Pam’s Pictorama Post: Here at Pictorama in recent years we’ve developed a particular soft spot for medals. My discovery of school medals lead to recent post (which can be found here) about these emblems of encouragement that seemed to proliferate as awards in schools in the early part of the 20th century. Improvement! Excellence! Who doesn’t want a daily reminder of these qualities cheering them on? Somehow I imagine accumulating numerous ones to wear on a lapel together although this has not yet manifested.
These school award are not the beribboned ones for athletic prowess or competition, but smaller and sweeter in my opinion. I have both a US example and one from Canada. I have to believe that equivalents existed in Europe. Somehow I like to imagine an earlier society where pins like these proliferated. This one is brass and appears a bit more mass produced than my school awards which would have been, I think, produced blank and then etched with cheering motivations subsequently.
I am reminded of those pins by this odd kissing cousin of an item I purchased a few months back from a British jewelry dealer (I have written about purchases from @Wassail_antiques frequently before, a recent post can be found here – hey Rachel!) and while making another purchase I decided that I would acquire this pin from her shop too. I had been eyeing it and in the end I would be disappointed to see it go to someone else. It seems to belong here with me.
I did think it would be easier to find information about the Women’s Cheer-up Club than it has turned out to be. My limited research skills finally confirmed what I more or less thought I would discover, which is that the Cheer-ups were British societies in WWI. It seems to be an umbrella term for a loosely defined group of organizations which provided comfort and entertainment for troops during the war, raising money for these activities and also to create other resources for soldiers such as physiotherapy and the development of remedial skills. Drives were held for food, clothing and books for the troops as well and I believe some of these ultimately became veterans associations.
I found one other of these pins while doing my research – for sale on Etsy – and it was the exact same one, although it seems there must have been variations on the theme I could find none. The references I ultimately found were largely archival period newspaper articles writing up the activities of a local branch of a Cheer-up Club. The references I found were not specifically to it as a women’s association.
Southern Australia had an active equivalent and I was able to find more about those than the British clubs, the establishment of them and the doings of the groups. The Australian Society Cheer-up also seeked to care for their troops abroad as well as at home and there are articles about Cheer-up Huts for Australian soldiers in Britain during the war.
In addition to, of course, urging people to cheer up these pins were a brand of patriotism during that time. I imagine that sporting such a pin might also show a soldier, perhaps on leave in an unfamiliar place, where he might find a hot meal and gathering spot in the area. Of course, it also encouraged people to cheer up during a dark time and now it sits on a shelf near my desk where it does that for me as needed too.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is a first foray into Halloween post for this year – although clearly not all of my insect related bits and bobs are creepy crawlies, and of course there will be black cats to come. As it happens, today’s parade of insects started with butterflies. As Pictorama readers know, over the long pandemic siege I have entertained myself by following a series of jewelry dealers on Instagram. I mentioned these butterfly pins before as I considered a new passion for pins in general. (That post and a few others can be found here, here and here.)
While several dealers I buy from hail from the Midwest, a few are further afield and one of the first, and the one I probably still buy from most frequently, is a woman named Rachel whose handle and Etsy shop can be found @Wassail_Antiques and wassailantiques.com respectively. She lives in a thatched cottage (yes, really) in the English countryside, with husband and lovely pooch, and is a gifted professional photographer so her photos are extra alluring.
Rachel was nice enough to supply the photo above of the spider bracelet (above and below). For the rest you will have to put up with my ham handed efforts or snatches off IG posts. I do believe looking at her photos of the countryside help to assuage any unsatisfied travel lust I might feel.
I saw the butterflies on her IG page first. Rachel wrote that they were likely made by prisoners of war or as trench art (during WWI, I believe) as trinkets for loved ones and a way to pass the time. I have found some passing references to this practice online, but am a bit surprised more hasn’t been written about it. These pins nagged at my brain for awhile and then I grabbed up these two last April when, perhaps like the soldiers in question, I was feeling my own desperate need for the outdoors, the natural world and perhaps a more orderly world than I was encountering. I bought two with the idea of wearing them together. I have not managed to execute that vision yet as my days of jacket lapels still seem to remain in the future days. (Although I have cleaned out the closets and jackets now wait at the ready!)
The dragonfly on the other hand, is celluloid and of a more recent vintage. Another favorite dealer (@marsh.and.meadow and @marsh.and.meadow.overflow) was having a sale – I have written that these sales are always fast and furious and this was no exception, but I bought this little gem. This was before I purchased the World’s Fair bracelet from her – a recent post which can be found here – and I felt lucky to score this little fellow. Although he is plastic I really love him and I did manage to sport him on some sundresses this summer. I can imagine wearing all three together. These pins say spring and summer to me.
Heading into the season of the moment, Rachel revealed this lovely bracelet and I jumped on it. I have never seen anything like this bracelet and it has become an immediate favorite. (I am not alone – it had a moment in the sun in a piece in Tattler magazine before winging its way to me!) I have worn it to almost every one of my in-person appointments since it arrived. Although it is very seasonal for the moment I expect to continue wearing it beyond October 31.
