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.


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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A ring that’s not a ring, a bezoar case, and the British René Lalique

Also, books!

This English 14k ring, hallmarked for 1862, actually doubles as a bracelet. The centerpiece of the ring — an ornate diamond-set star with blue enamel accents — opens to allow the band to unfold into eight delicately chased links. The top then functions as the bracelet’s clasp.

I love when jewelry does stuff.

A 17th century Indo-Portuguese bezoar case of filigree silver and silver gilt. Bezoar stones are naturally occurring stones found in the digestive systems of certain animals, (sheep, goats, deer, camels, etc.), and during the 16th and 17th centuries, they were believed to have the ability to counteract poison and prevent various illnesses and “melancholy.” Since they were prized and expensive, they were kept in fancy cases like the one pictured, which were also thought to enhance their potency.

Circa 1905, this enamel and mother-of-pearl necklace is by Frederick James Partridge. It features a central enamel plaque portraying Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, with her bow and arrows. The plaque is set in a silver frame with pink enamel accents, a Greek key motif and a mother-of-pearl drop below. The chain is composed of a series of silver and pink enamel baton links, each with a round mother-of-pearl accent.

Fred Partridge, an English Arts & Crafts jeweler who was deeply influenced by French Art Nouveau, is sometimes referred to as the “British René Lalique.” That influence can be seen in this stunning circa 1900 carved horn and opal tiara that Partridge created for English retailer Liberty & Co.:

The tiara is currently in the collection of Chicago’s Richard H. Driehaus Museum (photo by John A. Faier, 2014).

Circa 1860-1880, a very pretty gold bangle bracelet that spells out the word “hope” in diamond-, ruby- and emerald-studded gothic letters.

I’m a huge mystery nerd and I know many of you are, too, so you’ll probably want to check out this rare book auction happening next week at Heritage Auctions in New York. The highlight of the sale is the Otto Penzler Collection of Mystery Fiction. Penzler is the founder of the Mysterious Bookshop in Manhattan, and it was partly through the bookshop that he was able to amass a huge collection of vintage mystery and spy novels — starting early in life and taking advantage of the fact that, for many years, collectors looked down their noses at genre fiction.

Penzler’s selling now because he’s getting older, and, as he has no family, he doesn’t want the books left behind to an unknown fate. The auction next week is actually Part 2 of the sale of his collection through Heritage. The first sale — which focused on American authors — was held this past March, so now it’s time for the Brits. There’s tons of Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Wilkie Collins and many others, and also a few pieces of ephemera, including a letter written by Sayers under the name of her beloved detective Lord Peter Wimsey.

It’s definitely worth scrolling through the mysteries for the period covers alone. I think my favorite is the Christie above, but I’m also super drawn to this Sayers, and I think I may bid on something from Ngaio Marsh, because she’s my fave.

We’re due for a new installation of Ridiculous Dog Faces in Jewelry, so I will leave you with this delightful little diamond loaf:

English and circa 1890, he’s a brooch made of pavé diamonds set in silver and gold, with onyx eyes and a pink enamel mouth. What a FACE!

Ok, that’s it. Happy Labor Day, Americans! MAKE UNIONS STRONG AGAIN!

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Bertie Beats Typhoid!

Also, a Napoleon cannon and a nasty ass cane.

In 1871, when he was 30 years old, the Prince of Wales (a.k.a. Albert Edward, Bertie, and eventually King Edward VII), came down with typhoid fever while staying at an estate in North Yorkshire. Edward’s father Albert had died of typhoid only 10 years earlier, so naturally this news caused massive concern in London both to his mother, Queen Victoria, as well as to the English people. But happily good news prevailed, and Edward survived.

A relieved nation celebrated his recovery with a Thanksgiving Service in London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral in February 1872. Before the service, carriages brought Victoria, Edward and members of their party to Temple Bar, where they were received by the Lord Mayor of London and a collection of other city dignitaries who then escorted the royals to St. Paul’s. It was quite the event, judging by this account of the day featured in the March 16, 1872 edition of the Illustrated London News. It may have also included a bit of comic relief, if this description of the dignitaries is anything to go by:

“They had mounted the troop-horses, brought for them by soldiers of the Royal Artillery, in the square of the Inner Temple. Wearing, as they did, their robes of office, the performance of getting on horseback was not quite easy to some of them; but the Lord Mayor, who was attired in his grand robe of state of violet-coloured velvet with deep ermine tippet, and wore his furred three-cornered hat, bestrode his steed with becoming dignity, and like a skillful horseman.”

The rare 18k gold and enamel locket above commemorates the event. Made by E. and S. Watson, it bears the arms of the City of London and features the words “Royal Reception Committee” on the front, with the date and “Thanksgiving Day” engraved on the back. 19th century images of Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales appear inside.

