Bacchus, a meteorite, and that little dude from Trilogy of Terror

Also featuring Charles Dickens’ fruit knife and an extremely pretty Art Deco ring.

Hello all, and blessings on you these Winter Solstice holidays. Hail Sol Invictus! Tomorrow the sun is reborn!

Bacchus says hi and hopes you’ll all enjoy yourselves responsibly. The Roman god of wine and revelry is featured prominently above, in this incredible circa 1880 French bangle. The head is carved out of bloodstone and signed by the great 19th century sculptor, medalist and gem engraver Henri Auguste Burdy. Delicately etched grapes and leaves adorn Bacchus’ forehead, and rose-cut diamond scrolls frame his face and echo the scroll pattern of the pierced gold bracelet.


This cube of meteorite sold last week in the Sotheby’s “History of Science and Technology, Including Fossils, Minerals and Meteorites” auction in New York. It’s a Seymchan meteorite, which means it was discovered (in 1967) near the settlement of Seymchan in Russia. It’s been cut into a 2-inch-square cube, which shows off the color variations and patterns of the meteorite. I wish I could have afforded to buy it, so I could nonchalantly tell people that it “nicely displays the distinctive Seymchan juxtaposition of the rounded Olivine crystals against the straight Widmanstätten patterns of the iron-nickel.


Ok so I hope you don’t mind, but Dearest has officially become a newsletter about animals in chariots driving other animals. I recently showed you some micromosaics featuring a few variations on this theme, and now here is a carved agate brooch that depicts an owl in a chariot pulled by two cockerels. The agate is Italian and dates to the late 17th century, while the diamond-set gold brooch is from the 19th century.

The dealer, Wartski, believes this particular pairing is:

“…an allegory of the triumph of virtuous love over carnal love. The owl symbolises wisdom, whilst cockerels are considered to represent virility and sexual potency. Whilst the cockerels are pulling the chariot forward, it is the wise owl who determines its direction. It is also possible that the gem could be an allegory of light and dark, day and night and life and death. Cockerels have long been associated with the break of day when they crow and, therefore by extension, represent life. The owl by contrast is a symbol of the night time and death (as is so eloquently illustrated in the 17th Century painting Vanité à la chouette in The Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon, which depicts an owl sitting on a human skull next to an extinguished candle).”

Huh.


The color combo in this circa 1920s Art Deco ring is an absolute knockout. Set in platinum, the bright grassy greens of the calibre-cut demantoid garnets complement and accentuate the gorgeous play of color within the central 3.77 carat white opal. An additional 40 Old European-cut diamonds fill out the background. Just really stinking pretty.


Charles Dickens’ fruit knife sold for $5,000 last week in the Sotheby’s “Fine Books and Manuscripts, Including the Olympic Manifesto” auction in New York. Engraved “From K.D. to C.D. 1849,” it may have been a gift from his wife, Catherine Thomson “Kate” Dickens, and features a mother-of-pearl handle and Sheffield hallmarks for 1819.


From Western Europe, circa 1670, an exquisite high carat gold late Renaissance point cut diamond ring, with an enameled quatrefoil bezel and ornate shoulders. The underside is also elaborately enameled.

Lovely, but unfortunately it’s “price on request,” which we all know means “get back to your open sewer, peasant.”


Part Two of the Bonham’s TCM Presents ... 1939: Hollywood's Greatest Year auction also ended last week, and I’m only including this The Creature Walks Among Us (1956) poster because it makes me laugh every time I see it in my favorites. Get that poor Creature some glasses!


The perfect seal for the Vaguebooker who somehow manages to still be in your life. Circa the 1840s, this Victorian spinner fob sets a four-sided Neapolitan-ice-cream-colored agate seal within a high carat gold frame with a chased orange blossom detail. The agate spins to reveal a different carved intaglio message on each side, and the somewhat unusual message set includes: “Ricordati di me” (Remember me), “Alla giornata” (To the day, or possibly in the moment), “Le froid me chasse” (The cold drives/chases me) and “Suis je danc oublié” (Am I so forgotten?).

Really??? Did you really have to enshrine your drama in a SEAL?


This circa 1960s American ring marries sorcery with the Space Age, and features a faceted spherical citrine cradled in a scalloped gold setting.


