Review by Mary S. Laird
Recently, I was presented with a copy of Classic American Costume Jewelry, Volume 2 Identification & Value Guide by Jacqueline Rehmann. Being a woman of a certain age, I have been exposed to a plethora of costume jewelry of all shapes, styles, and eras. Approaching this review, it was my hope this book would help me develop a more sophisticated appreciation for costume jewelry in general, while being thrilled and excited during the learning process.
Much to my delight, Rehmann provided a wonderful experience of learning and discovery. Classic American Costume Jewelry, Volume 2 provides a good, basic overview/history of costume jewelry, with good sized full-color photographs coupled with clear descriptions of more than 1,000 pieces of jewelry. The table of contents includes plastics, wood, ‘40s gold and silver, and the wonderful “All that Glitters and Then Some” section.
The introduction covers the period from the 1930s through the 1980s in crisp, succinct terms, including the cultural, economic, and scientific issues that influenced costume jewelry. This main text was followed by more than 40 full-color photos of jewelry along with brief but very helpful descriptions of each.
In fact, the extensive descriptions next to each picture are one of the delights of the book. Many descriptions include interesting details or history about the pieces. The pictures are nicely sized, giving you enough detail to really see the piece (although sometimes a bit dark for my taste), so you get a good sense for how the piece would feel in your hands. To say the least, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and good descriptions are “frosting on the cake.”
By far the largest section in the book is devoted to the use of plastics (celluloid, Lucite and Bakelite) in costume jewelry. The plastics section illustrates both the techniques and styling with explanation about how plastics were incorporated into costume jewelry and special sections on celluloid combs, combinations of plastics and wire jewelry, stones, and beads, and the development of plastics from the mid-century extending into the 1960s and onward. It features a wide and representative selection of colorful pieces, ranging across the spectrum of styles and forms.
In addition to the wonderful photography, the author took care to include very helpful tables covering the do’s and don’ts (methods) of testing your plastics, the titles of plastic reference books, how plastics are used in making costume jewelry, and the common trade names. There is also a chart tracing the development of plastics from 1845 through 1985.
The section on wooden jewelry is detailed and interesting. It includes an impressive selection of examples from the ‘30s and ‘40s, with a nice selection of the well-known Scottie dog of the ‘30s. Also featured is wood incorporated with plastic and other materials.
The ‘40s in Gold and Silver section discusses design themes (bows, ribbons) typical of this era and the sparse use of rhinestones. The author also gives the reader an understanding of how wartime shortages affected the costume jewelry industry and how to identify jewelry made from this period. The information in this section is helpful to new and experienced collectors alike, and can give one new appreciation for a budding collection. For example, the section about how to use designer patents as a valuable research tool is a must read.
The final and next largest section, All That Glitters and Then Some, covers rhinestones, copper jewelry, Egyptian revival jewelry and wonderful Christmas jewelry. Again, the photographs are lovely and the descriptions clear and concise.
One of the treasures of the book is the extensive (alphabetical) “Buyers Table” listing the manufacturer/designer, date of operation, signature/marks, and description/characteristics. It offers a well-researched overview of the major manufacturers that serves as an outstanding reference for the big picture of the industry. What a wonderful tool this is, particularly for someone like me who is avidly learning about costume jewelry.
It is hard to believe that so much information is packed into less than 300 pages. It is apparent that the author’s dedication to and knowledge of the subject matter is vast. This is definitely a research tool I will return to again and again as it is a library in itself.