After the purchase of the bracelet another spider found its way to me in the form of a necklace. (This one courtesy @witchyvintage.) I am having a bit of trouble with this one though, and although I like it and the chain, I must paw through my jewelry box for a chain that works better for it. (She also has vintage clothing and just put up a black velvet cape that seriously stopped me in my tracks – but I really am not leading a black velvet vintage cape life right now. Alas! For those with more interesting lives who wish to investigate her shop can also be found at witchyvintage.com.
I admit I continue a yen for them – Rachel has two lovely bug stickpins on her Etsy site I can barely control myself from purchasing. I am decidedly not fond of the insects I find in my home (the moths continue their prodigious march despite my best ongoing efforts, I am constantly undertaking their elimination, systematically and randomly), and am actually fairly squeamish in general about that aspect of the natural world so this trend intrigues me. Bees have long interested me with their diligence and organization and perhaps in a different world I might have kept hives, but in general I like my insects at arm’s length, or (I guess) made from beads, silver or even plastic.
Maybe I relate to their chrysalis state, waiting to emerge from my own cocoon. Or maybe it is just a new yen for the natural world after a long time mostly at home. I am not sure, but I will also mention that I find myself purchasing items with stars, moons and other celestial motifs! (I am wearing favorite pj’s with stars on them gratis The Gap right now as I write this.) More on those to come.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: This bracelet came up on Instagram recently – a photo on the site of @Marsh.and.Meadow, aka Heather and her young daughter Opal (clearly a budding collector of discerning taste), acquired on an antiques road trip recently. Let me say that as someone who does not drive (or have access to a car) the idea of a trip driving through the mid-West looking for antiques is sort of heavenly. There is an alternate universe where I too get to do this on a regular basis. (In that world we also live in a house which we fill with interesting stuff of course.)
I spotted this bracelet and I really wanted it. The sales at Heather’s site are amazingly fast and furious and if my internet is having even the tiniest slowdown I am not in the running. In the long run this probably saves me a lot of money and generally I am philosophical about it. However, on this occasion I broke my rule and got her to break hers and sell me the bracelet in advance.
The bracelet is slightly larger than a child’s size and just fits my wrist. As an aside I will mention that everyone on IG seems to be tiny – a world of people smaller than me. Endless rings that tempt, siting atop ring fingers in photos that it turns out I can barely wear on my pinky, vintage clothing from tiny people in earlier times that I won’t even attempt. Again, this saves me a lot of money in the end – how many pinky rings can you own – but occasionally frustrates me at a towering 5’9″ with appendages that match.
The Trylon and Perisphere are featured on the bracelet and you take it on and off with a hook from one side of the emblem. The sun is rising behind them and a tree grows to one side, a building of classical design behind it, a lot going on in that tiny scene. The gold tone is worn on the inside of the bracelet, but the outer rim is ornate and in good shape. My reaction is that I would have been simply gob-smacked to have acquired this in 1939 as part of my visit to the Fair. I have to assume that in its day it was a bit rarified and somehow I imagine that I never would have been able to own it back then, making it ever more appealing.
I have never run across this bracelet before, although I am sure they proliferated and that they are available. (A quick search on Google shows an abundance of other styles of bracelets – charm bracelets appearing to be the predominant, and one image of this style.) Somehow this one made its way out to the Midwest and now it has come back to New York City, its ancestral home.
Folks devote whole sites to the ’39 World’s Fair so I am largely thinking only of my own intersection with it. I was introduced to the Fair and its history by a former boyfriend who was fascinated by it. Under his tutelage I learned about it, watched films on it, learned to spot the occasional item related to it in our junk hunting, and of course visited the remains of it in Queens more than once. The latter is endlessly interesting, the hulking disintegrating remains of those temporary pavilions no one could bring themselves to demolish, the mosaic floors of some. I always look for them when driving to the airport – a last very New York view before departing.
My Dad, a native New Yorker, attended both the ’39 and ’64 World’s Fairs and frankly neither made much of an impression on him it seemed. (As I remember he seemed mystified as to why I would care.) Yet without question the ’39 Fair continues to capture the imagination of many. Our world of today and its technology has long outstripped the vision of 1939 so why does that now antiquated vision appeal? While there are other fairs of the past (the Chicago World’s Fair of ’33 and the Louisiana Exposition among them) the ’39 World’s Fair stands out. It was an event that sent ripples out into the decades to come in a way that could neither be anticipated, nor replicated.
When I think about the events during my life that will punctuate history I think of the creation of the internet and computers, but also of 9/11 and Covid. Designed by business leaders to help pull New York City out of the Depression, the ’39 World’s Fair was born on the cusp of the advent of WWII and they had no idea it that their creation would live in the imagination of history the way it did. I just read that there was very little actual science at the World of Tomorrow, mostly the smoke and mirrors of commerce and serving up hope for what would come next for a world beat up from years of the Depression. It is so interesting to me that folks held onto those trinkets which were a reminder that a new world was just around the corner.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: My mother is not a collector, I inherited the gene from my dad and from his side of the family. His mother loved to attend auctions here in the city and stuffed their house with carpets, furniture and trinkets. She loved costume jewelry – in many ways I am her successor. My father was an accumulator as well, garage sales, auctions. He was a man who liked stuff. While there were no toy or photograph collectors, I’m sure Pictorama readers realize that this is the category I fit into – and at least in this way I take most decidedly after the paternal side of my family. (I most recently wrote about Dad’s passion for silver in a post here.)