Many of you of a certain age will probably (and vividly) remember Trilogy of Terror, the 1975 three-part Karen Black TV movie that saved the best for last. The third part of the trilogy (here’s a trailer) is an adaptation of a short story by Richard Matheson, and introduces us to Amelia, who has recently bought a “Zuni hunting fetish” doll for her anthropology professor boyfriend. Needless to say, shit happens, and suddenly poor Amelia’s tearing around her apartment trying not to be sliced to ribbons by a tiny warrior who keeps screaming “YAYAYAYAYAYAYAYA!” and hiding in lampshades. It’s the BEST.

Anyway, the original Zuni hunter puppet from the film was offered last week in the Profiles in History Hollywood: A Collector’s Ransom auction. It was estimated at $12-15k, and sold for $170k. I hope they put his belly chain back on.


That’s it for today, friends! I’m off work until Jan 6 and have an appointment with a very large stack of English police procedurals, so I’ll see you back here in a few weeks, once the auctions have started up again and stock has been refreshed. Enjoy your holidays, take care of yourselves and escape when you need to — and above all, thanks for following along on this odd little journey of mine. xxx


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Auction Season, Part 2!

Featuring a mechanical beetle, Theda Bara’s jeweled leg band, and the severed head of Orpheus

Hello friends, and welcome to Auction Season, Part Deux! First up, we have a gorgeous antique watch pendant in the form of a beetle (or cicada?). It’s the first lot in today’s “Jewels” auction at Phillips New York, and it’s 18k gold with cabochon garnet eyes and enameled wings embellished with rose-cut diamonds. The wings open to reveal a watch with a manual Swiss movement. There’s very little info included in the description (aargh), but it looks like the wing mechanism opens when the pin at the base of the pendant is pulled down. Check out the detailing on the underside! Gorgeous. (Note: It just sold at the top end of its estimate for $6,000.)


The Sotheby’s Magnificent Jewels auction is tomorrow in New York, and of course it features a ton of exquisite super high-end jewels — but to be honest, nothing’s really blowing me away. This blue ice cube is a pretty color, though, so feel free to go for it if you have a spare $6-8 million kicking around. The ice cube is actually “The Indian Blue,” a 7.55 carat fancy deep grayish blue diamond, and it’s flanked by two shield-shaped diamonds on an iridium-platinum alloy band.

There IS a nice little collection of Giuliano jewelry in the sale, though, so all is not lost. Carlo Giuliano was an Italian goldsmith who moved to London in the 1860s, where he created jewelry for various retailers in the city and eventually opened up his own shop. He was deeply influenced by the Renaissance, and created his own incredibly delicate and ornate Renaissance Revival and archaeological-style jewelry, with tons of intricate enameling and lovely gemstones. He died in 1895, but his two sons, Carlo Joseph and Arthur, continued the business until the start of the First World War. Their work is very similar to their father’s.

The circa 1870 necklace and earrings above are by Carlo. The fringe necklace features 19 beautifully carved bud-shaped garnets set in gold, with green and black enamel accents and seed pearls. The matching earrings have post backs that were added later.


Bonhams Los Angeles is holding a “TCM Presents ... 1939: Hollywood’s Greatest Year” auction tomorrow, and it includes loads of cool old Hollywood props, including Nick Charles’ trench coat from Song of the Thin Man and a Glinda the Good Witch test wand from The Wizard of Oz. There’s also Theda Bara’s adjustable beaded leg band from Cleopatra, and anyone who says they don’t want to try that thing on and sashay around for a while is LYING. From 1917, it’s gold metal with a central scarab flanked on either side by a serpent motif and nine suspended strands of ruby-colored beads. (The beads on the right of the photo are an additional 11 strands that have fallen off over time.) Be sure to click through to the lot to see a photo of Bara wearing the band.


The Sotheby’s “Spetchley — Property from the Berkeley Collection” live auction starts on December 11th, and includes this rock crystal “charmstone” pendant that may date to the 7th or 8th centuries (with a later 17th century silver mount). There are a whole bunch of “probably”s in the description, but in general, Sotheby’s thinks it’s probably Scottish, and notes its similarity to the Glenorchy Charmstone in Edinburgh’s National Museums of Scotland. The Glenorchy Charmstone is thought to date to the 7th or 8th centuries, and probably (there’s that word again) originated as a decorative element set into a reliquary. The Campbell clan of Glenorchy in Argyll later used the stone as a talisman to ward off witchcraft and illness, and Sir Colin Campbell wore it while fighting the Turks in the 15th century. So all of that leads Sotheby’s to speculate: “The Spetchley pendant may well be later in date but probably also came from a reliquary (given its shape). It is a tantalising theory that it too was once used as a charmstone in the distant past.” Hey, why not.


