You are inquisitive and want to learn more about the vintage costume jewelry in your collection. But which book should you buy if you live in the UK?
There are hundreds of reference works to choose from, and most were written in the US by authors who have a collection in the US. How specific is that to us in the UK?
So here is a short guide of 12 books to give a good overview of knowledge from the Victorian period to the 1980’s and beyond. Actually there are more than 12 books here because some authors have written more than one useful book.
This guide should cover general unsigned pieces and some signed jewelry. However, apart from Wilson and Butler, there are no specific books ever written for the majority of mass-produced signed costume jewelery made by British companies or made for the British market.
1. Costume Jewellery: A Collector’s Guide by Caroline Behr (Miller’s) (ISBN 1-84000-373-1)
A good place to start with a general overview and timeline of Victorian, Art Deco, Crafts, 1950s, Czech, Austrian and some designers. Easy to read and with good photos. Handbag size and ideal for reading on the train
2. Vintage Costume Jewellery: A Passion for Fabulous Fakes by Carol Tanenbaum (ISBN 1-85149-511-8)
A must buy and has the timeline with extended info. Contains Art Nouveau, Birmingham Silver, Machine, Introduction to Bakelite and Plastic, and a Glossary. Lots of good photos but none of the backs (a must for identification but rarely found in a book)
3. Jewelry Collecting Secrets: How to BUY MORE for Less! by Leigh Leshner (ISBN 0-89689-180-1)
Again a timeline and overview through history, but an absolute gem of a book because it shows the backs and mechanisms or finds essential to dating jewelry. This book looks at style and materials with specific photographs. Ball jewelry, faux plastic, retro, manufacturing process, Scandinavian, cameos. Mostly brief information, but a very good visual guide. US Book with $ Price Guide (2005). Another fabulous book to read on the bus or train as it fits in your pocket.
4. Jewels and Jewelery Clare Phillips (V&A) (ISBN 978-1-85177-535-4) or Jewellery: The Decorative Arts Library edited by Janet Swarbrick (ISBN 1-902328-13-2)
I couldn’t decide which of these British books was the most informative. So I recorded both
Jewels and Jewelery includes materials, a timeline of styles, and manufacture and distribution. Photographs of museum and pieces. Contains silver filigree, donut iron, beads, glass and enamel. Faith jewellery, cut steel, mourning and love jewellery, not just jet or bog oak. Lalique, Ashbee, Liberty Cymric, Wilson, Gaskins and a pre-Victorian timeline to the 2000s.
Jewelry is a visual celebration of the world’s great jewelry making techniques. From antiquity to 1989. Full of information and photos with more specific references to jewelery in the UK.
5. Popular Jewelry of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s by Roseann Ettinger (ISBN 0-7643-2470-5)
Three decades of jewelry showcasing fashion and political trends that have influenced the designs. US Book with $ Price Guide (2006) Most of the vintage jewelry found is from this period, which makes reading this book invaluable. Well illustrated with pieces recognizable here in the UK. Including mod jewelry, eastern influence, pop art, novelty, revival pieces, love beads, faux metal, jade, plastic, wood and plaster. The author has written other reference works from other decades that are worth investing in.
6. Collecting Art Plastic Jewelry by Leigh Leshner (ISBN 0-87349-954-9)
Bakelite is rarely found in jewelry in such quantities and in such variety as in the United States. It is useful to recognize and see the variety of designs that have used plastic or other materials. Celluloid, plexiglass, thermoset, thermoplastic, laminated, carved back are more common here in the UK and are easily overlooked. This book will make you see plastic accessories in a whole new light. Does not contain enough information on Galalith, the early type of plastic more common in Britain. Read books about Jakob Bengel.
