vintage

How to Identify Sterling Silver Jewelry

Sterling silver is a common metal for jewelry because it ages well, is easy to manipulate, and is more affordable than gold or platinum. By definition, sterling silver is silver that is 925/1000 parts silver, or 92.5% silver. Pure silver (99% +) is too soft for jewelry-making so the highest silver content in jewelry is usually .925. The remaining percentage of alloy is usually copper, but other metal alloys can be used too such as zinc and platinum.

Identify Sterling Silver using Hallmarks

The best way to identify sterling silver jewelry is to inspect the piece, because almost all silver jewelry has a stamp indicating the silver content. A HUGE catalog of silver stamps used over time and by different manufacturers is located at the Online Encyclopedia of Silver Marks, Hallmarks, and Makers Marks. Researching these makers marks will tell you just about everything you need to know about where and when your jewelry was made.

925 Sterling Silver

925 sterling silver mark
A sterling hallmark from a piece of Mexican TAXCO silver. This includes a “sterling” hallmark with the “925” as well as a TAXCO indicator and the jewelry maker’s mark.

Since the early 1900s, American sterling jewelry is required to have a sterling mark if it is 92.5% sterling silver. Pieces older than the early 1900s will be stamped “STERLING” or “STER” or “SS” somewhere on the piece of jewelry. It may have been stamped this way or it might have worn away over years of wear.

However, newer sterling silver jewelry is often stamped “925”. 

To the right is a sterling silver hallmark from a TAXCO piece, including the maker’s mark (“Perlita”). If you have a TAXCO piece that includes detailed hallmarks, you can research them in a Mexican sterling marks catalogue. In this case, Perlita is the name of a local shop in Taxco, Mexico, the Mexican town that is so famous for silversmithing.

I love Mexican silver and can get lost on eBay poring over the tons of examples and huge range of quality found in Mexican silver jewelry, particularly Taxco silver.

950 Sterling Mark

You often find the 950 Sterling mark on Mexican sterling from before the World War II era. 950 silver is 95% silver and 5% alloy, and does have a higher silver content than sterling. However this is not seen very often in jewelry because it’s difficult to make jewelry with this softness of metal.

900 and 800 Silver

Older and antique jewelry may include a 900 stamp. This shows that the jewelry is 900/1000 parts silver, 90% silver and 10% alloy. This is obviously not quite as high a silver content as sterling. Coin silver might be an alloy, but it can literally mean you’re holding silver made from melted down coins. Vintage Native American jewelry may often not have a silver content mark on it, but often this jewelry has a silver content in the range of coin silver.

Sometimes, you’ll see an 800 stamp on a piece of vintage silver jewelry. This means that the content of the jewelry is 4/5 or 80% silver and 20% alloy. Many times, based on the style of the piece and the 800 stamp, you can begin researching European jewelry and other foreign makers. Some vintage silver filigree jewelry will have an 800 mark as well.

Silver Testing

Commercial silver test kits are available for silver jewelry online, or you can go to your local jeweler or metal scrapper for testing if you’ve exhausted your own research.

Why Sterling Silver?

Sterling silver is one of my favorite metals for jewelry because it ages well, often developing a beautiful gray or black patina, and it is more affordable than gold or platinum. Jewelers love sterling silver because it is easy to work with and beautifully sets off precious and semi-precious stones. In the gallery above, I included some of my favorite styles of sterling silver pieces, including Mexican jewelry, Tuareg jewelry, and mid-century silver statement pieces.

Learning to identify sterling silver is easy with a little experience and research and will bring big returns to any collector. As with any metal commodity, you can track the value of sterling silver at any given time by getting familiar with the commodities market.  

A History of Creepy Dolls

Whoops!

When I first started going to auctions, I accidentally bid on and won a creepy doll. At an estate auction, I didn’t like the cut of some lady’s jib, and bid her up on a random item to be a jerk and give her a hard time. This is a common, if ill-advised, auction practice — I learned it from my parents.

Karma got me for showing off. I won it.

My win was an early 20th c. composition “mama” doll with a white gown and white leather shoes, whose head had been damaged by moisture and peeled away at the top, exposing a dense white skull of “composition,” a molded glue and sawdust mixture. She dated about 1910-1940. Her eyes opened and closed and her cloth body was stuffed to be about the size and weight of a 10-12 month old human child. These were called “mama” dolls because they had a voice box inside that said “mama” when you sat the baby up or laid her down. My baby no longer said “mama.”

She was creepy as all get out. She had flat eyes, a peeling head, and a weird smile. She was roughly the size and weight of an actual baby. Nobody wanted anything to do with her. I put her in an antique store but nobody would buy it. I tried to sell her online and got no interest at all. Eventually I stuck her in a closet waiting for an opportunity to unload this baby doll on someone else.

Posting about this weird mistake on social media, my friends and family were delighted with my bad luck and began to associate me with creepy dolls of all kinds. Folks sent me every link, photo, story, or event that had to do somehow with creepy dolls. It turns out there is a lot of them. There is even a doll museum in my hometown I didn’t know about prior, a two-story Victorian row house complete with a creepy curator and chock full of automatons from floor to ceiling. People are disappointed to find out that I not only don’t collect creepy dolls, but I’m also not into them apart from teasing my friends and family. 

