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Beautiful Baubles: Female Adornment

While many of the pieces in Historic New England’s collection are specifically related to life events like marriage, mourning, and childhood, many pieces have no such association and were simply used to adorn and beautify the body. These pieces were all once considered the height of fashion and reflect the favored designs, materials, fads and even attitudes that were popular when they were made.

It is evident from extant portraits of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries that the image of early New Englanders as plain dressers who wore dark colors and abstained from wearing any embellishments such as jewelry is completely false. Elaborately woven laces, bright colored silks, and jewelry made of fine materials were worn. Earrings, brooches, shoe buckles, chatelaines, pairs of bracelets, and miniatures set as pendants were all popular forms. Common materials included cut steel beads, pastes, seed pearls, topazes, and garnets. Some pieces made of silver, gold, and miniature portraits, were created in America, but most jewelry at this time was imported from Europe.

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Jewelry designs and forms are directly influenced by clothing and hair fashions. In the second quarter of the nineteenth century the waistline dropped from the high classical or empire style to the natural waist, which created a market for wide belts fastened with vertical buckles. Women also favored elaborate hairstyles with tight curls and knots and wide necklines that exposed the chest and shoulders. This combination favored hair pieces and long drop and hoop earrings. Europe also continued to affect American fashions and directly influenced what materials and techniques were popular.


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During the middle decades of the nineteenth century jewelry fashions were heavily influenced by an interest in nature. Flowers and animal designs were popular as was the use of stone, semi-precious and organic materials such as agate, turquoises, ivory, tortoiseshell, and hair. Oversized jewelry designs were typical during this period. Necklaces employed large links and enormous pendants, and earrings sometimes reached the wearer’s shoulders. Convertible jewelry was also popular and it was not unusual for pendants to be made with pins so that they could be worn as brooches; earrings often had detachable drops.


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The late nineteenth and early twentieth century witnessed an explosion of jewelry styles. Revival jewelry based on classical, Elizabethan, Renaissance, and the Rococo designs were all popular at the same time. As evidenced by the numerous patents that were filed during these years, technology also played a major role in jewelry fashions. Jewelry made of imitation and synthetic materials like vulcanite and gutta percha were popular. Improvements in metallurgy increased the use of platinum as a base metal in fine jewelry and better stone cutting techniques led to the development of open settings for diamonds and other precious stones.


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The twentieth century is the least represented in Historic New England’s collection. Much like the late nineteenth century many styles were fashionable concurrently. The Arts and Crafts, Art Deco, Modernist, and Pop-Art movements all influenced jewelry designs. While many fashions still originated overseas, American jewelry makers and retailers were also designing and producing high quality and original jewelry that competed with Europe and had international appeal. Costume jewelry, which used synthetic materials, was extremely popular as an alternative to costlier high end pieces. Southern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey were centers for this huge industry.


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Donna Francese Aoto a Martini
Europe, 1740-1760
Oil on canvas
H. 44 ¾, W. 36 ¼, D. 1 5/8 in.
Gift of William P. Dudley
1932.300
Earrings
United States or Europe, late nineteenth century
Gilt metal, glass
L. 3, W. 2 1/8 in.
Estate of Miss Mary L. Eliot
1927.435 a,b

Very few pieces of early-eighteenth century jewelry with American provenance are extant today. According to the donor these earrings originally belonged to Elizabeth Vergoose (1665-1757) who some believe to be the real life "Mother Goose." However, while girandole style earrings were fashionable during the period in which Elizabeth Vergoose lived, it is clear from their settings that these are actually late nineteenth century copies of an earlier style.

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Chatelaine
London, England, c. 1797
Gold-colored metal, cut steel, miniature painting on ivory
L. 7 ¾, W. 1 ¼ in.
Gift of Miss Margaret F. Martin
1948.128
Inscription:
Reverse of large miniature is engraved: “H P”
Reverse of belt hook is stamped “PG / 6”

This chatelaine came into Historic New England’s collection with a letter written by a Hannah Prescott in the 1850s describing how Martha Washington presented the chatelaine to her at Mount Vernon in 1797. Chatelaines are an archaic form of jewelry that enjoyed popularity during the eighteenth century and again for a short time in the late nineteenth century. They were worn at the waist by women and consisted of multiple chains from which objects such as scissors, thimbles, eyeglasses, and other various utilitarian items could be hung. Some were simple, while others, like this example which is set with cut steel beads and miniature paintings on ivory, were more elaborate.

