As it appeared in Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver
by Joanne Victorie Wiertella
Photography by Willa Davis
Note: ASCAS (Association of Small Collectors of Antique Silver) is an online publication.
Here is a link to the online version of the following article: ASCAS #57.
American Art metal Jewelry Boxes 1900–1925
Jewelry boxes have long been treasured, for they have held precious items -sometimes valuable in themselves, sometimes valuable for their memories. Throughout history, jewelry boxes had been constructed and designed by craftsmen, one box at a time, each a unique piece reflecting the style of the time and locale.
With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, all this changed. And as we know, the concept of mass production was avidly adopted in the United States during the late 19th early 20th centuries. For the first time, metal objects like jewelry boxes, for example, could be cast in quantity and, through mail order catalogs (Sears and Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, Marshall Field), American ladies of the early 1900’s could aspire to the “high style” of the world’s great cities like London and Paris.
Jewel boxes, also called ‘caskets’, gained great favor -from the tiniest ring box to the very large handkerchief and glove boxes. They were made of cast metal, first plated with copper, then with silver or gold. They were lined with fine pale-colored silks from Japan and China, printed faille and satin/sateen, and were often trimmed with a fine twisted silk cording.
The most popular style of these ‘Art Metal’ jewel boxes during the early 1900′s was Art Nouveau. First the nymph-like young women with flowing hair appeared. Soon after, flowers and vines, birds, and other fauna decorated these fanciful boxes. Floral motifs, in particular, gained great favor, probably due to the very popular Victorian ‘language of flowers’.
The romanticism of the period also gave rise to revival styles such a Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Rococo, and so on–not to mention Americans’ reflection on their own Colonial Days.
There were several American art metal manufacturers that designed and produced jewel boxes. Jennings Brothers (JB), Kronheimer & Oldenbusch (K&O), Benedict Mfg. Co., N.B.Rogers, and The Art Metal Works. Brainard & Wilson Corp. (B&W) patented one of the first Art Nouveau designs in 1904, and Weidlich Brothers (WB Mfg Co) took several patents and copyrights on their Colonial designs.
These wonderful antique jewelry boxes were much treasured, and they held their popularity well until World War I, when the continuity of fashion was broken, re-directing interest from the decorative to the function and power of the machine. JVW