Today, someone sent me this amazing article by The Smithsonian on the history and culture associated with Western dolls and an exploration of what we mean when we talk about “creepiness”:

Research into why we think things are creepy and what potential use that might have is somewhat limited, but it does exist (“creepy”, in the modern sense of the word, has been around since the middle of the 19th century; its first appearance in The New York Times was in an 1877 reference to a story about a ghost). In 2013, Frank McAndrew, a psychologist at Knox College in Illinois, and Sara Koehnke, a graduate student, put out a small paper on their working hypothesis about what “creepiness” means; the paper was based on the results of a survey of more than 1,300 people investigating what “creeped” them out (collecting dolls was named as one of the creepiest hobbies).

Creepiness, McAndrew says, comes down to uncertainty. “You’re getting mixed messages. If something is clearly frightening, you scream, you run away. If something is disgusting, you know how to act,” he explains. “But if something is creepy… it might be dangerous but you’re not sure it is… there’s an ambivalence.” If someone is acting outside of accepted social norms – standing too close, or staring, say – we become suspicious of their intentions. But in the absence of real evidence of a threat, we wait and in the meantime, call them creepy. The upshot, McAndrew says, is that being in a state of “creeped out” makes you “hyper-vigilant”. “It really focuses your attention and helps you process any relevant information to help you decide whether there is something to be afraid of or not. I really think creepiness is where we respond in situations where we don’t know have enough information to respond, but we have enough to put us on our guard.”

Finally, after three years of scaring myself by finding the creepy baby in closet after closet (“Did I move this, or…?”), I pawned it off on someone else. A local artist who didn’t seem too horrified by the idea found her on his doorstep.

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How to Identify Stanhope Jewelry

A Stanhope ring with close-up. Photo from Pinterest.
A Stanhope ring with close-up. Photo from Pinterest.

Several months ago, I lucked out and found a large stash of Stanhope novelty pieces at a garage sale. The collection I had to choose from was mostly religious icons, like tiny paintings of saints, the Lord’s Prayer, and other iconography hidden in keychains and cross pendants. The naughty Stanhopes, however are highly collectible — Victorian cheesecake nudes — so I snatched them all up.

A Stanhope is a tiny peep hole with a lens containing a micro-photograph inserted into a novelty souvenir. The photo inside is the size of a pinhead and has to be held up to a light and very close to ones eye to view the image. 

In the Victorian era especially, these novelties were extremely popular and cheap to make, and because they were so proliferous, people didn’t take great care of them which accounts for their rarity today.

A Stanhope ring.
A Stanhope ring.

Although the pieces I have are merely cheeky today — microphotographs of Victorian ladies in various states of undress — these would have been quite scandalous way back when.

You can identify Stanhope jewelry primarily by the small lens located somewhere on the piece, usually on a pendant, fob, keychain, or ring. Oftentimes Stanhopes will look like little lenses, like a telescope, a pair of binoculars, or another eye piece. If this is a religious piece, the lens will typically be in the center of the cross. The lens is usually about 3mm in diameter and will go all the way through the piece, and is curved like a dome on one side. You must hold it right up to your eye and look through the dome in the direction of light to discern the image inside.

VALUE: It depends. These were widely manufactured but many of them were ruined or not treated very nicely. The “adult” versions have a value as a novelty item, but these were rarely made with precious metals or stones. I’d compare with recent sales on eBay to price your item.

NOTE: If you have and love a piece of Stanhope, you must be very careful not to expose the piece to moisture in any form. Water, lotion, steam, or any other moisture will dissolve the tiny picture on the lens, negating the value of the piece. I learned this lesson the hard way.

Hilda the Pin-Up: Chunky but Funky

The allure of Hilda is not that she’s sexually available, but that she is active, curious, adventurous, and unconscious about her zaftig body. She had a full and romantic (if fictional) life, was kind of a goober, and possessed the magnetic, sexy goodwill that comes from living a life of happiness, much like many of the magnetic women you may know. Imperfect, and yet perfect in their imperfection.

 

Free Vintage Clip Art!: 170 Vintage, Retro, Mid-Century Fair Use Images for Download

For many years, I designed all my personal sites with a 1950’s era, mid-century vibe. During this time I amassed a huge collection of free, fair-use, mid-century clip art. Behold, free vintage clip art for you to use on your own projects!

The following may include space references, pro-cigarette ads, martinis, kitsch, weird babies and/or Ronald Reagan. Enjoy my ancient hard drive dump. Click to embiggen.

 

Window Shopping

Out and about this week, I had the opportunity to drop by a handful of charming local shops.

American Treasures and One Earth Gallery
This Lafayette staple carries a variety of Native-American and international fair trade items, including a huge array of hand-crafted gold and silver jewelry.

Genevee’s Studio
This full-service salon also has a vintage clothing store in the basement with a variety of men’s and women’s clothing, shoes, and accessories.

Hot House Market
This is a brand new vintage boutique at the top of 9th Street hill, carrying mid-century, bohemian, and shabby chic housewares. They also have a selection of women’s vintage clothing, shoes, jewelry and accessories.

Lala Gallery

This was my first time in the gallery, and the owner gave me a tour of the artwork and workshop. They not only sell art, but host a variety of classes for all ages. There was a large selection of desirable pieces here, and I found myself fawning over the owner’s own work hanging in the back. To die for.

Main Street Mercantile

This store boasts a huge variety of vintage and antique items, ranging from household items to vintage curiosities. They also carry quite a bit of Purdue ephemera. One special thing about this store is the number of large items in stock, like conversational art pieces and unusual wood carvings.

The spoils: A dress, a necklace, several birthday gifts, rock candy, and a lot of coveted items on my wish list. Such as [click pictures to embiggen]:

Click pictures to embiggen.