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Brooch
Probably England, 1770-1800
Paste, silver
H. 1, W. 15/16, D. 5/16 in.
Estate of Miss Ellen A. Robbins Stone
94.1918

This brooch descended in the Robbins family of Lexington, Massachusetts. The development of high lead content glass in the seventeenth century allowed for glass stones to be cut and faceted so that they closely emulated diamonds. These imitations were commonly called pastes. They were usually set in either silver or steel closed settings and were sometimes backed by a piece of colored foil to imitate topazes, rubies, amethysts and other stones. The most common motif for paste brooches in the eighteenth century was the heart and they were worn by both men and women.

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Earrings
United States or Europe, c. 1825
Seed pearls, paste, mother-of-pearl
L. ¾, W. ¼, D. 5/8 in.
Gift of the Misses Emma Gertrude & Harriet Alma Cummings
1934.1844 a,b
1932_516_lg Earrings
Probably Europe, c. 1815
Gold, paste, seed pearls
L. 1 7/16, W. 5/8, D. 5/8 in.
Gift of Mrs. Sidney Richmond Burleigh
1932.516 a,b
Mrs. Elizabeth Ann (Lyon) Johnson (1806-1834)
Possibly by Francis Alexander
Probably Boston, Massachusetts, 1825-1834
Oil on canvas
H. 35, W. 31 ½, D. 3 ¼ in.
Gift of Miss Mary E. Saunders
1922.235

Topazes enjoyed popularity in America in the beginning of the nineteenth century. They came in a variety colors ranging from white to pink to yellow, which was the most sought after. Topazes and their imitations, which included citrines, glass, and foil-backed pastes, were often set in gold or with seed pearls. According to family tradition, the oval paste earrings set in gold cannetille settings were bought in Europe and given to the donor's grandmother, Mrs. Sarah (Snelling) Drew (1782-1872) who married Captain John Drew (1781-1823) in 1811. Filigree and cannetille were fashionable in jewelry in the first three decades of the nineteenth century.

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Brooches
United States or Europe, c. 1823
Seed pearls, mother-of-pearl
H. 3, W. 1 3/8, D. 3/8 in.
and
H. 1 ¼, W. 1 ½, D. ½ in.
Gift of Mrs. Howard van Sinderen
1930.1654 and 1930.1653

Seed pearls are tiny natural pearls produced by the Unio mussel that weigh under a ¼ of a grain and are less than 2 mm in diameter. During the Federal period seed pearl jewelry consisted of strings of seed pearls attached to mother-of-pearl plates in floral, animal and rosette designs. Seed pearl jewelry continued to be popular in the United States throughout the nineteenth century and was an appropriate gift for young brides. These brooches were given to Harrison Gray Otis' half-sister, Mary Otis (1794-1869), by her sister in December of 1823, possibly as a Christmas present. The brooch on the left features a flower set en tremblant, or on a spring, so that it quivers when the wearer moves. This type of jewelry was particularly dazzling when it was set with diamonds or pastes and worn in candlelit rooms.

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Earrings
United States or Europe, 1825-1830
Gold
L. 1 11/16, W. 1, D. 3/8 in.
Gift of Misses Emma Gertrude & Harriet Alma Cummings
1934.1824 a,b
Diantha Atwood Gordon (1809-1895)
Attributed to A. Ellis (active c. 1830-1832)
Fairfield, Maine, c. 1832
Oil on panel with gilding
H. 25 3/8, W. 21 ¾ in.
Gift of Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little
1991.433

Large gold hoop earrings complimented the open necklines and elaborately coiffed hairstyles that exposed the ears of the 1820s and 1830s. Diantha Atwood Gordon is wearing a similar pair of hoop earrings with a long gold chain and pendant in her 1832 portrait.