Various commemorative medals were also created to celebrate the day, including this one, designed by J.S. and A.B. Wyon. In it, figures representing Britannia and the City of London invite the Queen and Prince of Wales to enter St. Paul’s. The reverse shows the interior of the cathedral, flanked by the words “For the recovery of HRH The Prince of Wales,” and the date.

Yes, that IS Napoleon being shot out of tiny golden cannon. Circa 1820, this tiny (under an inch), exquisite little pendant is crafted from three colors of gold with turquoise details that, when pressed, propel a miniature figure of Napoleon from the cannon. It was created during the Bourbon Restoration of France, when tensions were still simmering in France and monarchists were trying to reverse the changes brought on by Napoleon and the French Revolution.

These delightful Sneetch-like creatures are actually 19th century Indian rose water sprinklers, made of silver in the form of storks. According to the Harvard Art Museums:

“Rosewater was traditionally sprinkled on guests in India because it has cooling and refreshing properties. The tradition of using rosewater came to Mughal India from Iran, where, in the festival of Ab Pashan, rosewater was sprinkled to invoke the memory of rainfall, which would put an end to famine. The custom was gradually incorporated into the Rajput court, where it was used in both ceremonial as well as religious festivals. It is now used in India to welcome arriving guests.”

This exquisite set of hair pins features two spheres of pierced and chased gold, with multicolored enamel accents. They’re by Lucien Falize, who I just realized I already talked about a few newsletters ago, dur. I guess I have a type, and that type is Lucien Falize. *heart eyes* But come on, these things are gorgeous.

19th century canes and walking sticks were often amazingly specialized — there was one available for almost every conceivable purpose, with tools concealed in the shaft or handle that could assist with one’s work, perform a task, or even store one’s saké and chopsticks. There were canes for doctors, sailors, bird catchers, jewelers, magicians; canes that could hold your newspaper, transform into a clothesline, tune your piano or measure your horse. There were even gross, supposedly “erotic” ones that would squirt water in your hand.

Some of them could also MESS. PEOPLE. UP. Gun canes and sword canes were common, but there were even blow dart canes and also particularly evil ones — with names like the “Terrible,” “La Diabolique,” or “La Redoutable” — that released razor blades or tiny metal barbs from their wooden shafts that were designed to slice an assailant’s hands to ribbons if they tried to grab it. And the above cane, known as the “Bad Boy,” conceals an extremely nasty straight razor.

There really is an incredible range of examples out there, so if you would like to see more, I recommend you have a root through the full M.S. Rau catalog here, and also look through this extensive collection that was sold at auction in 2015.

That’s it for now. Have a good week, everybody! xxx

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A lizard’s leg amulet, the Colmar Treasure, and secret porn

Photo by Jean-Gilles Berizzi, courtesy of the Réunion des Musées Nationaux.

Hey all, deadlines have been kicking my butt, but I didn’t forget you! This week I’m starting by shouting out the Metropolitan Museum of Art AGAIN, so apologies for two NYC-centric posts in a row. But seriously, an exhibit just opened this week that is a must-see if you’re in the area. Plus it’s at the Cloisters, so even better.

The exhibit “The Colmar Treasure: A Medieval Jewish Legacy” features a collection of jewelry and coins that was discovered hidden behind a wall of a house in Colmar, France in 1863. The pieces date from the early to mid-1300s, when the plague was sweeping through Europe and Jewish communities in France and elsewhere were being scapegoated and murdered in huge numbers. The Colmar cache is believed to have been carefully hidden away by a Jewish family that unfortunately did not survive the pogroms.

The standout piece of the collection is the wonderfully delicate Jewish ceremonial wedding ring pictured above, which dates to between 1300 and 1348. Jewish wedding rings are a custom that goes back hundreds of years, and they usually feature a tiny golden building that symbolically links Solomon’s lost temple in Jerusalem with the home of the newly married couple. The words “Mazel Tov” (Good Luck) or the initials “MT” are often inscribed somewhere within the design, and the Colman ring spells it out in Hebrew letters with accents of red and green enamel (although most of the green has been lost over time).

The cache is on loan from the Musée de Cluny, and this exhibit includes additional items of Judaica from the Met Cloisters and other private collections. It’s up until January 2020, but if you can’t make it in person, you can view the exhibit items here.

Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,—
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Macbeth (IV, i)

Circa 1690 and possibly German, this well-preserved lizard’s leg is set in filigree silver with beaded detail. It was most likely carried as a protective talisman, and may have been suspended from a chatelaine (remember them?) along with other good luck charms.

These earrings are actually two Victorian whistles that were carved out of bog oak and later equipped with earring wires. And the whistles work! They’re also fitted with Stanhope lenses, which are little optical devices, invented by René Dagron in 1857, that allow you to peek through and view a microscopic image. In this case, there’s only an image in one of the whistles — it’s titled “A Memory of Rothesay” and features illustrations of Rothesay, Scotland, which was a popular Victorian tourist destination.

