Cut Out Coins

If you’re a coin collector you have likely ran across a few cut out coins at one point or another. Depending on your views, it can either be frustrating that the coin got ‘ruined’ or you might see it as an exciting and beautiful piece of art. Carving into, cutting up, clipping, and generally changing a coin has been done in several ways for centuries. With our modern technology this more precise type of cut out coin has definitely gained popularity.

s-l1600 (17)The cut coin is a dramatic and beautiful way to turn coins into jewelry and works of art. The background of the of the coin is typically cut away, leaving the stamped figure floating inside the outer rim of the coin. Even small, common coins can be made into pendants, earrings, or cuff links. While the technique is simple, it takes a lot of practice to perfect.

Two of the most popular ways to create these cut out coins is with a scroll saw or with a jeweler’s saw. The jeweler’s saw is a bit more traditional and is a delicate saw with an adjustable frame. Typically a carver will choose a coin with a well-defined, smooth-edged image, like a head or profile to start. Then, drill small holes in the background portion of the coin, using a drill bit and place the holes near the center of the area that is to be removed.

A carver would then insert the jeweler’s saw into one of the pre-drilled holes, using the saw to carve away the background material around the figure. And leaving the top edge of the figure attached to the rim. Lastly a coat of clear acrylic is applied to the coin to protect it and give it a luster. While seemingly simple this is an art that can take years to master and gets more difficult depending on the coin one wishes to cut out.

The second method, uses a scroll saw, a precise electric saw. While the method is very similar to the jeweler’s saw is takes a completely different practiced skill set. Just like before, the carver will start by drilling small holes into the coin. From there, the coin is smoothly moved along the pattern with the scroll saw. Once finished, the coin is dropped in a jar of acetone.

Every cut out coin takes hours of precision and dedication to the art of creating the cut out. If you’re interested in pursuing this art or owning a coin of your own — don’t worry it is not illegal! They do not violate any U.S. statute provided that the alteration to the coin is not done with fraudulent intent. Section 331 of Title 18 of the United States code provides criminal penalties for anyone who fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the Mints of the United States. This statute means that you may be violating the law if you change the appearance of the coin and fraudulently represent it to be other than the altered coin that it is.

While one can hope that carver’s won’t carve an incredibly rare coin or verity, bar those possibilities it is hard not to admit that cut out coins are beautiful works of art.

The Man Who Saved London’s Treasures

 

For over forty years, George “Stoney Jack” Lawrence used cunning, generosity, and a network of lower class workers to find some of the greatest archeological treasures in London.

 

George-Fabian-Lawrence--300x272The early half of the 20th century saw some of the most excavations done in the city, to make way for new buildings that needed deeper foundations. However, since large-scale earth-moving equipment was still decades in the future, the digs were done by shovel, allowing for the discovery and preservation of historic objects as the workers dug through layers of past civilizations that had not been seen in centuries. Lawrence made a habit of befriending the “navvies,” the lower-class laborers who did the hard manual labor of excavation and building. While buying them drinks, Lawrence would let it be known that he would be happy to purchase any oddities they might come across during excavation. In some cases, he even offered “rudimentary archaeological training” so that his friends would know which sorts of objects were most valuable. He kept half-crowns (about $18.50 each in today’s money) in his pockets in order to instantly reward contacts, and word soon spread that Stoney Jack was the one to go to when anything unusual was unearthed. Many of the navvies found their way to his shop on Sundays, since it was the only day they could smuggle larger items away from the excavations.

 

cheap1.jpgThough the provenances for Stoney Jack’s historic wares were often dubious at best, few museums could resist the chance to own some of his more spectacular finds. Lawerence himself worked for several museums at various points during his career. While Lawrence’s methods were unethical (and the removal of historical objects from their archaeological context resulted in a loss of possible knowledge), he was also known for being exceptionally fair to the laborers who brought him their finds. If a museum bought a piece for more than he had expected, he would track down the navvy who had brought it to him, and give him his increased share of the profit. He also never sent a contact away empty-handed; if an item brought to him had no value, he gave the finder enough money for a beer at a nearby pub.

 