My mom on the other hand is not especially interested in things. She can be discerning about what she likes and prefers, but generally speaking my mother just lived among the stuff my father accumulated without being especially engaged with it or the acquisition of it. This is not to say she didn’t enjoy a trip to an antique shop or flea market – she would pick up this or that. However, she does not possess a deep affection for the items of the world, nor the acquisition of them.
A scientist at heart my mother’s passion lies deeply embedded in the natural world. As a result I grew up with a cheerful allotment of pet cats, dogs and fish. (Two past posts addressing this roster of pets and my early life can be found here and here.) We had a vegetable garden which she planted and tended and we lived on a river where we enjoyed a passing parade of waterfowl and aquatic life. Her father was a devoted fisherman and repaired outboard motors and made fishing lures for extra money, so she knew the waters of the area well. Much of the idyll of my childhood I have shared with Pictorama readers was shaped by my mother’s views, knowledge and interests in the nature world of the seashore where we lived.
One Thanksgiving, several decades ago now, my mother noticed a flock of swans in the backyard and became intently interested in them. Before long she was feeding them as well as watching them, along with the geese and ducks which also made our river inlet home at the time. Eventually an injured one turned up and she found someone to help heal it. Slowly she became involved with a loose network of people who were knowledgeable and would help when an injured swan or goose would cross her path. I remember visiting my folks and finding that I was sharing the guest bathroom with an injured swan overnight. (He was a noisy neighbor that night!) Strangely (to my mind anyway) mute swans are an intensely political and controversial issue for people who live on or near the shore. Other than to acknowledge that it is, and that clearly my mom falls on the side of protecting this wildlife, it is not my intention to tackle that topic.
For today all this is to say that on that November afternoon my mother recognized and embraced her spirit animal and although she loves all birds (and in fact all animals) she is deeply and especially attached to swans. She has devoted much of her time and energy in subsequent years to caring for them and defending them with all the resources she could marshal. In recent years, no longer living on the water and now mostly confined to the house, I say she still wields a mighty phone and computer. Her now tiny yard remains a haven for song birds who attracted by and enjoy bird baths and feeders, as well as a garden designed to feed them and the insects. (I wrote a little about her gardening in a post here.)
While living on the waterfront those many years mom photographed the swans, along with geese, ducks, other birds and of course our cats. Those photos proliferated on the walls of the house and my father, the accumulator, brought her swan related items and in that way she became an inadvertent collector of swan stuff. However, when the time came to downsize into the house she lives in now she shed most of it without regret. I think she rather enjoys living a more pared down life.
Therefore, as her birthday approached this year, it was never my intention to purchase items of this sort for her. However, much like those first swans years ago, these presented themselves to me in recent weeks and I found myself purchasing first the pin and then the photo. The pin hails from the British jewelry dealer Mia (IG @therubyfoxes or therubyfoxes.com, my most recent past post of an acquisition from her can be found here) who told me that five flying swans is the symbol of the Nordic countries, swans of different types being the national birds of both Finland and Denmark. Although unmarked, esthetically it appears to be made in one of those countries. Mom was never much of a jewelry wearer and wears none now really, but I think she will like having this, perhaps on a piece of ribbon, pinned up near where she likes to sit most days.
Meanwhile, a week or so later when following a sale by my Halloween supplier, the Midwestern Miss Molly (IG @MissMollysAntiques who I gave a nod to just last week in a post here), I stumbled across this early photo of two swans and again I answered the call and purchased it for mom. There is something about the reflections in the water I think mom will especially like. Later today I will pick up a frame and tomorrow I head to Jersey to see mom, slightly in advance of her birthday later this month.
Sometimes when I run in the mornings I see geese or ducks here on the East River, flying by, and I email mom and tell her they were waving to her in tribute. It felt like these items also arrived on Instagram pointedly just in time for her birthday this year. Maybe although dad is gone, he is still finding a way to send a few swan items her way.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is both a jewelry and personal Pam post. Pictorama readers know that I love old jewelry and these months at home have introduced me to many new sellers, primarily on Instagram, several in Britain. (For a few of those past acquisition posts you can read here and here!) However, my fondness for jewelry runs deep, all the way back to childhood, and over time I have acquired a number of pieces that have great personal significance. Not always, but frequently when I acquire a new piece, I have the symbolism tugging at the back of my mind. (My photos do not do any of these objects justice, but the best I can manage on a overcast Sunday morning.)
As it happens, the first of these medals was purchased in honor of my (February) birthday, in ’20, just weeks before the shutdown here in New York City. I was dropping something off at the jeweler and took a bit of time to paw through the trays they keep stacked in their glass counters. The jeweler I have used for years, Cluster, is down in what New Yorkers call the Diamond District, a few blocks of Midtown in the forties around Seventh Avenue. They are housed in a rabbit warren of offices and other establishments on the high floor of an anonymous office building. It is difficult for two people to be together in the tiny space allotted to customers at the front of their workshop which is walled off with glass.
