Kathy Flood’s version of Warman’s Jewelry, Fine and Costume Jewelry, 4th Edition is not only a book to be looked at but to be read from cover to cover. Unlike more traditional “histories” of jewelry, which are usually organized chronologically, Flood’s book is organized into eighteen independent chapters, tellingly subtitled, such as “Jadeite: Going Green (and Beyond)”; “Cameos: Learning to Love the Carver’s Art”; “Georgian, Victorian, Edwardian: Demystifying an English Fog”; “Art Nouveau: A Voluptuous Streak”; “Costume Ball: Collecting of a Golden Age.” Each is previewed in the opening pages, so those on the run can browse in one category one day and another the next, not worrying about what came before. Besides, “what came before” is skillfully integrated into successive chapters, because every lusciously illustrated chapter is based on what Flood calls the “four E’s”: “Entertainment,” “Enlightenment,” “Edification,” and “Enrichment.”
In terms of “Entertainment,” one can’t find a more accessible, even conversational, and often humorous, yet scholarly jewelry “reference” book. For example, Flood advises that in tracking down gem jade, a good place to look is in pawn shops near casinos, for “owners of fine gem jade have been known to hock green jewels to raise more gambling green.” There are many such light touches throughout the book, typical of Flood’s style in her other work. She’s given her “imprimatur” to this Warman’s and made it all the more delightful.
For “Enlightenment,” Flood has provided comprehensive background information in each chapter; however, in addition, she has scoured the jewelry field for experts in a variety of jewelry specialties and provides quotes as well as in-depth interviews with many. The Art Nouveau chapter contains a wide-ranging interview with Jared Goss, Associate Curator, Department of 19th-Century Modern and Contemporary Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. In addition, one can view, the collections of knowledgeable individuals, themselves “experts,” such as Steve Fishbach, with his array of rare Victorian pieces, particularly enamels, and Thomas Portzline’s costume jewelry feast. And, especially enlightening is finding in the same chapter relatively affordable pieces, even in the midst of the most traditionally expensive. One can find $100 price tags juxtaposed with $100,000 price tags, as well as the work of renowned designers work alongside that of the lesser known — all by way of letting collectors know that there are still great pieces “out there” to discover and possibly buy.
As for “Edification,” aficionados will unearth nuggets of information that will make them glow. In the costume vein, I discovered that Eliot Handler (of Mattel) — still relatively unheralded as a jewelry maker of the ‘40s — began his career in the plastics industry, interested in furniture and household items, and made the leap into jewelry when only Lucite scraps were available for non-war related use.
Finally, the book delivers “Enrichment” — hints on buying for investment as well as love. The list delineating what makes certain cameos more valuable than others is just one of many such edifying lists and charts that provide guidelines for astute dealers and collectors. As in every chapter, Flood enlists the help of experts in the different fields of jewelry and provides a good “comfort zone” for those of us venturing into new areas of collecting and investing.
Kathy Flood’s grandmother and two grand aunts to whom she dedicates this enthusiastic and lovingly written book “created great worlds when [she] was a girl.” In doing so, they did a great service to all of us who can luxuriate in the world of her book, one that we can explore with pleasure over and over again.
Paula Beck “got bitten by the jewelry bug” in the ‘80s, and from then on took courses, read books, subscribed to journals and newsletters and, of course, prowled collectibles shops and coops, thrift shops, tag sales, and flea markets wherever and whenever she could. Working full time, she had one eye on student papers and the other on “The Antique Trader.” She was a charter member of “Vintage Fashion and Costume Jewelry Newsletter and Club (VFCJ)” and published several articles in the Newsletter on Victorian, Vintage, and Contemporary Jewelry, as well as in other periodicals.
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