Christie’s London is holding an “Important Books, Atlases, Globes & Scientific Instruments from the Collection of Nico and Nanni Israel” auction on Wednesday, and it features this “highly important” medieval brass astrolabe quadrant from Southern France. An astrolabe is a hand-held circular map of the universe, and it can be used to make astronomical calculations and determine things like latitude and time of day via the placement of the sun and stars. (Please excuse the grade-school-level explanation, as I am emphatically NOT an astronomer.) An astrolabe quadrant is basically an astrolabe folded in half and then folded again, and it’s extremely rare. There are only eight recorded medieval astrolabe quadrants, and this is both the earliest and the only one in private hands that still has its original leather case. It was made sometime between 1291-1310.


The Christie’s “Magnificent Jewels” auction is also on December 11, and happily there’s a lot of my kind of nonsense alongside all the massive chunks of bling. There are a lot of pieces by Giuliano and his sons (click here to see one of their necklaces) included in this auction as well, and also a lovely collection of jewelry by René Lalique. Included in that collection is the “Thistle” suite above, which is a rarity because it’s very unusual to find a full matching set of Lalique jewelry.
The suite is circa 1900, and consists of a necklace, bracelet and brooch in 18k gold with dark blue, lavender and pink enameling, star sapphires and old and rose-cut diamonds. The necklace can be separated and worn as two bracelets.

This circa 1910 Art Nouveau tiara by French jeweler Henri Vever features old, single and rose-cut diamonds in a platinum bat-wing setting, and I require it to fulfill my Evil Disney Queen aspirations.

This is the “Blue Venus,” a 4” tall sculpture originally owned by Prince Felix Youssoupov (1887-1967), the flamboyant Russian aristocrat and co-conspirator in the murder of Rasputin. The Youssoupov family was wealthier than the Romanovs, and this Venus statue is one of the items Felix took with him when he and his wife Irina, the niece of Tsar Nicholas II, fled the Russian revolution in 1917. They eventually settled in France and were happily married for over 50 years, despite losing their remaining fortune to a combination of excessive generosity, an extravagant lifestyle and bad business decisions. Fun fact, though: In 1932 they sued MGM for libel, alleging that the film Rasputin and the Empress made it appear that the character based on Irina was seduced and raped by Rasputin. They won and were awarded a ton of money in damages, and this case set the precedent for the “The preceding was a work of fiction, any similarity to a living person…” disclaimer that we’re all so used to seeing at the end of American films.

ANYWAY, back to the sculpture. Circa the mid-19th century, it depicts the figure of Venus in carved sapphire, with a base of spinel encased in diamond-set silver. The underside of the piece features an intaglio of Medusa carved into the spinel.

Christie’s notes that “One version of the figurine’s history suggests that Catherine the Great gave the piece to her alleged lover, Prince Nikolai Youssoupov (Felix’s great-great-grandfather). However, no official records exist to confirm how the sculpture, eventually dubbed the Blue Venus, came into the Youssoupov family's collection.”

This gorgeous Art Nouveau brooch depicts Orpheus, the legendary poet and musician of Greek mythology, who — according to some versions of the myth — was torn to pieces by the Maenads because he wouldn’t join in their Dionysian orgies. His still-singing head was cast aside to float down the river, where it eventually came to rest on the shore of the isle of Lesbos and was buried by the Lesbians. The brooch features his profile in carved hardstone, in a gold setting dripping with old, single and rose-cut diamonds. It’s circa 1900 and attributed to the Parisian jeweler Gabriel Falguières.

