Find of the Month!

June 2012

I visited an amazing antique store north of El Paso, TX. I wanted to buy everything inside, but I’m on a budget, so I restrained myself. However, I could not resist these “instant relatives.” I have a huge soft spot for old Victorian photographs, especially small cards and tintypes. My favorite aspect of old photographs is that they are infinitely magnifiable! Digital pictures eventually get down to a pixelated blur, but the zoom-in factor of traditional film prints is limited only by the texture of the paper. I like to use a jewelry loupe to get a closer look.

I chose four photographs out of the hundreds that were in the mangled box: three cartes de visite and one tintype. Judging by the clothing styles, the time period of my assortment ranges from 1855 to 1890. I tried to get some photos through the loupe for you, so you can see a few of the more interesting details, the results are kind of mixed because my camera skills are a tad out of practice, but in reality, looking at photographs through a loupe opens up a whole new world of details!

Photograph #1: Sad Tintype Child, a.k.a. “Little Poppet”
Dates to about 1855-1865, sized about 1/4 of a plate (3.5″ x 4.125″)

Photographs of children are some of my favorites! This one is so bittersweet. If you can take your eyes off of that chubby-cheeked little face for a moment, you’ll notice mum’s or dad’s hand peeking in on the left. Another thing I found interesting is how worn the prop chair on the right is. It looks like it has already been through 100 years of wear; the velvet is quite torn. I tried to get a good picture of the lace on the hem of the child’s dress, but tintypes are wicked reflective and I could not get the shot. Under 10x magnification, though, you can see that the wide lace is meshed and the trim lace is crocheted.

Photograph #2: London Beauty, a.k.a. “Clara or Chloe”
Dates to about 1860-1865, carte de visite

She looks so saucy! I know a lot of old photos have scowling folk in them because wait times were atrocious, but this young lady is arching that eyebrow like she means business! The silhouette and styling of her dress dates this photo to about 1864.  Her simple gown is accented by thin horizontal stripes woven into the fabric and a dark bolero jacket pinned shut with a lover’s knot brooch much like this one:

 One of the reasons why I picked this photograph is that she’s wearing jewelry. Often, I find Victorian or vintage jewelry and say “Oh! How beautiful,” but I am at a loss to how to wear it fashionably. Old photographs are perfect for providing answers!

Photograph #3: Another English Beauty, a.k.a. “Sarah”
Dates to about 1865-1870, carte de visite

I love finding cards with a photographer’s information on the back. Sometimes I get the itch to send off for more prints, just because they say “Copies can always be had!” But I refrain….

This carte de visite dates from just after Clara/Chloe’s photo. You’ll notice how Sarah’s gown is beginning to sweep back and a little bustle is beginning to peak that back of the skirt. I’ve always had difficulty with this transitional period for some odd reason because it always seems that costumers skip this stage and go straight to shelf-bustles. This more swooping, softer style of dress was only popular between 1866 and 1868. The beauty of this photograph (besides pretty Sarah herself) is the puckered seams on her skirts. You can almost hear the fabric rustling!

This was taken through my loupe, creating that vignette-look around the edges. This lovely young lady did her hair very nicely for her photo. You can see that she not only curled and shaped it, but also added in a string of big beads and a tiny, flat bow!

Photograph #4: The Fashionista, a.k.a. “Miss Jewel-ia”
Dates to about 1878-1882, carte de visite

This is Julia, or rather “Jewel-ia” as my sister and I have decided to call her. Look at all her pretties! These days we still follow the tradition of dressing up in our best for a professional portrait, a tradition as old as portraits themselves. Julia did the same thing, raiding her jewelry box for her favorite bobbles and gems! Besides her huge pearly necklace, small earrings, multiple finger rings, and a punched-design scatter pin, she’s wearing the holy grail of my historical jewelry research: matching bracelets.

I have seen them in boxes, in paintings and fashion drawings, not to mention written about in papers, but I have never found a photograph that so clearly shows a matching pair of bracelets being worn! Golly, I was so excited when I first found her! I think I frightened a few nearby shoppers with my squeal of triumph…

I’m going to make Find of the Month a regular thing from now on, but I haven’t decided if I want to put it here on the blog or on the Facebook page. I don’t know which way is more suitable. What do you think?

The Maupassant Game: Is it Real or Paste?

Can you tell the difference?

A game inspired by Guy de Maupassant‘s story The Necklace

The Necklace” tells the story of Madame Mathilde Loisel who always dreamed of living an aristocratic life surrounded by fine food, beautifully decorated rooms, and wonderful jewels. However, she is married to a low paid clerk who tries his best to make her happy. Through extensive begging, he is able to get Mathilde an invitation to a high society party and gives her his savings to buy a fancy evening dress. Mathilde is still not happy since she has no jewels to wear with her new gown. She borrows a diamond necklace from her friend, Madame Jeanne Forestier, but after attending the party, Mathilde discovers that she has lost the borrowed necklace!

To avoid her friend’s wrath, Mathilde and her husband borrow money from loan sharks to buy a diamond necklace that looks just like the one that was lost. It takes them ten years of hard labor to come up with the 36,000 francs necessary to pay off the debt. Soon after the loans have been paid, Mathilde sees Madame Jeanne Forestier and confesses that she lost and subsequently replaced the diamond necklace all those years ago. Mme. Forestier, deeply moved, tells Mathilde that the necklace she had borrowed was made of paste, not real diamonds, and that it was worth, at most, 500 francs!

When you see the word “paste” near the word “jewelry,” you can bet that it’s probably not the gluey sticky stuff you use to make paper mache. Paste is actually glass that has been cut and colored to resemble gemstones. We call modern pastes rhinestones, but historical paste stones weren’t mass produced like today’s. Historical paste was often hand-cut by a jeweler, just like their gemstone counterparts. It’s often difficult to tell a real stone from a paste one. Mathilde found this out the hard way!

Are you smarter than Mathilde? I’ve compiled a collection of amazing antique pieces from a variety of eras to test your skills and paired them up in similar styles. One of each pair is has real gemstones and one is paste…maybe. ;)

Will you make Mathilde’s 36,000 franc mistake?

Guess which of these jewels are real or paste!


Round 1: Earrings!


Round 2: Parures (Sets)


Round 3: Necklaces


Round 4: Pendants!


Round 5: Rings


Round 6: Pins

Stumped? Confident? Smug? Frazzled?

Every picture is linked to its description page, so you can check your answers! Just click on each image to find out which ones are natural stones and which are paste.