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Ten Books for Lovers of Vintage Costume Jewelry

Posted on July 01 2020

I have had a love for jewelry from a young age growing up with a father who regularly created his own jewelry designs.  As I started to collect more vintage costume jewelry, I grew curious about the designers and manufactures.  For me, the history and stories behind the jewelry are just as interesting as the jewelry itself.  I began to educate myself through books and online resources which is the topic of this post.       

As with my vintage jewelry collection, my book collection on the topic has also grown.  This post will highlight the ten go-to reference books that I use regularly to identify, date and learn about vintage costume jewelry makers.  These books provide the reader with a broad perspective on a wide range of manufacturers, designers, styles and eras.

As I have had many of these books for years, I did some research on current availability and cost.  Unfortunately, some of these books are out of print and only available thru the resale market.   If you are interested in purchasing any of these books, I recommend searching on Ebay, Amazon or online book resale sites such as www.alibris.com or www.booksamillion.com   

I am not presenting these books in any order or ranking rather how I have utilized the content which I have categorized as the foundation, the beautiful and the wild cards.

The Foundation

The foundation books provide a broad overview on many manufactures, designers and time periods.

Julia Carroll has authored three books that I utilize on a regular basis for their wide-ranging content and photographs.  The publisher of these books, Collector  Books, went out of business in 2010 thus they are only available through resale market.  Unfortunately, I was not able to find any current information about Julia Carroll.

Costume Jewelry 101:  the basics of starting, building & upgrading by Julia C. Carroll (2nd Edition) published by Collector Books (2008).  This is a perfect place to start when building a collection or learning about the companies that made the jewelry.  Each manufacture outlined in the book includes the date of operations, a brief history, and “signature look”.   As with any good reference book there is a glossary of terms, bibliography and index making it easy to find what you are looking for.  There is a 1st edition that you will also find available in the resale marketplace.

Costume Jewelry 202:  the basics of Dating Jewelry 1935 – 1980 by Julia C. Carroll published by Collector Books (2007).  The first chapter outlines six methods of dating costume jewelry:  signatures, patents, vintage advertisements, dating jewelry by style, books & the internet, and provenance.  There are three in-depth chapters on Coro & Vendome jewelry, Trifari and “other” jewelry makers.  The appendix includes manufacturer and mark chart, designer chart and a how to view patents online.  There is also a 2nd edition version of this book.

Costume Jewelry 303:  the flip side Exploring Costume Jewelry from the Back by Julia C. Carrol published by Collector Books (2010).  This book has a chapter on stones, “the flip side” (what to look for), and craft jewelry.  There is an in depth look at Sandor (Goldberger) jewelry, Takahashi bird pins and a jewelry album (alphabetically by maker).   For each maker, the front and back are shown with a summary of the makers style, stones used, metal, hardware and signature attachment.  There are approximately 90 makers highlighted.  If you can only purchase one Julia Carrol book this would be the one.

The last book in this category is Costume Jewelry by Harrice Simmons Miller published by Avon Books (1994).  I like this book as it presents a story by decade from the 1920s to 1990s.  There is a section on how jewelry is manufactured and a glossary of terms which is useful.  The biggest negative to this book is that most pictures are black and white.  Harrice Simmons Miller has authored other books and you can find her on Instagram @harricemiller

The Beautiful

I call these books beautiful for the thoughtfulness on how the jewelry is presented and photographed.  I can spend hours paging through these books just studying the pictures. 

Warman's Costume Jewelry: Identification and Price Guide by Pamela Y. Wiggins published by Krause Publications (2014).  This book is organized by era (decade), designer and manufacturers, and dating & identifying.  It also includes a “supplemental marks guide” of the major manufacturers/designers with clear pictures.  You'll find beautiful pictures and helpful tips throughout the book.  Pamela Wiggins has published several books on costume jewelry that are worth checking out and has written many articles for The Spruce Crafts (www.thesprucecrafts.com) and other publications.  Pamela is one of the co-founders of Costume Jewelry Collectors International.   Currently, Pamela sells online through ebay and Ruby Lane.  See her website for more information and links her shops, Facebook page and blog:  www.chicantiques.com

DK Collector’s Guides Costume Jewelry by Judith Miller with John Wainwright (Judith's husband) published by DK Publishing (2003).  This is a beautifully written book with amazing pictures photographed by Graham Rae.  Judith walks the reader through designer profiles, A-Z of designer and makers, and unsigned pieces.  Also included is a glossary, designers’ and makers’ marks and a directory of dealers, auction houses and museums. 