Ugh, GIVE ME THIS. A circa 1915 Belle Époque sapphire and diamond ring, featuring a 30.14 carat untreated Kashmir sapphire set in platinum. It’s estimated at $3.5-5.5 million. It’s already in my size. *sob*


Christie’s London is holding a “Property from descendants of Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary” auction on December 13, and I absolutely adore this George V silver grenade table lighter from 1935. It was originally a wedding gift “to T.R.H. the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester, November 1935 from ‘the Royal nephews,’ Viscount Lascelles, later George Lascelles, 7th Earl of Harewood and The Hon. Gerald Lascelles.” Hallmarked for the Goldsmiths & Silversmiths Co. Ltd, it features an engraved “H” for Henry, Duke of Gloucester, set within a garter motif crowned with a prince’s coronet.


Ok everyone, I’m going to leave it at that, as it’s horrendously late and I’m probably speaking gibberish. I’m sure I’ve forgotten to include some treasures that are scattered among the 200 tabs I have open on my iPad, but if I rediscover something that demands sharing I will include it in a forthcoming email.


I hope you all have a wonderful week! Be kind to yourselves. xxx


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Auction Season, Part 1!

Featuring Vita Sackville-West’s emerald, Lewis Carroll’s second-best watch, and some vermouth oil cans

Hello, my friends! In case you missed the subject line, it’s AUCTION SEASON! And I have spent SO MUCH TIME scouring through a billion auctions in order to bring you some of my favorite random items. There’s a lot to cover, so I’ll split this post into two parts — first half today and the follow-up next Monday.

I’m actually going to start out today with a piece from an auction that took place last week, just because it’s pretty. Above is a circa 1850s Renaissance Revival hinged bangle by Parisian goldsmith and jeweler Froment-Meurice. It’s gold, with an open-work floral motif covered in pink, black and white enameling set with alternating pearls and sapphires, rose-cut diamonds and rubies accenting the borders. The bracelet was originally purchased by Carl Jacobsen (one of the co-founders of Carlsberg Beer), as a gift for his daughter, and it sold last week for above its $13-19k estimate at $22,533. [Also, did I only mention the Carlsberg thing so I could make sure you haven’t missed their brilliant ads starring Mads Mikkelsen? Probably!]


This is Lewis Carroll’s “second-best silver watch,” and it’s included in the Sotheby’s “English Literature, History, Children’s Books and Illustrations” online auction starting tomorrow (and on exhibit at Sotheby’s London through December 10). The watch is a silver half hunting Swiss watch, circa 1880. Half hunting (or hunter) cases have a little central glass window through which you can see the watch hands. The hours are enameled around the outside of the window, so that the owner can quickly view the time without having to open the case.

Carroll, whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, gave the watch to his nephew, Bertram Collingwood, and had it engraved with their initials. The “second-best silver watch” designation comes from his personal diary notes for May 1, 1883, which state: “To Bach [a German watchmaker based in London], to leave my second-best silver watch to be put in order as a present for Bertram.”


This tiny (1 x 7/8 in) antique diamond brooch will go on sale tomorrow in Boston, at Skinner’s “Important Jewelry” auction. A faceted yellow diamond forms the hull of the ship, with mast and sails set with old European-cut diamonds in silver and gold.


The Skinner “Fine Jewelry Collections online” auction started last week and closes on December 4, so there’s still time to get in there with a bid if you’re so inclined. As of writing, there are no bids on this early Victorian branch coral tiara, and I would just like to say: FFS, DO I HAVE TO DO EVERYTHING MYSELF?


This little doozy is going up in the Bonham’s “London Jewels” auction on December 4. It’s a Cartier necklace from 1912, and it features a 99-carat cushion-shaped Mughal Indian emerald that is engraved on both sides with floral motifs. (It’s also cracked, but ignore that part.) The emerald is set within a frame of frosted and engraved rock crystal, and further embellished with old brilliant and single-cut diamonds. It’s attached to a long black cord with matching engraved rock crystal and diamond barrel-shaped slides.

This necklace was actually a gift from Victoria, Lady Sackville of Knole, to her daughter Vita Sackville-West, as a wedding gift for her marriage to Harold Nicolson in 1913. It’s literally been in a safety deposit box for 50 years, and you can watch a video about it here, complete with insights from Vita’s granddaughter, Vanessa Nicolson.


I’m not usually drawn to portrait miniatures, and the Sotheby’s London “Pohl-Ströher Collection of Portrait Miniatures, Part III” auction on Thursday is full of the usual depictions of bilious-looking men in wigs. But there’s something immensely engaging about the lady above; something that makes me wish I could have been her friend. By François Dumont — one of the greatest French miniaturists — the piece is listed as “Portrait of a lady holding a young spaniel,” circa 1780, in watercolor and bodycolor (aka gouache, or opaque watercolor) on ivory set in gilt metal.


