Recently author Jacqueline Rehmann and I chatted–not about costume jewelry–but about the books we have collected about costume jewelry.
Jackie, I know you have been collecting costume jewelry for over 40 years while I, on the other hand, am a relative newcomer, beginning in earnest only when I became a dealer. What are some of the reasons you think it is important for collectors to have a reference library?
Well, Cindy, one of the most important things any costume jewelry collector can do is to build a good reference library. One reason collectors like to have good reference books available is to better understand the history of their collections.
This is vital as a seller as well when customers are depending on you to have the appropriate information about the pieces you are listing. I know that some of my favorite books present jewelry by decade, showing trends and influences like Roseann Ettinger’s books Popular Jewelry 1840-1940 and Popular Jewelry of the 60s, 70s and 80s (Schiffer).
Jody Shields’ book All that Glitters (Rizzoli International Publication) is a classic that presents jewelry by decade as well and is one of my all-time favorites. Today many excellent books are available including those with copies of vintage ads, patents, and interviews with vintage costume jewelry designers and manufacturers “from the day”.
While you can’t go wrong with any of Julia Carroll’s books—they are all excellent, her book Collecting Costume Jewelry 202: The basics of Dating Jewelry, 1935-1980 (Collector Books) is a great resource for dating jewelry. There are also a few excellent websites that are treasure troves of vintage ads, past research articles, and signatures as well as lists of reference books.
There are many Pinterest boards too that have been devoted to vintage jewelry advertising. A quick search on the internet using key words such as “vintage jewelry ads” or “vintage jewelry education” is sure to lead to hours of interesting research. I also keep my eyes open at flea markets and yard sales for vintage Vogue, Ladies Home Journal and other magazines that I purchase for the ads which I file by manufacturer for future reference.
A second reason for building a good reference library is to learn to identify items that are not signed. One popular type of jewelry, rhinestone pieces made by Delizza and Elster (also known as Juliana) are known by their design characteristics, rather than signatures on the pieces themselves. A recently published book, Juliana Jewelry, The Last Generation by Paula Knutson and Karla Wacker, reveals that more pieces than we ever imagined were made by D&E.
Knowing the design characteristics of Juliana is a requirement for listing D&E jewelry on Ruby Lane, so shop owners should invest in this area if they will be carrying these pieces. Fortunately, there are also Juliana educational websites. And there are other designers that are unsigned as well such as early Miriam Haskell. I rely heavily on Cathy Gordon’s detailed images on her research website whenever I think I have an unsigned Haskell.
Two of my favorite books are Miriam Haskell Jewelry (Cathy Gordon and Sheila Pamfiloff, Schiffer) for its excellent photos on Haskell design characteristics, especially the unsigned pieces and Ann Pitman’s Juliana Jewelry Reference Book Delizza and Elster (Collector Books)—quite expensive now in the secondary market but available as a PDF for about $20. If you love Juliana, get this book.
A third reason for a good library is the knowledge base it provides. Education is the reason I began my own library. I knew I liked vintage costume jewelry, but I didn’t KNOW anything about vintage costume jewelry. When I started selling I wanted books that taught me the basics—things like jewelry terminology, stone shapes, settings, basic info on manufacturers and the like. I found that the more I learned, the fewer mistakes I made in my listings. For instance—I learned that anything with a copyright symbol was after 1955 and that aurora borealis finishes on stones dated a piece to after 1950. And I wanted books with lots and lots and lots of pictures!
As a collector, I look for great pictures that show as much of the jewelry as possible, including the backs. I just like the jewelry itself without any props. Sometimes I like to see the jewelry modeled, as it gives one a better idea of size and how the piece can be worn. But great pictures are just a part of it; I look for well researched text which tells me something about the history; when the pieces were made, who designed it, what materials were used, and any anecdotes or provenance about the items, if known. I am always looking for NEW information; some books simply recycle old information and provide nothing new. Experience has taught me that I like to use books organized by maker/manufacturer and/or themes (1940’s, rhinestone pieces, wood, plastics, etc.); these are usually my "go to" books because I can find information easily.
Although approaching this subject from opposite ends of the spectrum, we both agree—a reference library is crucial! So now that we know why, next time we will talk about how to choose great books and which books you think are essential, Jackie!
Cindy Brown is the owner of Cinsababe’s on Ruby Lane
Jacqueline Rehmann has loved costume jewelry since she was a child and is the author of two books on jewelry including Classic American Costume Jewelry Volumes I and II. She has also published numerous articles in a variety of antiques publications, as well as the former VFCJ journal and Costume Jewelry Collectors International (CJCI).