Two generations of the family worked there and I most often speak to the daughter, Robyn, although her father likes to come over and inspect what I am wearing or bringing in and comment on it. He is particularly fond of a ring I wear often with antique horse cameo. It is beautifully made by a friend on the west coast (Gizelle Strohkendl, who along with her sister Charley runs the Westwood Village shop, Muriel Chastanet, in Los Angeles which can be found on IG @murielchastanet_finejewelry and I have written about them before in a post here) and her dad likes to take it and study it a bit. If I am wearing my mother and grandmother’s diamond engagement ring and wedding band (they reset the diamonds in the engagement ring years ago) he takes them and cleans them while I wait and talk to Robyn. Right now they have a string of pearls I dropped off to be restrung in March of ’20. My timing at the office has been off to retrieve them and as a result Robyn and I have chatted on the phone a few times.
Robyn showed me the little medal which proclaims Improvement. I had never seen one of these and I fell in love with it instantly. These are school medals, 9k I think, and I believe from the first half of the 20th century. I am sure their history is quite straightforward and maybe a reader can inform me, but I have been unable to really find out much about them. And may I just say, who wouldn’t try to improve or excel with promise of such a glittering reward?
The Improvement pin is engraved with B.A.R. Jan. 1910 on the back. It has a makers mark which says, Lambert Bros NY at the bottom. One wonders who B.A.R. was and what area precisely s/he improved in so dramatically? The jeweler, Lambert Brothers, was 100 years in business from 1877-1977. According to the jewelry site, Kaleidoscope Effect:
Quality jewelry lasts, according to one of the oldest jewelry companies, Lambert Bros NYC founded in 1877 by Italians August Lambert and his brother. Later, Henry L. Lambert (1905 – 1983) headed his father and uncle’s business. Noteworthy, before joining the family company, he had studied gem cutting and jewelry design in Amsterdam and Paris. The company’s store located at Third Ave at the corner of 58th street, sold bracelet watches, medals and a variety of fine jewelry – cigarette cases, pearl strings, rings, bracelets, cufflinks, brooches, earrings, chains and necklaces. Creating their jewelry pieces, the designers of the company used precious metals – gold, platinum, and sterling silver.
Using the name of the company I found one or two similar examples of medals, the sterling one for a firefighter was on the Worthpoint auction site and claims to possibly be haunted. (This long and interesting story can be found on their site here.) However, I did not find any similar school medals.
I have been looking for others in a casual way. Some similar items came up on IG, but if I remember correctly they were unengraved which didn’t quite suit. I asked one or two dealers to keep a weather eye for me and to give me a heads up if they found any for sale. However, I ultimately stumbled on my second one, Excellence, on eBay recently. I purchased it from a Canadian seller and vaguely assume it hails from the area originally. Unlike Improvement there is no maker’s mark on the back of this medal, just E.N. 1945. There is a tiny symbol at the bottom like an open book, but I don’t know what it means. This one is a tad more grand (Excellence being a bit more grand than Improvement perhaps?), but I especially like them together and look forward to having them on a lapel some day.
Jewelry to me has always been worn to convey a message, either to myself or others. Usually the message is a bit less direct – my horse cameo ring is for good luck, my mother and grandmother’s rings to remind me constantly of the smart, great women in my life, an enormous bee is to celebrate industriousness and ingenuity – although Gizelle assured me that it is indeed a Queen bee! Symbols are important.
When I bought the first medal I was congratulating myself on my progress at work. My first year there was very difficult, the second year better but still very hard. It was halfway through the third year that I finally was feeling the swing of things and could see the early efforts I put in place paying off. It was my own little award to myself for the hard won changes I had wrought.
It is somewhat ironic that the medal that would show up next would be Excellence. As I look back on the more than 17 months and all accomplished I decided that I deserved Excellence as well.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: A watery sun is just emerging on this July 4 morning here in NYC. It isn’t a sun that has made up its mind for the day, but it is at least a relief from the downright cold and rain which commenced on Friday and peaked (hopefully) yesterday. If I was planning to picnic I would be guardedly optimistic about the outcome. I will definitely take hazy sun over none today, although my holiday plans are not more celebratory than a long walk along the river later.
Today is a jewelry combined with cat post and I am thinking about this locket which reached our shores from Great Britain earlier this week. I purchased it from Mia, aka @therubyfoxes on IG. I have written about Mia previously (that post can be found here and one about my other Instagram jewelry connections can be found here), and I had asked her about a pretty decorative chain which it turned out would require extra links on the back to make it sufficiently long enough to wear.
While that isn’t a huge project, until I return to visiting the office in midtown on a regular basis I don’t seem to be able to hook up with my jeweler in the Diamond District. They do not have a storefront and these last months have only come from Jersey at odd hours as well. They have had a set of pearls I had restrung back in March of 2020 which we continue to negotiate about. Anyway, I was sufficiently discouraged from the purchase.
However, a thought did scratch at the back of my brain. I had landed on Mia’s online shop recently (therubyfoxes.com) and taken note of an especially nice heavy, silver art deco locket which stayed on my mind. Her description listed it as sterling, Birmingham made circa 1879 via the hallmarks (maker’s initials MJG). Left to my own devices I would have pegged it for the teens here in the US, but what do I know? I can imagine one of my Camp Fire Girls wearing it – or perhaps their older sister?