Oh my god. Ages ago, I shouted about a bunny chariot micromosaic for the Hairpin, and I never dreamed I’d see another one! But here we are. This circa 1850 demi-parure (a small set of a few pieces of jewelry meant to be worn together; a larger set of 6-7 pieces is a parure) consists of a brooch depicting Cupid in a shell being drawn by a butterfly, with earrings that respectively feature a dog in a chariot being pulled by two ducks (!), and the aforementioned bunny and peacocks. They’re all micromosaics set in aventurine glass and mounted in matching beaded gold frames, and were most likely a Grand Tour souvenir for a 19th century English or European traveler in Italy.

The set will appear in the “Gold Boxes” sale at Christie’s London on December 5. Gah.


Skinner’s online “Gentleman’s Auction” ends on December 5, and it’s full of such manliness as “Hot Rod” movie posters, watches, whisky, desk accessories and barware. Despite being a mere woman, I still want these little 20th century Tiffany & Co. sterling silver oil cans that are actually vermouth droppers.


High-society masquerade balls were all the rage in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and jewelry memorializing them served to prolong the fun. This circa 1830 gold ring, which is available in the December 8th “Fine Jewelry” auction at Rago, features a masked face in enamel, with old mine cut diamond eyes and a ruby (don’t say ball gag DON’T SAY BALL GAG) mouth. The face is actually hinged, and flips up to reveal a tiny enameled compartment within, and the back of the ring features the words “Gott beoch itye dichund die deini gem,” which Rago translates as “God bless you, you’re a gem.” The ring is in somewhat rough shape and I really wish they had photos of the inscription, but whatever, still cool.


Ok, that’s it for this week! Be sure to click through to browse the full auctions yourselves, because there’s a ton of good stuff there, and I had to edit my selections pretty heavily to get this down to a reasonable length. Also, feel free to reply to this email or find me on Twitter at @rococopacetic, especially if you would like to indulge in some inarticulate screaming about your faves.

Next week: The big “Magnificent Jewels” auctions, and a continuation of the less intimidating (and more interesting, tbh) alternatives.

Have a good week, everybody! See you next Monday. xxx


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It's the Spooky Edition, yo

Featuring a mysterious pomander, some demonic cocktail picks and a skull in a hat

Hello, my neglected pals! The day job has kept me from you, but now I’m back with some spoooOOOooky treasures to honor the month.

First up is a 17th century English apple-shaped silver pomander that opens to reveal a wreath-crowned skull nestled in a gilded compartment. Pomanders were little containers that held herbs and spices, and they were usually worn around the waist to help ward off some of the more, um, pungent scents of the 16th and 17th centuries. This particular pomander also serves as a memento mori — a reminder of death — and refers to the Biblical tale of Adam and Eve with an emphatic bite mark on the apple and an inscription that reads:

A.D. 1628

From Man

Came Woman

From Woman

Came Sin

From Sin

Came Death

Which is some bullshit, obviously, but moving on: The skull also opens to reveal a miniature painting of Christ leading the souls out of Limbo, with the inscription “Post mortem, vita eternitas,” or “after death, life eternal.”

The piece has a interesting history. It was sold at Christie’s in 1855, and five years later a drawing of it was included in a catalog of the collection of Lord Londesborough. The drawing showed the bite and the A.D. 1628 inscription, but it ALSO included an engraving of a royal crown and the initials ‘JR’ (James Rex) above the date — a reference that, according to Milo Dickinson, Head of Sculpture at Christie’s in London, “could refer to either James I or James II. The problem is that James I died in 1625 and James II lived at the end of the 17th century, so neither date matches.” Plus, that additional engraving wasn’t mentioned in the Christie’s 1855 catalog, and that’s probably not a detail they’d ignore, so does that mean someone added the marks after the sale to fraudulently boost the value of the piece? Hmm.