Despite his eagerness to buy and sell these finds, Lawrence never seemed to be motivated by profit. Journalist H.V Morton wrote about him, “He would hold a Roman sandal—for leather is marvelously preserved in the London clay—and, half closing his eyes, with his head on one side, his cheroot obstructing his diction, would speak about the cobbler who had made it ages ago, the shop in which it had been sold, the kind of Roman who had probably brought it and the streets of the long-vanished London it had known. The whole picture took life and colour as he spoke. I have never met anyone with a more affectionate attitude to the past.” His store in London was frequented by schoolboys, who marvelled over the strange assortment of historical odds and ends. Morton writes, “He loved nothing better than a schoolboy who was interested in the past. Many a time I have seen a lad in his shop longingly fingering some trifle that he could not afford to buy. ‘Put it in your pocket,’ Lawrence would cry. ‘I want you to have it, my boy, and–give me threepence!‘”
cheap3.jpgThe greatest find to ever come into Stoney Jack Lawrence’s possession was the Cheapside Hoard: approximately 500 pieces of gemstones, rings, and other jewelry. It was excavated from a cellar just prior to WWI, and is the greatest set of Elizabethan and Stuart era relics ever found. It’s uncertain exactly where and when the hoard was uncovered; Stoney Jack frequently changed details to keep the owners of property where finds were discovered from making a claim on the find. Like many hoards, most of the jewelry and gems were massed inside a large lump of clay, with many of the individual pieces bent and twisted. The navvies who uncovered it thought it was a set of children’s toys. Accounts differ as to how much Lawrence was offered for his find; some say it was as little as £90, while Morton claims it was £1000 which he split with his navvy contacts.

 

Lawrence’s methods are certainly debateable. There’s no doubt that he intentionally kept landowners from making claims on the finds he profited from, and his methods of collecting via the navvy network ensured that finds made their way to him in bits and pieces, destroying the archaeological context in which they were found. At the same time, had he not had his network in place, most of these items would simply have been dumped on junk barges and sent down the Thames to the Erith marshes and lost to history forever. Some of history’s greatest treasures were saved by an untrained history enthusiast and a network of manual laborers.

 

(Cheapside Hoard photos courtesy of the Museum of London.)

Collecting Vintage Hatpins

As some of the more obscure and intricate types of jewelry, hat pins have been all but lost in the memory of fashion.

Hats in history weren’t always made with practicality in mind. Many hats did not stick to their wearers’ heads without help. This is where hatpins came in.

Hatpins were invented in the 1850’s to pin down straw hats, and reached their popularity peak between the 1890’s and 1920’s. The stems of the pins reached as long as 12 inches at one point.

Hatpins are beauties of their own. Tiny, detailed ornaments on the end of the pins like flowers, leaves or jewels decorate the hatpins. They started out with simple designs and became more detailed over time. The most common was a black or white bead on a pin, a basic design that went with everything.

If you collect hatpins, it’s important to keep an eye out for fakes. Sellers will pass pins that are not genuine off as vintage or antique.

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Types of fake hatpins include (source):

Fantasies – hatpin styles that don’t come from any particular period, but are sold as if they are authentic historical pieces.

Reproductions – hatpins that resemble pins from a specific period, but are actually brand new.

Marriages – A melding of new and old, where either the stem or the top is an old piece combined with new.

If you’re wondering about a hatpin, check one of the best sources, The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Hatpins and Hatpin Holders by Lillian Baker.

 

The Power of Pineapples

Ah, the humble pineapple — a wonderful tropical fruit that’s tasty in fruit salads and smoothies. But when it comes to pineapple, there’s more than meets the eye. There’s history and meaning behind it that you might not expect.

The fruit comes from South America. Christopher Columbus, who encountered the pineapple on the journey to the New World, brought the fruit back to Spain. The voyagers named it piña because it looked like a pine cone.

Show your friendly personality with this lovely pineapple charm: currently 25% off on our eBay page!

Show your friendly personality with this lovely pineapple charm: currently 25% off on our eBay page!

In the Caribbean, a pineapple placed by a village entrance represented hospitality. Seeing a pineapple at an entrance meant you were welcome to come in.

Captains used to put pineapples (symbols of their exotic travels) out on railings when they returned home as a sign that they were currently at home.

European hothouses grew pineapples for those who had developed a taste for them. Emperor Charles V of Spain wasn’t a fan of the fruit, but the public had different tastes, and the 18th century saw pineapples become a popular delicacy.

Vintage Jiffy-Jell advertisement using the tradition of a pineapple as a centerpiece.

Vintage Jiffy-Jell advertisement using the traditional pineapple centerpiece.

Colonial America families put pineapples out on the table when visitors came. Guest rooms often had pineapples carved into the bedposts, once again as signs of hospitality.

It’s not uncommon to see pineapples used in architecture and decoration from way back when. As a welcoming symbol, the pineapple is also said to mean good luck & prosperity in a home.

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Of course, one can’t talk about pineapples without mentioning Hawaii. It was only in the year 1901 that the pineapple became a recognizable Hawaiian symbol; that was the year that Jim Dole founded his Hawaiian Pineapple Company. Thanks to his expert hand at business, twenty years later the pineapple became Hawaii’s biggest industry. And until recently, Hawaii was the biggest canner of pineapples in the world.

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Vintage Hawaii pineapple harvesting postcard.

When it comes to current fashion, pineapples are having their moment in the sun. The summer may almost be over, but hospitality and friendliness are always in style.