Mia points out that the Victorian design was deliberate and the symbols are ivy and belts. According to her listing the ivy is for friendship and connection while the belts represent eternity, loyalty, strength and protection. The idea that this was more of a locket of friendship than romance appealed to me in an odd way – and these days who doesn’t need strength and protection? Mia kindly included a chain to wear it on and the deal was done.
Lockets are interesting things as you consider what, if anything, you will put in them – that which you will then keep close to your heart. I think my younger self saw this as a bit of a responsibility actually, even intimidating. I was years away from meeting Kim still so he wasn’t an option at the time. (Meanwhile, I am also a bit obsessed with these sort of small silver containers to wear on a chain which could hold any interesting tiny thing. I once missed out on one that was Native American years ago much to my sorrow. I could still need one of those and Mia also has one of those in her shop. Hmmm.)
I have written a bit about how my taste in jewelry has shifted over the last year. I have surprisingly returned to an interest in vintage costume and everyday pieces of the kind that I collected through high school, college and early adulthood – although most seem to hail from Great Britain this time around. In recent years I had invested in fewer, more singular pieces, almost always gold rather than silver. I had a gorgeous bee ring made for my birthday a few years ago by a genius jeweler in Los Angeles, Gizelle Strohkendt, which I wore virtually daily until mid-March 2020.
I purchased my very favorite (lucky) horse ring from her years ago, which she made from an antique cameo. We have something else in the works now too. (Although I have known Gizelle from my in-person visits to Los Angeles over many years, she too can be found on IG under @murielchastanet_finejewelry or at the Westwood Village, LA shop of the same name. These beloved pieces I mention are definitely future posts jewelry friends!)
Oddly the purchase of this locket represents a desire for one that goes way back to my early days here in New York City right after college. There was a rather excellent store on First Avenue, just blocks above the 59th Street Bridge, which carried some Art Deco furniture and odds and ends, as well as several cases of jewelry roughly from the same era which I focused my attention on. It was a mere block or two above my favorite antique toy store (an early post on that shop which ignited my antique toy collecting passion can be found here) and it was a habit to occasionally treat myself to a wander down from my home in the East 80’s and poke around in both.
I was chronically broke at the time and so there was definitely more looking with only a few purchases. However, I had noted a display of lockets behind the counter in the jewelry shop (can’t bring the name of the shop to mind at all sadly), and one day I wandered down to have a good look and see what the odds were of purchasing one.
However, what I found when I got to the counter were kittens instead! It turned out that she also rescued animals. Whereas her regular gig was fostering dogs, this litter of kittens had come her way and had been living in the basement of the shop where they were kept from over the enthused pups residing at home. They hailed from Brooklyn originally. Of course their adorableness frolicking around the shop also had got most of them adopted quickly.
There was a tiny male tuxedo who immediately jumped from his counter perch into my arms, doing the hard sell complete with purrs and kisses, and a clear desire to come home with me. He had had a terrible eye infection he was recovering from and his runny eyes had probably been the deterrent to his speedy adoption. At the time I had a female tuxie named Otto Dix (yep, thought she was a boy) and I had been considering a second cat. Lockets entirely forgotten, I went home to think about this cat acquisition.
Pictorama readers probably don’t need to be told that I was back very soon after to see if the little fellow was still there. The woman told me he was promised to a man, but she felt better about sending him home with me. She lent me a carrier and Mr. Zippy came home with me that day. Silver lockets dismissed in favor of this new family acquisition. Sadly, the shop closed not long after, although I would see her occasionally selling furniture at the big antique shows on the westside Piers in subsequent years.
Needless to say, the twenty years I enjoyed my much beloved Zippy emphatically eclipsed any possible jewelry purchase. However, when I saw this locket in Mia’s online shop my mind went back to the yen that took me to that shop decades ago. Furthermore, I suspect Mia will like this story as she too is an animal person and shares photos of her kitties (fluffy beautiful Enid and remarkable kitten Astrid) along with wildlife around her home in the stunning British countryside.
As I try to put together a vision of Post-pandemic Pam she is evidently sporting British finery (a lot of lucky horseshoe pins showing up) from more than 100 years ago – probably paired with a wardrobe of nice sneakers I am envisioning since I have realized that I am not inclined to consider anything else on my feet going forward. Not sure what will replace sweatpants, workout clothes and the two sundresses I have in rotation, but we’ll see. I intend to sport this find for my first in-person work events in August, sneakers and all.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today is Father’s Day and I had intended to ignore that fact as it just makes me sad since losing my Dad. (Some favorite posts about Dad can be found here and here.) However, this morning I saw a post on Instagram for a silver ring that caught my eye, offered by dealer in Australia who I follow (@madamebrocante), mostly for eye candy as her pieces are quite dear and generally more than I will spend on the internet where you can’t try things on – the best way to decide you must purchase jewelry. Nonetheless, a ring caught my eye as one that would go well with this cuff which has been a favorite of mine for decades.
Turns out the ring was a vintage one from the silver company of George Jensen, a Danish silversmith (1866-1935) whose designs my father loved with all of it. My father had a great eye and decided taste running toward Brutalist and modernist design in jewelry. He vastly preferred silver to gold and other than a good watch I cannot think of a piece of jewelry he gave me that wasn’t silver. (He loved silver in all things though and would buy sterling anything with impunity, wherever he found it. As a result silver services piled up in the house too over time.) He was not partial to gem stones liked his silver largely unadorned. (Meanwhile, I’m not sure who considers ring buying while recovering from broken fingers. I can hear my father saying, Well, that’s what you get for exercising!) His taste was consistently clean and simple lines in all things – from Shaker furniture to suits.