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Belt Buckle
United States or Europe, 1830-1840
Gilt metal, enamel
H. 3 ¼, W. ¾, D. ¼ in.
Gift of Miss O. Frederica Dabney
1927.757
Sarah Prince M. McArthur (1805-1881)
Royal Brewster Smith (1801-1855)
Limington, Maine, 1836
Oil on canvas
H. 50 ¼, W. 27 in.
Gift of Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little
1991.1348.2

When the waistline dropped from the high empire style to the natural waist in the 1830s, wide belts with vertical buckles became popular. Portraits from this era often feature women wearing waist buckles and reveal that many materials were used including mother-of-pearl, brass, pastes, and enamels.

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Bracelet
Possibly Italy, c. 1840
Gold, goldstone, micromosaic
L. 4 3/8, W. ¾, D. ¼ in.
Gift of Mrs. George Carlson
2004.8.1
Necklace Fragments
United States or Europe, c. 1840
Gold
A: W. ¼, L. 1 ½ in.
B: W. ¼, L. ¾ in.
Gift of Mrs. George Carlson
2004.8.2 a,b
Mary Middleton (Lovell) Loring
Artist Unknown
New England, c. 1840
Oil on canvas
H. 44, W. 37 in.
Gift of Mr. Claude Lee
2003.26.2

This floral micromosaic bracelet with goldstone background and necklace fragments was originally owned by Mary Middleton (Lovell) Loring (1795-1876). Mary must have deemed this bracelet highly fashionable and chose to wear it in her portrait, which is also in Historic New England's collection. Micromosaics were often purchased abroad by American tourists, but, as the vogue increased they were imported by American jewelry retailers and sold domestically.

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Necklace
Probably Europe, 1830-1850
Iron
L. 24 ¾, W. 2 5/8 in.
Bequest of Dorothy S. F. M. Codman
1969.3049
Bracelet
Probably England or France, 1825-1840
Iron
Diam. 2 ½, H. 2 7/8 (with drop) in.
Museum accession
1963.467

Black-lacquered cast-iron jewelry was commonly called Berlin iron after the city in Germany where the technique originated. This jewelry became popular during the Napoleonic Wars (1813-1815) when Germany in an attempt to raise war funds requested that its citizens exchange their gold jewelry for iron. Berlin iron jewelry was particularly well suited to the Gothic revival style, which was popular in the mid-nineteenth century. The technique used in the iron mesh bracelet is a variation of Berlin iron commonly called Silesian wire because it was believed to have originated at a foundry in Silesia. However, most of this jewelry was actually produced in England and France.

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Bracelet
United States or Europe, 1840-1850
Gold, hair, turquoises, glass
L. 7 ½, W. 3/8, D. 3/8 in.
Gift of Miss Marian L. Blake
1930.1029
Brooch
United States or Europe, 1850
Gold, silver, turquoises, pearls
H. 1, W. 1 9/16, D. ½ in.
Gift of Edwin B. Sears
1987.630
Inscription: "Marcia from Alfred / March 24, 1850“

In the 1840s and 1850s cabochon cut turquoises were often used in jewelry with foliate, bow and knot, animal and other natural motifs. The serpent, which was a symbol of love, eternity, rebirth, and wisdom, was particularly common theme in the 1840s after Prince Albert gave Queen Victoria a serpent engagement ring. The leaf-shaped brooch pictured on the left originally belonged to Marcia Roby (Drury) Cutting (1829/31-1917). Marcia married Charles Alfred Cutting (1822-1914) on September 24, 1850. Records list Marcia Roby Drury's birthday as March 24, 1829, this brooch was possibly a present from her future husband for her twenty-first birthday.

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Comb
United States or Europe, 1850-1860
Dyed ivory, gold, gold-filled
H. 4, W. 4 ¼, D. 5/8 in.
Lent by Miss Caroline A. Leighton
88.1923

Hair Pins
United States or Europe, 1850-1860
Dyed ivory, gold
H. 3 ¾, W. 1 1/8, D. 1 ¼ in.
Gift of the Estate of Miss Helen Collamore
1915.85 a,b

Flowers were the most common motif found in jewelry in the mid nineteenth century. Sentimental Victorians were fascinated by the different meanings that were associated with each species. Flower guide books, like Mrs. A.C. Burke’s Language and Sentiment of Flowers, helped people pick the appropriate flower for an occasion. Ivory was often used in floral jewelry because it could be carved into realistic shapes. The comb and hair pins both feature chains of fuchsias, which are symbols of discernment.