And in case you were wondering, bog oak is oak that was buried in peat for hundreds or thousands of years. Preserved from decay by the bog and exposed to minerals and tannins in the water, it eventually darkens with age to a deep black color. The Victorians used it extensively in jewelry, and it often served as an alternative to jet in mourning items.

This fairly innocuous little Swiss 18k gold and enamel seal has a secret. Circa 1840, it’s set with a lid that opens to reveal a couple… well, “embracing in a forest,” to use the dealer’s polite description. And surprise! It’s actually an automaton — if you wind that little ball-shaped mechanism at the center of the seal, the couple hops into action. Or rather, he does. She just kinda stands there.

Just FYI, if you need like a billion antique taxidermy glass eyes, you are SO in luck. Plus the auction house has even thrown in a late 19th-century plaster cast of a brown trout! Such bargains to be had, out there in the wide world of totally random auctions.

Also, fans of the whimsically anthropomorphic tableaux created by Victorian taxidermist Walter Potter may be interested in these contemporary pieces featuring a mouse fishing and hunting.

Ok that’s it for now. TGIF, seriously. xxx

Behold the kraken!

An octopus chatelaine, a stressed-out dog, and some owls

This Gorham octopus chatelaine is included in the “Jewelry for America” exhibit that recently opened at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Chatelaines, which are essentially a central pin or clip with various hanging attachments, were a way for women — who have historically been denied pockets — to keep their essential everyday tools close at hand. Scissors, pencils, pincushions, watches, and perfume bottles were all in heavy rotation on many chatelaines, variations of which go back centuries. Women of all classes used them, and, because the attachments were so easily swapped out, they could be highly personalized. There were chatelaines for nurses, needleworkers, painters and various other specialities, with some made in base metals, and others — many of them created by the great jewelers of the time — that were clearly meant for show. They’re a fascinating subject, and I highly recommend this Collectors Weekly interview with Genevieve Cummins, who literally wrote the book on chatelaines.

The Met’s version (above left), in sterling and hallmarked for 1887, doesn’t have any of its attachments. Another version of this chatelaine (above right) sold at auction in Connecticut in 2012, and that one — which sold well above estimate for $10k — is listed as containing all the original attachments from Gorham: A match case, nail file/buttonhook, vinaigrette/perfume bottle, walnut- or pecan-shaped case, calendar with ivory pages, circular pin cushion, writing pencil and scissors. Except for the nut and pencil, they all feature an undersea motif complete with fish, crabs and seashells.

The Missouri Historical Society also has one of these chatelaines, but theirs is sadly missing an eye, and some of the attachments — which include a compact, perfume bottle, mirror, whistle, and pin holder — may be later additions, since only two of them appear to have an undersea theme.

Insect jewelry was extremely popular in the 19th century. The Victorians were obsessed with studying the natural world, and that interest presented in jewelry as well. Spiders, beetles and butterflies were ideal subjects for designs that showcased brightly-colored gemstones and precious metals, and this 14k flying bee (or moth?) brooch is a particularly nice example. Dating to between 1882-1898, it’s hallmarked for St. Petersburg, Russia, and features ruby eyes and a body of cabochon-cut garnets and rose-cut diamonds, with sapphires and diamonds lining the wings.

A delightful set of sterling silver owl condiments, with chased feather detail and glass button eyes. The set consists of one large sugar caster, one salt shaker and two small pepper shakers. Hallmarks tell us they were made by London silversmith Charles Edward Brown, and the caster dates to 1867, the salt to 1870, and the peppers to 1871. The set was retailed by Asprey and retains its original fitted box.

Circa 1900s, a particularly beautiful hinged snake bangle in 18k yellow gold with ornate scrollwork on a bed of blue enamel that winds its way around the body of the snake. A pear-shaped garnet surrounded by rose-cut diamonds crowns the head, and 15 opals are set down the snake’s back.

I have no idea what’s going on here, but I like it. This cheerful 19th century elephant/parrot hybrid creature is made of brass and stands around 6” high. It’s from South India, and I’ve done some rooting around and there’s a creature in Thai Buddhist mythology called the Nok Hussadee, which has the body of a bird and the head of an elephant. It’s one of many fantastical animals that live in the mythological Himmapan Forest, which, according to legend, sits in the Himalayas on the border of India and Nepal. I don’t know if that’s who this little guy is — the Nok Hussadee sounds pretty fierce — but I love him.

In this installment of Ridiculous Dog Faces in Jewelry, we have a French 18k gold and enamel brooch, circa 1875, that features a sensitive portrait of a greyhound who spends too much time on Twitter.

Ok, that’s it for this week’s unexpectedly zoological edition. Have a good day, everyone! xxx

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