Sources:

Florida Libraries

Symbolism

Mysterious Lover’s Eye Miniatures

They’re so mysterious that no one but the original wearer knows whose eye they display, and that’s kind of the point.

These tiny eye paintings started as a fad in the late 1700s. Their purpose? To carry a piece of a loved one at all times without revealing their identity.

It’s a true token of a love affair, and fodder for a story of romance.

The alleged beginning of these “lover’s eyes” comes from the prince of Wales, later King George IV, who once became determined to court a Catholic, twice-widowed woman named Maria Fitzherbert. The court frowned upon this courting and at first Maria Fitzherbert was not particularly impressed either. Finally, she reluctantly agreed to marry him, though their marriage would not be officially recognized since George III had not approved it.

Some accounts say that Maria came to her senses before the marriage and fled to America. But the prince did not give up. He sent her a locket with a miniature painting of his eye inside and the note, “P.S. I send you a parcel, and I send you at the same time an eye. If you have not totally forgotten the whole countenance, I think the likeness will strike you.” Whether it was the portrait or his letter, Maria decided to give in and marry George. Rumors say that George kept a portrait of Maria’s eye as well.

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The whole event sparked an interest in miniature eye portraits. Worn not only by lovers and spouses, but also close family members and friends, they were the perfect way to openly wear special jewelry without having to worry about anyone knowing who was being represented.

Miniaturists like Richard Cosway and George Engleheart were some of the first to paint these pieces.

Some say these trinkets were a French invention, though no one knows for sure. Lady Eleanor Butler wrote in her diary at the time of the fad, “an Eye, done in Paris and set in a ring – a true French idea.”

Only limited amounts of eye miniatures from the 18th and 19th centuries exist today. The estimated number is under 1,000.

You can find the eyes most often set in lockets, brooches and rings, often surrounded by jewels or pearls. The biggest currently known collection is owned by the Skiers of Birmingham, Alabama, who have been collecting these pieces for decades.

Remembering the Dead: All About Mourning Jewelry

Who knew jewelry could be so macabre?

Once upon a time before photography, people needed a way to remember their deceased family members. So they used what might seem a little odd today: jewelry in which to keep pieces of the dead loved one’s hair.

The practice started as late as the 16th century and lasted through the Victorian Era. Queen Victoria, ever the trendsetter, popularized mourning jewelry after the death of Prince Albert in 1861. Black jewelry in general became especially popular at the time.

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This antique mourning locket still has a lock of hair inside.

Mourning rings were the most popular type, but you can also find hair in lockets and other types of jewelry.

Jewelers got creative with hair: locks were not only kept in lockets, but also braided with a cord or ground and mixed with paint to paint a small, detailed picture. No matter the type, each piece of jewelry was inscribed with the name and date of death of the deceased. Some also had morbid epitaphs like “we must submit” and “we’re his last”.

Black enamel was the most common material in mourning jewelry. But other materials also had their own significance: for instance, white enamel meant a girl had died before she was married, and pearls meant the death of a child. Victorians had extra-strict rules for mourning periods, and their jewelry would match each period based on the appropriate color.

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A mourning brooch.

When photography became more widely available in the Victorian Era, people started the infinitely creepier practice of post mortem photography. People put their dead loved ones in poses as if they were alive and had photos taken with them to remember them by. You can easily find these by searching online.

Most mourning jewelry you’ll find out there is beautiful, so keep an eye out and you may just be surprised by what you can find.

Sources:

Historic New England

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On (re)Purpose

Hidden Symbolism in Victorian Jewelry

No one loves symbolism like the Victorians loved symbolism.

 

 

In an age of complex manners and rules, Victorians used symbolism to speak a secret language.

Especially when it came to courting, jewelry held its own hidden messages. Men went through complicated processes to court women, closely guarded by their parents and chaperones, and jewelry conveyed more heartfelt messages than he was able to communicate in person.

Queen Victoria, the fashionable queen with more than a little influence on Victorian style, received an engagement ring from Prince Albert in the form of a snake, the symbol of eternity.

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The star symbolizes spirit and guidance in this Victorian star, moon, diamond and pearl necklace.

Sometimes it takes serious contemplation before figuring out the meaning behind a piece of Victorian jewelry.

There are plenty of complex symbols. Jewelry with different types of stones spell out a message as an acronym of the stones’ first letters. For instance, if a ring has a ruby, emerald, garnet, amethyst, another ruby, and a diamond, it spells out “REGARD”. This is one of the most common words in acronym jewelry, and carries a meaning like “with my regards” or “I highly regard you”.

And that’s just the start of the hidden meanings. Symbols abound in Victorian pieces. For instance, if a couple was on their honeymoon, the bride would wear a pin with a crescent moon and flowers. The flowers represented the nectar, or “honey” part of the word “honeymoon”.