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Brooch
United States or Europe, c. 1857
Agate, gold
H. 1 5/16, W. 1 11/16, D. 5/8 in.
Gift of Alice and Emil Ahlborn
1961.173 c
Ruth (Lummus) Buffum (1813-1891)
Charles Osgood (1809-1890)
Salem, Massachusetts, 1857
Oil on canvas
Gift of Alice and Emil Ahlborn
1961.173 b

The term agate includes a variety of stones in the quartz family that come in a wide range of colors, patterns and translucencies. This brooch was originally owned by Ruth (Lummus) Buffum (1813-1891), the wife of the Honorable James Needham Buffum (1807-1887). Mrs. Buffum is wearing this brooch in her portrait painted by Charles Osgood (1809-1890) of Salem, Massachusetts in 1857.

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Brooch (left)
United States or Europe, 1860-1880
Tortoiseshell, gold
H. ½, W. 2 3/16, D. 3/8 in.
Gift of Miss Frances G. Curtis
1922.220

Earrings and Brooch (bottom center)
United States or Europe, 1860-1880
Tortoiseshell, gold
Brooch: H. 1, W. 1 1/8, D. ¾ in.
Earrings: L. 1 ¼, W. 5/16 in.
Bequest of Dorothy S. F. M. Codman
1969.3015.1-3

Buckle (right)
United States or Europe, 1860-1880
Tortoiseshell, gold
H. 1 1/8, W. 1 5/16, D. 5/16 in.
Gift of Miss Frances G. Curtis
1922.209

Most tortoiseshell jewelry was actually made from the shell of the hawksbill turtle, which was once commonly found around tropical reefs in the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. In 1835, the invention of the foot powered lathe increased the popularity of the material which could be carved into realistic shapes. The brooch, buckle, and jewelry set all feature gold piqué point and piqué posé decoration, inlay techniques which originated with seventeenth century Huguenot furniture makers. Piqué was extremely popular in the 1860s and early 1870s, but by 1875 the fashion waned due to mass production by manufacturers in Birmingham, England.

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Chatelaine and Watch
A. Chaillet
Paris, France, 1872-1890
Gold, garnet
H. 4 5/16, W. 1, D. ½ in.
Gift of the Stephen Phillips Memorial Charitable Trust for Historic Preservation
2006.44.32
Inscription:
Engraved: “No 10560 / A. Chaillet / 23 PLACE VENDOME / Paris”
Paper Label: “HORLOGERIE & BIJOUTERIE / Anc ne Mon CZAPEK & Cie / A. Chaillet, Succr / 23. Place Vendome / PARIS”

While a few American companies like Tiffany & Co. were successfully competing with the best European jewelry firms by the late nineteenth century, most high-end jewelry still came from Europe. This piece was purchased by Anna Pingree (Perkins) and Joseph Peabody during one of their many trips to Paris between the years 1872 and 1887 from A. Chaillet, a successor of Francois Czapek’s company who was the original partner of Antoine Norbert de Patek. Victorians were extremely fond of convertible jewelry and as a result chatelaines that were popular in the eighteenth century enjoyed a revival.

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Aigrette
Shreve, Crump & Low
Boston, Massachusetts, 1875-1900
Gold plate, glass, bird feather
H. 6, W. 2, D. ½ in.
Gift of the Stephen Phillips Memorial Charitable Trust for Historic Preservation
2006.44.354
Inscription: “SHREVE / CRUMP & LOW / BOSTON.”

Aigrettes are a type of hair accessory that was popular in the mid eighteenth century and then enjoyed a revival in the late nineteenth century. They consisted of a hair fastener from which a bird’s feather could be attached. A spring was often included in the device so that the feather moved with the wearer.

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Bracelet
United States, c. 1880
Gold
Diam. 2 9/16, W. 1 in.
Gift of the Stephen Phillips Memorial Charitable Trust for Historic Preservation
2006.44.16
Inscription: “PAT'D FEB. 25 / 1879 / OCT. 14. 79 / MAY 18. 80”

This bracelet features projecting flanges along its edges to protect the delicate twisted gold wire and granulation decoration. The design was patented by Charles Hein of Corona, New York, on February 25, 1879 and then later reissued to Hale & Mulford of New York, New York.