The pomander eventually moved on to other hands, and those mysterious marks no longer exist on the apple. The lot essay describes how that happened:

That this crown and the initials “JR” are no longer to be seen on the apple is explained by a story recounted by Commander How in the mid-20th century, as told by his wife, Mrs How, who was a pre-eminent silver dealer based in London. Mrs How noted that when she owned the pomander she ‘submitted it to the head of the Metalwork Department of one of our greatest museums, and he assured me that though the Skull and Apple container were genuine, and the inscription original, the lightly engraved crown and initials had obviously been put on by somebody at a much later date to give it a spurious association with James I. As the engraving was light he advised me to have it removed. This I did. A few months later he rang me up on the telephone to say he had made an interesting discovery; he had found an early reference to this particular object and a drawing of it showing the crown and ‘J.R.,’ which, in the circumstances, was conclusive evidence that they were of early date.

Oh dear; I wonder what poor Mrs. How said when she hung up that phone. The question remains, though: Were the marks really legit? Did Christie’s just neglect to mention them? I doubt it, but you gotta love a mystery.


This silver medal isn’t spooky, but this made me laugh:

The Ancient Noble Order of the Gormogons was a 18th century society formed by expelled Freemason Philip Wharton which left no records or accomplishments to indicate its true goal and purpose. From the group’s few published articles it is thought that the society’s primary objective was to hold up Freemasonry to ridicule.


Circa 1580, this German ring features a layered agate cameo carved with a ghostly likeness of Medusa. Cartouches, masks and foliage extend around the gold band in a riot of enameled detail.


This is Egyptian, but something about it makes me want to go all Wicker Man pagan and start lighting up some pompous establishment types. Circa 1648–1540 B.C., it’s a Fifteenth Dynasty gold headband/diadem set with a central head of a stag, and alternating gazelle heads and flowers around the band. It comes from the Hyksos culture of the eastern Nile Delta region, and shows the influence of Near Eastern and Egyptian styles that is typical of the society.


Six adorable wee devils adorn this ca. 1929 set of sterling silver cocktail picks. They’re hallmarked for Barker Brothers Silver Ltd. of Birmingham, England, and retain their original box.


BEHOLD THE ENNNNNNDE!

Another English memento mori piece, this 17th century ring features a black and white enameled skull placed within a quatrefoil bezel and surrounded by the words “Behold the Ende.” Tiny carved skulls and black enameled flowers extend down the band.


Circa 1880s, a plump little Victorian bat pin, with a natural pearl belly, ruby eyes, and wings of rose cut diamonds set in sterling silver with 18k yellow gold.


AGAIN with the memento mori; I know, I know. This ivory rosary dates to ca. 1500–1525 Germany, and features elaborately carved images of life and death. The third and sixth beads combine to spell out the words “Remember death/This is what you will be,” and the two terminal beads are an emphatic reminder not to get too comfortable.

Eeeep.


A figa or mano fico — a clenched hand with the thumb sticking out between the index and middle fingers — translates to “fig hand,” and is a slightly obscene gesture that’s meant to mimic female genitalia. It was used for centuries in Italy and various other cultures as an insult or a gesture to ward off the evil eye, and representations of it were also used as good luck charms. This 17th century Iberian version is particularly beautiful, with a figa of carved rock crystal set into an elaborate yellow gold and enamel cuff. The rock crystal is an additional protective element — it was believed to have the power to neutralize any liquid that may contain poison.


I needed a skull palate cleanser after that super miserable little ivory dude up above. Circa mid-19th century France, this stick pin sets a jaunty gold hat with blue enameling atop a slightly more cheerful silver skull.


Circa 1910, a lovely 14k German or Austrian owl ring, with diamond eyes and an oak leaf motif adorning the band.


A little while back I showed you a bezoar case, and now here’s an actual bezoar. Again, bezoars are naturally occurring stones found in the digestive systems of certain animals, and they were prized in the 16th and 17th centuries as a vehicle for counteracting poison (people sure had their knickers in a twist about poison back then, huh) and preventing illness. This one dates to the 19th century and has an old label stating “Bezoar cross section/large cow/died 1824.” It sits on a little pine display stand inside a 19th century glass dome.

Ok, that’s it for now, my friends. Go forth, light some bonfires, and welcome home the souls of the dead. xxx


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A radioactive necklace, a tiny sundial, and a truly stunning emerald

And a pin that will EAT your FACE.