7. Costume Jewelry Collecting 303: The Downside Exploring costume jewelry from the back of Julia C Carroll. (ISBN 978-1-57432-626-0)
This is the book that gets to the basics that is a must have knowledge of vintage costume jewelry. The various components, including the stones and cabochons, which can be invaluable in dating and hardware clues that can be overlooked. Cameos, rhinestones, autographed jewelry and photographs of the signatures, art glass, pin backs and much more. I look through this book and always find something I hadn’t noticed before. One of my most valuable books in terms of knowledge. Also has a department of designers including Jonette Jewelry Co (JJ) not always found in other books. US Book of $ Price Guides (2010)
Julia Carroll has produced other books in this series including Costume Jewelry 101 and 202. Both books are worth checking out.
8. Balls, Buttons and Beads: The Heritage of Bohemia by Sibelle Jargstorf (ISBN 0-88740-467-7)
This is another gem of a book; as we had imported a plethora of vintage jewelry from Bohemia to this country up until WWII and then in smaller quantities thereafter. Still to be found and collected, but prices are increasing. Sections on buttons, filigree, glass beads, plastic and glass cameos, 1930s, enamel and most importantly history. After reading this book it has helped me date and identify cameos, filigree brooches and colorful rhinestone jewelry from the 1920’s and 30’s. Hand made and machine made dress clips and the different finishes used.
Sibylle Jargstorf has written other books on beads and glass that are invaluable.
9. Cameos: A Pocket Guide by Monica Lynn Clements and Patricia Rosser Clements (ISBN 0-7643-1728-8)
Although there are many books on cameos, this little guide is full of cameos made from materials other than shells. Shells are the most collected cameo jewelry, but they had no appeal for me. I wanted to know more about the glass, plastic, metal, and gemstone cameos I was finding. How to identify the materials used and when they were made. This book contains a wealth of photographs covering a vast amount of cameos in these materials and more importantly recognizable to the UK market. US Book with $ Price Guide (2003) For more detailed information on jewelry with cameos, obtain one of Anna M Miller’s editions of Cameos: Old and New.
10. Victorian Jewelery by Margaret Flowers (no ISBN)
Not a book about vintage, but antique jewelry, which is now out of print but is still available in several editions. First published in 1951, but definitely worth reading. Insight into the Victorian influences and to see Revival pieces. Birmingham’s role in the mass production of jewelry. This book is often cited as influential in later books. Has the Victorian period in 3 parts and each section has the most commonly used motifs of that period. Made me laugh at times at the author’s sheer snobbish attitude, but it’s worth reading. Few photos and mostly in black and white which are not so clear.
11. Scottish Jewellery: A Victorian Passion by Diana Scarisbrick
Scottish jewelery can be found in abundance in Britain. From the mid 19th century, with increasing popularity, factories in Scotland and England were producing thousands of designs and pieces. This continued into the late twentieth century, mainly in Birmingham. This book is a good introduction. Not as detailed as it could have been and don’t expect any information on vintage Scottish souvenir jewelery from Miracle, The Ward Brothers, Exquisite or Hollywood. Pages with photos of brooches and bracelets made of agate and silver. But complicated by the photo instructions at the end of the book. A good beginner’s book for recognizing Scottish motifs.
12. Warman’s Jewelry: Fine & Fashion Jewelry 4th Edition by Kathy Flood (ISBN 1-4402-0801-8)
This is the 4th edition of Warman’s Jewelry Identification and Price Guide. So 3 more books to get and read. This edition covers two centuries of beads, figurines, cameos, Art Nouveau, Art Deco and plastic. The difference between Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian jewellery. Again page after page with jewelry photos. Good mix of fresh antique, vintage and modern jewellery. A mix of worldwide designs that I found suitable for the UK. US Book with $ Price Guide (2010)
This is just a brief reference of general vintage jewelry books which will change as more books come out or I discover out of print books. Then there are more specific books to read about Bengal, Avon, Sarah Coventry, Egyptian Revival jewelry, Haskell, D&E, Wilson & Butler and so many more
Despite this amount of information, I still feel like I’ve only scratched the surface. As said before, there is a lack of information about jewelry from Ciro Pearls, Sphinx, Exquisite, Miracle, Hollywood, Thomas Le Mott and many other companies that were born in the 20th century.
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