They are very popular right now, so, determine the price you are willing to pay and move fast if you see one in your range!  Trade publications include industry registers, wholesale catalogues, trade catalogues, brochures, promotional pieces, etc.  These are also sought after by researchers and historians, but, they are often difficult for sellers to define so can be found on-line with some digging.  Also, because sometimes sellers do not realize their value, if you are lucky to find one at an antique store or used book store, they may not be so costly as the magazines.  They are more scarce, however, as they were more likely to be discarded and often the value of them is not seen by those who may come across them.

I am so lucky that someone else did not snap-up this Fashion Accessories catalogue from January 1945 before me on eBay!  I forgot to bid on it the first time I'd found it, then, the seller dropped the price and I was lucky to get it on the relist!  A trade publication targeted to retailers, it primarily focuses on hats, gloves and other small accessories.  The photo layouts include great snapshots of the fashion trends of the times, however, and jewelry companies likely paid to have their newest products included and credited.  I especially love the Trifari clip earring used as a second, smaller clip in the middle image of the top page.  Also, the stylistic contrast between the Mexican silver dramatic architectural choker worn by one model, right beside the detailed Fashioncraft lanyard worn by the next model in the bottom layout is a wonderful illustration of the incredible differences in jewelry styles in the mid 1940's.

A 1958 wholesale gift catalogue features mid-priced costume jewelry from manufacturers often seen referenced, like Karen Lynne, as well as manufacturers I cannot find referenced in any of my books, like Francine.  These layouts are wonderful to help identify unmarked pieces and, to simply familiarize yourself with styles of a certain time period.  Vintage advertisements are typically reproduced in reference books, and, there are many people who post vintage advertisements on the web for reference; click here for an especially comprehensive collection.

This is one page of my favorite two-page spread in the catalogue.  Evans primarily manufactured enameled metal giftware; desktop items, vanity items, lighters, etc.  They did, however also have this small jewelry line.  I love the abstract moderne shapes and patterns!  Also, the highly saturated colors of the enamel and the advertisement are so 1958!  I've never seen one of these pieces in person, but, I will certainly keep my eyes open for one!

Of course, no blog post of mine would be complete without referencing Flair Magazine!  I was so pleased to find this Eisenberg Ice ad in my most recent ($5!) eBay Flair find....

There are many many comprehensive web sites out there.  I will leave you with a list of links to those that I find especially helpful:

On-Line Resources
  1. Illusion Jewels.  Incredibly comprehensive.  Great articles, photos, designer info, vintage advertisements, vintage catalogues, a fabulous and detailed encyclopedia of marks and even items for sale!  If you go anywhere, go here first.  
  2. N & N.  This site is primarily designed to sell, but, it has fabulous photos and a nice search feature.  They only carry items in immaculate condition so it is wonderful if you just want to see what something looks like in pristine form!  And if you've got the cash, they are certain to have something for you!
  3. Vintage Costume Jewels.  Within this site is a very comprehensive and constantly updated section on fakes and forgeries.  It is a terrific resource if you are new to collecting; especially if you might be interested in investing in one of the more frequently forged artists like Miriam Haskell.  Worth a look to see what's out there and for tips on what to avoid on certain on-line sites.
  4. Juliana Jewelry. If you love the colorful bling produced by DeLizza and Elster in the early 1960's - known as Juliana - then this is the site for you!.  Beautiful photographs of both "verified" and lookalike pieces with terrific resources on known construction details of these pieces which were never marked, aside from a paper hang tag.  Experts in the line, along with Mr. DeLizza himself provide the verifications, making this an invaluable resource to collectors.  
  5. Morning Glory.  This site is incredibly comprehensive and has terrific, searchable categories that are useful if you are researching a piece.  Of course, all their goodies are for sale so be forewarned!
  6. Jewelry Patent Project and Jewelry both provide comprehensive and searchable databases of jewelry patents. 
  7. Ruby Lane.  This site has a nice selection of costume jewelry for research and purchase.  Because sellers are all individual "shops" you need to be mindful of descriptions of the items.  Like eBay and Etsy, anyone who posts here can post any ideas they have about a piece, so, be sure you know the seller before accepting information as fact.  Sellers like this site because it is possible to see what an item sold for.  This is always useful in pricing your items for sale.  I don't think this information is available as a searchable function within the site, but, if you track an item you can see if it sells,  and, final sale prices for Ruby Lane items often come up within Google searches.
  8. Collecting Costume Jewelry 101 is the site managed by Julia C. Carroll, the author of the reference books I discussed at the beginning of the post.  She has some tips and advice on her site, as well as information about her books.  I believe the site is still under development, so, check back as she updates it.


  1. wow, it's so great you are willing to share all your resources with us.. :-) May I also suggest the library? great books for free perusal.

  2. Yes, the library is a GREAT suggestion! I am ashamed to have omitted it! (Many librarians in my family...)


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