290px-Victorian_WomanSome other symbols in Victorian jewelry:
Pearls – Tears
Forget-Me-Nots – Remembrance
Doves – Domesticity
Crowned Heart – Love Triumphant
Butterfly – Soul
Clasped Hands – Friendship, Lasting Love

Do you have any jewelry with hidden symbols? Go here for a comprehensive list of symbol meaning in jewelry, and tell us if you find anything!

The Story of the Squash Blossom Necklace

The subject of jewelry is often considered in the light of fashion and fads. But some jewelry stands the test of time, regardless of the latest fashion trends.

An excellent example is the Navajo squash blossom necklace which, since its birth circa 1880, still remains an elegant, stunning piece.

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As it is easy to see, the squash blossom necklace, with its squash blossom beads as well as the naja crescent moon centerpiece, is remarkably unique.

The flower pendant is actually a representation of the Spanish-Mexican pomegranate, but is commonly referred to for its resemblance to a squash blossom flower.

When the necklace came into existence, the Navajo people at the time had been under the influence of Spanish Conquistadors for hundreds of years. It is speculated that the Navajo were in contact with the crescent moon piece as it was a symbol placed on Spanish horse bridles and as a symbol of conquest.

(via Maegan Tintari on Flickr)

(via Maegan Tintari on Flickr)

For the Navajo, the symbol soon came to represent agriculture and was first used as a pendant on a simple cord. When silversmithing grew to become more prevalent, the squash blossom beads came to be. The Navajo called the squash blossom bead “yo ne maze disya gi”, which means “the beads that spread out.” The beads are ceremonial garments used for rituals involving the agricultural cycle.

Squash-blossom-necklaceBut what quality makes us still marvel at the squash blossom to this day?

While the necklace originated as a symbolic, ceremonial garment, today we recognize it for its outstanding aesthetic appeal.

Most squash blossom necklaces that can be found today were made during the 20th century but retain the same sense of beauty that the original pieces had. In their design, turquoise and coral are most commonly inset with the silver beads and the naja pendant.

What it represents is open to interpretation, ready to captivate the imagination. Like the other treasures we keep close to our heart, it offers a feeling of marvel.

A Brief History of the Cameo

The cameo is one of the most popular pieces of jewelry in history. But what exactly is a cameo, and how did it come to be so popular?

The history of the cameo goes way back. Cameos owe their origins to petroglyphs, figures carved into rock that recorded events and gave information as far back as 15,000 BC.

An example of an intaglio piece, showing Neptune and Amphitrite riding a sea horse.

An example of an intaglio piece, showing Neptune and Amphitrite riding a sea horse.

The intaglio, the reverse of a cameo in which the piece is carved below the surface, actually came before the cameo, when the intaglio was used in ancient times to seal papers or mark property.

There are disagreements on when the first cameo was made, however. Research suggests dates anywhere from six BC to 300 BC.

No matter what the right date, experts agree that the first cameos were made in Alexandria, Egypt, where people used them to convey a moral or declare a statement of faith or loyalty. Some of the earliest cameos were made of hard stones like agate and sardonyx (a stone like onyx, but with shades of red instead of black) before the use of more modern materials like gems, coral, and shells. People in cultures outside of Egypt soon came to love the cameo, too.

Contrary to what modern readers might expect, women were not the original cameo wearers and only started wearing them as a symbol of status during the Elizabethan era (1558-1603). This is also when the ruins of Pompeii rose in tourism and status-conscious women bought souvenir shell and lava cameos as evidence for their trip.

A charming cameo ring.

A charming cameo ring.

A cherub band playing accordions and a flapper wearing eyeglasses, smoking a cigarette, and holding a liquor bottle are just two rare cameo styles that have sold for huge amounts in auction.

Many famous figures popularized the cameo in their time. Napoleon himself wore a cameo to his wedding and created a Paris school to teach the art of cameo carving. Thomas Jefferson’s dining room fireplace mantel was inset with Josiah Wedgewood cameo plaques. Catherine the Great ordered all of glass maker John Tassie’s less expensive cameo models in triplicate. Queen Victoria not only created a greater wave of cameo popularity but also popularized the cameo with the woman’s profile carved in sea shell, creating the theme we’re most familiar with today. When she went into mourning after Prince Albert’s death, she wore black cameos until she died.

In the mid-Victorian period, cameo habilles came into being. These habilles featured carved women wearing their own tiny Caraglio_Cameo_of_Barbara_Radziwiłłdiamonds on necklaces, earrings or brooches, adding significant value to the pieces. This style gained popularity and can still be found in production today.

Today mass production means more easy access to cameos now that a modern carving machine makes them ultrasonically.

However, as you can guess, there is an easy-to-see difference between machine-made cameos and those made by hand. Today, only a select number of tradesmen specialize in cameo carving. The craft takes years of dedication to perfect.