Another book by Judith Miller is simply titled Costume Jewelry published by Miller’s (2012).  This book explores jewelry evolution from ancient times through the 21st century.  Judith classifies designers and organizes the book by Major Designer, Classic Designers and Future Designers.  As with the Collector’s Guide, the photographs are stunning. 

Judith resides in the UK and is a well known author of over 80 books on jewelry, antiques and interiors. Unfortunately, her website, millersantiquesguide.com, Facebook and twitter have not been updated since late 2019.

The Wildcards

The wildcards are books that may not be as well known and don’t have the best photographs, yet you’ll find a perspective on vintage costume jewelry you won’t find anywhere else.

Collecting Rhinestone & Colored Jewelry by Maryanne Dolan published by Krause Publications (1998).  I have the 4th edition and I did find this book is available at a good price on Amazon and book reseller sites.  In this book Maryanne starts with the ‘History of Rhinestones’ and provides a section on the care and keeping of rhinestones as you would expect.  I mainly use this book as a reference for marks (she calls them Trademarks).  There are nearly 150 pages of manufacture marks!  There are so many identified that I have never had the opportunity to see in real-life.  The negative of this book is that most pictures are in black and white.  Maryanne has published several other books on topics such as vintage clothes and lace. 

Costume Jewelry A Practical Handbook & Value Guide by Fred Rezazadeh published by Collector Books (1998).  In his own words, the objective of this book: “is to provide a comprehensive body of information on a broad range of jewelry, emphasizing the more common, rather than the unique and rare, types of jewelry which most collectors and dealers are likely to encounter in the market place”.  He started collecting costume jewelry as an investment and he outlines the factors influencing market prices:  rarity (aka supply), design & originality, material & workmanship and condition & durability.  He walks the reader through the history of costume jewelry switching to American costume jewelry where he provides an overview on 111 manufacturers including history and marks.  There is also a chapter on “unmarked costume jewelry” and “imported costume jewelry”.  As mentioned before, Collectors Books has since gone out of business so the only way to purchase this book is through book resellers.

How to be a Jewelry Detective by C. Jeanenne Bell published by AD Publishing (2000).  As the title suggest, this book outlines the clues a collector can use to identify the era and age and collect-ability.  She provides information of the tools of the trade and easy tests to preform to identify materials/metals, marks and stones.  It’s only 166 pages yet has a lot of information and worth checking out.  Jeanenne has authored several books on antique jewelry and watches. 

Do you have a favorite go-to reference book not outlined in today’s post?  Please share in the comments!

Online Resources

Below is a sampling of online resources I utilize on a regular basis.  Check back as I will add more links as I organize my bookmarks.

Fine Jewelry Marks:  https://jewelry.ha.com/ref/designer-marks.zx#B

Vintage by Era: https://www.retrowaste.com/  see their list of manufacturing/designers: https://www.retrowaste.com/list-of-vintage-jewelry-designers/)

Jewelry Journey Podcast: https://thejewelryjourney.com/podcasts/

Vintage Dancer: https://vintagedancer.com/

Costume Jewelry Collectors Int’l (CJCI):  https://www.costumejewelrycollectors.com/vintage-costume-jewelry-research/import/researching-costume-jewelry-history-jewelry-marks-fashion-jewelry-vintage-jewelry-research-jewelry-signatures/

Lang Antiques Antique Jewelry University:  https://www.langantiques.com/university/

Collector Weekly: https://www.collectorsweekly.com/fine-jewelry/overview

Jewelry Patents: http://www.jewelrypatents.com/

Short descriptions of key designers and marks: http://www.antiquingonline.com/Designers/

http://www.antiques.com/ (especially http://www.antiques.com/The-Art-of-Picking.php)

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