Apologies for the delay in getting you a newsletter — work has been hammering me to death — but as of tonight I’m on vacation and interacting with as few people as humanly possible. (I’m also writing this while deliriously tired, so please forgive me if any of it is gibberish.) Whooo!

OK, here we go: The circa 1925 Art Deco emerald, diamond and enamel brooch above is by the British jewelry firm Hennell, and showcases a beautiful octagonal-cut Colombian emerald that dates to 1813-14. The emerald is engraved with five lines of the nasta'liq style of Persian calligraphy, which Bonhams translates as:

"The essence of ..., the water of life of the age, Princess Mary Frederica Elizabeth Hood, the lady excelled in glory, [considered] the glorious child of Muhammad Akbar Padshah, the Conqueror 1229 (1813-14)."

Mary Hood lived an extraordinary life. Born in the Scottish Highlands in 1783, she was the eldest child of the chief of the clan Mackenzie and eventually the wife of an Admiral, as well as a close friend of Sir Walter Scott (who used her as the prototype for his poem “The Lady of the Lake”), and the toast of both English society and Indian royalty (which is probably how she acquired this lovely gift from a Mughal Emperor).

After her beloved husband died unexpectedly (malaria), she headed back to Scotland, where she was greeted with the news that her father and only remaining brother had also recently died. This meant the family estate had reverted to her, and — fulfilling a prophecy made by a 17th century Highland seer (seriously!) — she was now chief of the clan. She married again a few years later, and her new husband took the Mackenzie name. They had six kids, preserving the family name and estate.

Mary died in 1862, and her hearse was led by pipers and followed by a five-mile-long column of mourners in what Bonhams describes as “one of the last great Highland funerals.” Her emerald passed down through the family, and it’s believed that her daughter’s granddaughter had it mounted in its current Art Deco setting by Hennell.

This is a vastly abbreviated history of her jam-packed life, so I encourage you to click through for all the details I’ve left out.


This pin is up on Ruby Lane right now and I have no idea what the hell it is, but I’m pretty sure it’ll kill you in your sleep.

The dealer says it’s a “rare figural pin” with a peaked cap and a book bearing the word legge, which is law in Italian. The pin itself is brass, but the material comprising the figure is a mystery — not bakelite, celluloid or stone, so possibly another early plastic. OR HUMAN BONE. Who knows.


Circa 1880, this English Greek key-motif bangle has five hinges and is set with Persian turquoise in rose gold. Turquoise is extremely susceptible to contaminates like oils or lotions, and you can see some of the stones have a slight yellowish or greenish tint as a result of exposure. It’s not bad, though, and the bracelet is still gorgeous.


Anybody need a tiny pocket sundial? This early 18th century dial is silver, with an inset compass and a hinged gnomon (the raised part that projects the shadow) with a Twitter-like bird detail. The four bands of numbers ringing the dial are hour scales. The piece is signed “Butterfield, Paris,” and the back is engraved with the names of 25 European (but mostly French) cities and latitudes. It’s two inches long and has its original fitted case.


NOPE.


Circa the 1920s-30s, this vintage white metal spiderweb necklace features glowing oval cabochons of uranium glass. Often called vaseline glass here in the U.S. (due to the similarity in color to petroleum jelly), uranium glass goes back as far as the early 1800s, when glass makers in England and the Czech Republic started adding uranium to their glass as a coloring agent. The U.S. hopped on board later in the century, but production was eventually suspended during World War II because the uranium was needed for the Manhattan Project. After the ban was lifted in the 1950s, the popularity of uranium glass surged back, and it was used to create all sorts of tableware and tchotchkes. 

As for, uh, the radioactivity……..it’s really not bad, honest. This terrific deep-dive in Collectors Weekly goes into that further, but in general, it’s not enough to be harmful. The uranium does cause the glass to glow an eerie green in ultraviolet light, so this necklace will easily suit all your Evil Disney Queen needs.


This beautiful circa 1890 French brooch features three elongated diamonds cut to mimic the blade and handle of a saber. Additional diamonds set in silver and gold (with a hanging swag) provide more detail on the handle and blade.


Ok that’s it’s for now, but I will finish this off today by sharing a ridiculous thing I won at auction last week, and whose face has significantly improved my life:

The world is on fire, so give yourself a break and embrace whatever nonsense brings you joy! Have a good week, everybody. xxx


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