I have a small clutch of silver jewelry by the designer Art Smith pieces Dad bought Mom (a post about those can be found here), but my mother was never much on jewelry and doesn’t wear so much as a watch or wedding ring. (Weirdly I have ended up with a pile of wedding bands – grandmother’s, mom’s and unidentified.) Loren, my sister, had jewelry taste which ran very much to the traditional (gold, pearls, precious stones) and so when my father developed an interest in Native American contemporary silver jewelry I was the natural recipient.
Among several pieces and most beloved is this silver cuff. I myself wear a lot of gold and this had been put away for awhile when I rediscovered it about five years ago. It is remarkably comfortable despite being hefty. My father used to purchase such pieces from a small gallery/shop neat Grand Central in a high rise with a public atrium and stores. The Whitney Museum had a space there for years. I wear this cuff very frequently – or at last did pre-pandemic, dressing for work.
When I started wearing the cuff again – after my mother had given me the Art Smith pieces – I decided to research the marks. It was made by an award winning artisan named Johnny Mike Begay. I cannot find a lot of information other than examples of his work. He was Navajo and died in 1976 which means my father purchased this more than a decade after Mr. Begay died. The design is one that he made many variations on – other bracelets, belt buckles and rings. I have long had my eye out for a ring, but haven’t found the right one yet. Although I pair it with some luscious turquoise rings and earrings what I want is something which, like the Jensen ring, speaks more to the simplicity of the design which is what appealed to my father.
The Jensen ring is a beauty and the craftsmanship and design are undeniably wonderful. Madame Brocante informed me that it was designed by Regitze Overgaard, maybe in the 1980’s, for George Jensen and is known as the Melon ring. Madame B’s example is way too small for my hands as it turns out – the ones available all run small – do Danes have tiny hands? Examples are available on the internet and it is tempting if the right size can be found. There would be no adjusting this design.
Regardless of whether or not I purchase one it gave me the pleasure of starting Father’s Day with a particularly fond memory of Dad I might not have had today otherwise. He would have loved that ring.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: Let the cat post begin! It has been awhile since a new cat item wandered into Deitch Studio, but this one was worth waiting for. It came to my via one of my favorite Instagram vendors, Mia @ The Ruby Foxes, or you can find her wares at therubyfoxes.com, but then you wouldn’t be treated to her frequent posts which not only have great stuff, but showcase her two cats (Enid and Astrid) and take the viewer on glorious, daily five mile runs through the British countryside. Her account says she resides in Arundel, Sussex and let me tell you, it is stunningly beautiful.
This pandemic year has given me a vast, new appreciation for glimpses of other folks lush landscapes as an armchair traveler of sorts – and for what it is worth I try to treat my Instagram followers to my East River views, park foliage and wildlife in my IG stories as a reminder of our urban pleasures. Some of you know that I recently made the acquaintance of a young hawk who insistently swoops in front of me as I entered the park each morning. (Look at me!) Just yesterday he was hunting about a block from the park and I saw him as I headed over, soaring high above me, being chased by wary, angry crows and sparrows. (An interesting example of warring bird factions who wouldn’t typically otherwise unite for a specific cause.)
Mia, on the other hand, has hedgehogs in her garden and she has rigged up a camera to film the pudgy little fellows at night! They are delightful! The other day she gave some instructions for encouraging them back to British gardens as they no longer thrive there the way they once did. We all do love the hedgehog footage.
Mia is an accomplished runner and shared views of her muddy track shoes through spring – extra muscle building, those muddy paths I would imagine. She ticks off five miles daily and is very diligent. While I suspect she is younger than yours truly it does inspire and impress me mightily, as my sort of sloppy, very slow and approximately three miles has taken a long time to achieve. Mia sent encouragement early on when I told her I was trying to start running which was also very kind, and she and her five miles in the English countryside are a sort of vision board for me and my nascent, slow and urban, efforts.
However, this is all to say that I found The Ruby Foxes because she sells antique jewelry and other antique bits and pieces on Instagram and I like to see those too. I have written some about my fascination with early 20th century British jewelry and vintage clothing as it is a sort of a parallel universe to the same period in the US. I am enjoying the baubles and bits of their bygone age and as it is slightly different than our own, it has renewed my interest in this sort of thing. (My other posts about this can be found here and here.) I considered it a sign of good mental health when I got interested in jewelry again – proof that some part of my brain was thinking about a future where I would again be out in the world someday. I am developing a fascination with lucky horseshoe pins and insect pins.
Recently I purchased a tiny moonstone ring from her. I have long been a fan of moonstones and have had my eye out for a simple, early ring like this one. It is a tad small, even for my littlest finger, but after some to and fro we decided that it could be made a bit bigger if needed. However, best of all, Mia reminded me that ages ago I said I wanted a cat door knocker which she had subsequently tucked away for me until such time as we added something to the order which I guess didn’t happen. I don’t know how I let this little fellow slip my mind because he is wonderful!
