ABC (Antiques - Books - Collectibles)

English Transfer Ware Value Is Century-Long Mainstay

By RAY deTHY | Apr 16, 2012
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

For thousands of years, artisans were making adornments for human decoration. Most of the items were made for royalty and the wealthy. They were mostly made of precious metals and gems. The fruits of this activity are generally referred to as jewelry. However, in the 1700s there became a demand from a rising middle class for similar looking pieces that were less expensive. It is widely agreed upon that this interest brought about the creation of what we today call costume jewelry, which is more affordable than fine jewelry.

This column’s goal is to describe this costume jewelry that began to be made and sold from the mid 1800s until today; and to indicate the collectibility and value of selected variations, and why some have become valued as much as, or more so, than some 21st century “fine” jewelry.

Jewelry during the ages leading up to the 1800s was looked as special, for some of the same reasons that formal education and the ability to read and write were viewed. Wealth, achieved by whatever means, established one’s status as upper class and was the basis for access to educational experiences, as well as jewelry and other objects. The rich lived, dressed and were housed differently than the lower class and there was very little in the way of a middle class until 18th century moved toward the 19th century.

It’s during this period that the essence of a rising class appeared. Though they had far less money than the rich, they did have some discretionary funds – just not enough to buy fine clothing and adornments made of rare textiles, gold, silver and precious stones. By the early to mid-1800s, there was demand for trinkets that were affordable for those who wished to have jewelry but could not afford the real thing. For practical purposes, this interest among the members of the burgeoning middle class began in this period and continues today.

Early Period: 1825-1925

Skilled artisan jewelry makers began to craft similar appearing items from metals other than gold, and to a lesser extent, silver. The designs and workmanship were similar but the contents were base metals, semi-precious stones and glass imitations. This two-layer approach, quality design and handmade production, was the same for both fine and costume jewelry, with the major differences being the metals and the stones. This duality continued in some form until the 1920s, when a very large middle class population came into existence. In general, fine jewelry and costume jewelry began to be separated from each other, by jewelers becoming, by and large, the makers and sellers of fine jewelry and another group of businesses designing and producing the fashion-related product that we think of today as costume jewelry. It tended to have limited handwork, was produced in large numbers and was (and is) sold not in jewelry stores but in other venues such as department stores and the like.

1920s until the 1970s

Early in this period, there were a few odd occurrences that married the two production processes and sales. Between two world wars and on into the 1950s, many skilled jewelers were asked to produce replicas of expensive pieces of jewelry so that the wealthy travelers who were frequent world-wide ocean liner and railroad users could wear jewelry among their wealthy friends at parties and social events without concerned about being robbed. None among their group would question authenticity because all knew that person wearing one of these “travel jewelry” pieces, indeed, owned such expensive-looking gems and jewelry.

The makers of these travel items used the same quality of workmanship and detail, and the appearances were unable to be discerned as “fakes.” By the way, these items have very high value today. I have purchased several pieces for several thousand dollars and have been able to sell them for a standard profit because many people today of means wish to show beautiful accessories rather than buy and wear “good stuff.”

The 1950s basically saw an end to most of this kind of jewelry because the skilled labor costs for jewelers who could make hand-made items made it unprofitable to produce them.

Quality Costume Jewelry was targeting buyers who knew that they were not buying fine jewelry and were not trying to pretend that it was anything except an inexpensive fashion accessory.

Beginning in the 1930s, the demand for good looking and affordable costume pieces generated many quality makers, including McClelland Barclay, Miriam Haskell, Trifari, Beau, Hattie Carnegie, Vendome, Danecraft, Weiss, Eisenberg, Hobe, Krementz, and many others who produced collectible items of quality until the 1970s.

The 1930s through the 1950s was a period when there was much demand for fashion jewelry. Much of it that is in excellent condition today is very collectible and has significant value.

Ray deThy is the owner of Verde Antiques and Rare Books and Verde Appraisal Service, both in Manahawkin. He has been an appraiser since 1985.




The items shown represent a small collection of costume pieces that relate to the various transitional periods from early, inexpensive items made by jewelers, to late examples made exclusively by costume designers and producers.



A heavy, silver handmade brooch made by a French jeweler c. 1870 with beautiful design and workmanship. The stones are glass but the design and execution clearly show the skill of the maker. Missing a few stones and valued at $30. (If all stones were present, it would sell for $150. If the same workmanship was made from gold and had precious gems, the value would easily be $3,000 to $5,000.)

A late Victorian brooch, c.1880, which is fashioned from gold-filled wire in the form of a ribbon. Great workmanship and design, with pearl center. Gold-filled is a euphemism for material that might be marked “GF” or “1/20 12KG.” Either of these translates to brass made of about 5 percent of 12 Kt gold. It is basically a surface cover and has no gold value. Value: $65.

Handmade 12 Kt gold-filled pin with fine “see through” design with a glass center stone – made during the Civil War period and valued at $28.

1940 large and heavy coat pin made of base metal with enamel leaves and imitation pearls and rhinestones. It is marked with the early Trifari mark that has a crown atop the T and is more collectible than the later mark with a standard T. Value: $25. (If all tiny stones were present, value would triple.)

A delicate design and executed 12 Kt GF circle pin with artificial pearls, signed by Bal-Ron, a fine producer of 1920s costume pieces. Value: $38 (primarily because of maker and artisanship design).

Signed Miriam Haskell 12 Kt GF screw-on earrings, with polished amber drops. Value: $90 (excellent condition and famous named maker).

1953 specially made crown brooch commemorating Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. Rare item, made in very small numbers and in sterling silver with signed Crown Trifari. Value: $375 (rarity, celebrity and superb workmanship).

1990s Kirk’s Folly original pendant title “Fairy Godmother,” made in a mold of “shiny” material with glass baubles. Original cost on QVC (or equivalent TV seller) was $450. Value today: $30-$40 (little or no workmanship and generally bought by a person with money who used QVC for its entertainment value).

All of this type of modern, “looks good but isn’t” material is an “OK” purchase if the buyer likes it and wears and enjoys it. But it has no significant secondary market.

As always, rarity because of how many were made, or rarity because few have survived in original “as new” condition, is what drives up values for secondary market sales.


Buy what you want to live with and enjoy and don’t worry about the cost! Or worry about the cost so that when you sell it, you won’t be unhappy.

Rarely have I ever used this next heading for one of my column’s subcategories, but here it is today:

Unbelievably Super Colossal Tip: If you’re an antique dealer who leaves his showcase unlocked so that good customers can look at and handle items that they may be interested in, then you should be prepared to have things stolen occasionally – and you also may be an idiot.

Therefore, I formally announce that my new pseudonym to be added to my previous one of “brilliant” is “idiot.” So, for all to know what my wife has always known, I can sometimes be legitimately titled “a brilliant idiot.” Why, you ask? Because the Trifari Crown pin in today’s column, which was photographed by our photographer on Feb. 4, was stolen, along with several other items from showcases on Feb. 5 or 6.

The only good news is that it appears in clear image in this column and any good friends or readers who see this brooch (anywhere) are asked to contact Detective Cheryl Parker of the Stafford Police Department and convey any information you’re willing to share with her re: my former brooch.

If you have an item you would like to have considered for a future Values & Tips segment, please e-mail particulars and a photo(s) to, or mail to Verde Antiques and Rare Books, 73 East Bay Ave., Manahawkin, NJ 08050. Also, please include a telephone contact. Material submitted will not be returned whether it is published or not.


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