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Earrings
United States or Europe, 1890-1910
Gold, amethysts, pearls
L. 1 ¼, W. 5/16 in.
Bequest of Susan B. Norton
1990.13
Mademoiselle S. N. (Sarah Norton)
Hugh de T. Glazebrook
Bordighera, Italy, 1910
Oil on canvas
H. 65, W. 46 ¼, D. 3 in.
Bequest of Susan B. Norton
1990.92

These earrings belonged to Sarah Norton (1864-1922), daughter of noted Harvard University professor Charles Eliot Norton (1827-1908). In 1910, she had her portrait painted in Italy wearing these earrings. The portrait is also in Historic New England's collection.

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Dog Collars
United States or Europe, 1890-1910
Glass
A: L. 14 ¼, W. 1 3/8 in.
B: L. 14 ½, W. 1 ½ in.
Gift of Mrs. Henry B. Spelman
1942.263 a,b

Alexandra, The Princess of Wales, fueled the fashion for necklaces worn close to the neck called dog collars in the late nineteenth century. This form of necklace complimented the plunging necklines that were popular in evening wear at that time. While these dog collars utilize glass beads, more elaborate high end pieces were set with diamonds, pearls, and other colored precious stones.

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Brooch
United States or Europe, 1890-1920
Platinum, diamonds
H. 2 1/16, W. 1, D. ¼ in.
Bequest of Eleanor Fayerweather
1993.883

During the Edwardian era platinum became the favored base metal for diamond jewelry. This brooch has all the classic elements of Edwardian jewelry, including the use of platinum, collet and pave set diamonds, and delicate flowing openwork reminiscent of eighteenth century rococo designs.

This brooch was part of a large bequest of objects from Eleanor Appleton Fayerweather. Ms. Fayerweather was born in Westborough, Massachusetts in 1904. In 1927, she graduated from the Massachusetts School of Art and became a specialist in costume research. Later she worked as a curator in the Costume Center of the Rhode Island School of Design. She was a life-long collector with an excellent eye and many of her pieces are quite spectacular.

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Brooch
Edward Everett Oakes
Boston and Wakefield, Massachusetts, 1940-1950
H. 1 5/8, W. 1 5/8, D. ¼ in.
Gift of Barbara Wriston
2004.14.7

The donor commissioned this brooch from Edward Everett Oakes while she lived in Boston in the 1940s. Boston was a center for the Arts and Crafts movement in America. Oakes had trained with the prominent Boston jewelry maker, Frank Gardner Hale who had studied in England with C.R. Ashbee, an advocate of the Arts and Crafts style. In 1917, Oakes opened his own shop on Newbury Street.

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Double Circle Pin
Beaucraft, Inc.
Providence, Rhode Island, 1955-1959
Sterling Silver
H. 1, W. 1 ½, D. ¼ in.
Gift of Jane C. Nylander
2002.35.1
Inscription: “BEAU / STERLING”

Southern Massachusetts and Rhode Island have a long tradition in the pewter, silver, and jewelry industries and are home to famous firms such as Gorham and Reed & Barton. In the twentieth century, Providence, Rhode Island, and Attelboro, Massachusetts, were leaders in costume jewelry technology and manufacturing. This silver pin was made by the Providence based company Beaucraft, Inc. and was worn by the donor at Pembroke College in Providence, Rhode Island, between the years 1955 and 1959. According to the donor, at that time the circle pin was "de rigeur and the double circle pin was both overkill and a bit of rebellion!"

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Pop-it Bead Necklaces
United States, 1950-1960
Plastic
Gift of the Family of Nina Fletcher Little
1993.61-64

Plastics improved dramatically in the twentieth century. This new material was durable, easily molded, and could be dyed any color imaginable. Designers in almost every field experimented with plastics. The jewelry industry was no exception and plastics were the perfect material for the booming imitation jewelry market. Plastics in jewelry were particularly popular during and after World War II when the supply of Czechoslovakian glass was no longer readily available. Pop-it Beads were the plastic jewelry fad of the 1950s. Each bead featured a socket on one end and a hole on the other and could be “popped” together to make necklaces and bracelets of various lengths. These beads were also extremely affordable and could be purchased for pennies out of gumball machines.

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Beautiful Baubles: Female Adornment