He is quite small, the size of the palm of my hand so what, about five inches? As a door knocker he is small, although solidly made of brass and I would imagine he would emit a suitable knocking on your door. (In size he reminds me more of a mezuzah than a door knocker.) Still, I can’t help but feel he is somewhat apartment sized and really would be ideal for a door like ours here where you are never more than half a room away from the front door.
Living in a large apartment building which has restricted front door access (in our case a rotation of doormen) means that not a lot of knocking goes on here. Oddly though, we have a new, shy porter who has instituted the practice of leaving some of our packages at our front door and he quietly knocks when he does it. It made Cookie hiss the first time, which seemed like an extreme reaction. Still, we were all a bit surprised and of course now when you go to open your door you have to find your mask first and chances are you are on a Zoom call for work at the same time and carrying the ipad or phone around with you. It doesn’t happen often and so it is a bit of a big deal.
Our NYS regulation fire safe metal doors also seem a tad knocker unfriendly. We technically have a doorbell built into the door although it broke within weeks of my moving in here decades ago and I wouldn’t begin to imagine how to have it replaced or repaired. There is also a bit of press tape with the prior owner’s name stuck in (J. Radigan, whoever and wherever you are) where the broken bell is. We have lived here incognito for several decades. (Yes, I have always been a bit casual about some aspects of home maintenance.)
Meanwhile, I don’t foresee putting this great little fellow out in the hall. For one thing, I like to look at him. He has tiny holes for thin nails and I cannot imagine somehow drilling him into our fire-approved metal door. Since we live in one room, doors are in short supply here, so I think he will grace a wall or shelf instead.
I have found some of his feline grinning brethren online – a few identical and a few kissing cousins, likely of the same origin. The general consensus is that he is British and Victorian. The variation that is perhaps more available seems to be just his head, with the bow the actual knocking part, shown above, and identified as the Cheshire Cat. I wouldn’t mind assembling a few more cat knocker variations if the opportunity arises and am a bit tempted by the eBay offer although that one does look like he has been poorly polished at some point.
I like my guy best I think, with his full cat body, smile and big bow tie. Hard to see but his grin is a bit toothy and there is an almost worn away whisker or two. The smile is a slightly enigmatic one, his toes tucked together and somehow the knocker gives a sense of a tail which does not exist. He will do a nice job of guarding our house, even if it is from the inside and not out.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: One of the strangest byproducts of the past year was a developing penchant for pins. Backing up a bit, allow me to assure you that I have long been a joyful purchaser of jewelry. However, pre-pandemic, I was decidedly more of a ring gal and my preference was almost exclusively gold. My taste did not especially run to gem stones, although with occasional exception. It wasn’t unusual for me to wear four rings on a typical day, including my simple gold wedding band which I wore every day, along with a few gold bangle bracelets. Really, fingers were for decorating.
Coinciding with staying at home my fingers began to swell. I have mentioned that I have psoriatic arthritis, (related posts can be found here and here), but it has typically not been fully resident in my hands and my fingers remain fairly straight. I assume the swelling is in some way tied to less cardio exercise – the lack of the daily walking around town of the sort that used to be normal. Anyway, that combined with rarely leaving the house to do more than shop for groceries or hit the drugstore, meant that for the most part I took my rings off last March and have rarely worn them since.
And yet some time around last fall my photo buying interest on Instragram (the purchasing of photos and other ephemera has been documented in posts here and here) lead me to a few select, vintage jewelry dealers. These are folks, mostly women from Great Britain, deal largely in turn of the century items. At first it just fascinated me that these items were not things I typically have seen in looking at vintage jewelry in this country since I was a teenager or younger. While it wasn’t wildly different, it was different enough to capture my imagination – sort of a parallel universe to the vintage jewelry I have been looking at and purchasing for years in the US. Almost entirely silver, this is strangely like a mid-life, British version of the early vintage jewelry I boasted in my twenties and early thirties.
As an aside and bonus, these folks all seem to live with access to the most stunning British countryside and an additional benefit has been the gorgeous photos of their surroundings which feed a craving for some non-urban views in this narrow New York City life. Folks like Mia – aka @therubyfoxes treat me to almost daily photos of her ambitious (if often muddy) morning runs through the farms and woods there. She also has two adorable cats and recently posted a great series of nighttime hedgehog videos from her garden. (In addition she makes a darn good looking Friday night pizza for her husband and son and was kind with encouragement about my nascent running career.) Marco, of @fiorisfinds, and the purveyor of the heart pin (shown further down) and more recently a pretty faux aquamarine ring, has a pair of mighty fine looking bunnies, Basil and Dinky, who have their own account, @abunnycalledbasil.
Because many of these sellers also deal in early photos, a photo or two often shows up with the package. Rachel in particular wraps her packages in a layered and luxurious way and it is a bit like Christmas or your birthday when one of her packages shows as shown below. (The recent purchase of a necklace from @marsh.and.meadow came with a tiny early photo worthy of its own post – watch for it and a related Easter post tomorrow.)
Slowly I began to purchase an item here and there. Given the swelling in my hands and that rings are generally best tried on, my interest wandered to pins. I have never worn many pins and consider getting them attached attractively to clothing a challenge and a talent, like tying a scarf, I do not readily possess. Nevertheless, I have acquired quite a few. Among them a jolly horseshoe to be placed upward to hold the luck in, congratulatory messages on hearts, and most recently two beaded butterflies.
The butterflies are more beautiful in person than they photograph. I purchased them from a favorite seller, @Wassail_Antiques who is also a talented photographer and I have treated you to a few of her photos here. Therefore it is rare that an item arrives and Rachel has not fully captured its beauty, yet these fellows pleased me even more in person than they had online. These butterflies languished in her shop long enough to gnaw at my brain which was looking for a fix of spring, just waiting for me I guess. They have done the job and the gorgeous pics of her dog and the sheep and meadows around her house as spring blooms help too. (In pulling together photos for this I realize that rings are not entirely absent from my purchases and several necklaces, very short for good Zoom viewing, bright and cheerful glass “stones” have also been acquired and gone into rotation. Zoom jewelry is, oddly kept on a shelf near my computer rather than with my other jewelry.)
The butterfly pins were evidently made by prisoners of war, I believe during WWII, but perhaps in the first World War as well? I was unable to find any real history about the practice. Butterflies were also a symbol used in mourning jewelry in Victorian Britain, but I will mostly ignore that fact and focus on spring I think. For that matter insect pins in general have begun to interest me – Art Deco fat insects with paste or gem stones. I had to control myself over a large cicada pin which of course would be a nice way to celebrate the little fellows on their once every seven year appearance coming this spring. I do not know where the vision of me sporting many insects crawling up my shoulder has come from or why exactly it now appeals.
Like most of us, the shoulder and neck view of Zoom has meant that my colleagues and associates have largely seen a long line of dark scoop necked tops with the occasional cardigan (or frankly sweatshirt) thrown over them. I don’t have pierced ears, but a tiny pair of bright blue glass earrings that were among my early purchases from Rachel make an occasional appearance. Meetings with Board or non-staff might encourage me to pull out one of two soft sweater jackets that I acquired for that purpose as well. For some reason though it seems weird to sit in my apartment in a fitted jacket with lapels of the kind I used to wear almost daily. Yet somehow in the back of my mind I have been formulating a vision of a time when I will sport lapels again, boasting multiple pins on them. Hearts will gather together, horseshoes will provide good luck, and butterflies and perhaps other insects will flit across my shoulder.
Pam’s Pictorama Post: In these days of multiple piercings and tattoos my memory of getting my ears pierced seems quaint. I was twelve or thirteen and I was at the mall with my cousin Patti one afternoon when I had it done – they used a piercing gun and zip, zip and there you go. I had small 18k gold studs with tiny gold balls installed in my ears. I was told to put peroxide on them morning and night with a q-tip, and to twirl them occasionally to make sure they healed properly.
It wasn’t until the next morning at breakfast that my mother noticed them. My parents tended toward the distracted and I felt like I had to more or less wave a flag before mom noticed. Much to my surprise she was freaked out that I hadn’t discussed it with her – turns out she doesn’t especially like pierced ears. We had never talked about it and I was a bit stunned. I guess I figured they were my ears to do with what I would and I more or less told her that. I wasn’t a mouthy or difficult kid and the answer ultimately mollified her and this was a difference of opinion. We had a truce.
Meanwhile, my ears healed slowly and not without detours through periods of bleeding and infection. As soon as they were sufficiently healed I wandered into the heady world of earrings and there was a vast selection of options. Even maintaining that the posts would always be at least 14k gold (and gold was cheaper then so this was possible even at the lower end) I was able to acquire an array fairly quickly. However, suffice it to say that my ears never adapted to metal in them and I began a several year slog of on and off infections and bleeding. I last wore pierced earrings to my high school prom ending in copious bleeding, followed by yet another infection and I swore off them for life. I became a clip-on screw back earring devotee.
For the folks out there who have taken this path, you know that earrings affixed in this way are just not comfortable for any period of time, especially if you spend time on the telephone, tucked between ear and shoulder. (Yes, that is starting to seem quaint too, but for many years it was a real issue.) However, being the kind of gal who cannot resist bling and bejeweled I have collected some if not a vast number of earrings.
It was my general bejeweled-ness that probably lead the very same cousin Patti (who has no memory of the ear piercing adventure) to offer me this lovely pair of earrings she found while cleaning out her ancestral home. They belonged to my great-grandmother, the point where our mutual genes branch out from. This makes them very special to me as I have nothing else from that great-grandmother.
Not only were these earrings pierced, but they had a particularly evil pierced/screw-on combo that I gather existed in the late 19th and early 20th century. I didn’t take a photo of the back before having them converted, but I show another pair found online below – instruments of torture! How did that work? Ouch!
My maternal grandmother’s family was never especially well off. However, since they were in the restaurant business at least the family never went hungry. (I have written about this side of my family before and one based on a historic photo that Patti found can be read here and here.) Nonetheless, there was never a surplus of money and not much jewelry has been handed down from them.
In recent years I have considered having my now long-closed piercings redone as a world of earring opportunities does tempt me. The possibility that my ears are actually allergic to gold exists, or perhaps that the placement of the original piercing not ideal. Somehow even for someone as devoted to adornment as I am, the idea of the process does not appeal to me and I have not (yet) pursued it. Having recently gotten these back from the jeweler, I will stick with sporting them for now.