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A Brief History of Costume Jewelry And A Gallery of My Collection

Updated on April 10, 2012

I started collecting costume jewelry in the early 80s. My mother would drag me on her yard sale and auction excursions every Saturday morning. I usually looked for books, comics, or cassette tapes, but when I saw that first sparkly brooch, I was hooked. After that initial taste, I looked forward to visiting other people's homes and pawing through their castoffs.

It became a hunt for me, and in the early days, I pretty much got what I wanted for pennies on the dollar. That changed when some picked up the cheap jewelry scent and soon I had to fight for what I desired. I would scour the yard sale and action listings. Those that mentioned any kind of jewelry were definitely first stops on my list.

Unlike a lot of collectors, I only bought what I liked. I did not worry with names, which is good because most of mine are complete mysteries. When I look at them now, only a handful have designer or manufacturer names, but that doesn't make me love the no-names any less. No sir, I treasure each and every piece of my collection because they remind me of those special days I spent with my mother.

I haven't been to a yard sale since she died almost 11 years ago, but I'll always have memories of griping about having to get up early on a Saturday morning and about how we had to go to McDonald's because I was starving, and also about the hole I almost fell in or how wet the grass was in the early morning hours...I think you get the idea. I complained, but I had fun. We made memories that I have today to get me through the tough times.

So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite costume jewelry pieces. I have a few Coro, CoroCraft, Sarah Coventry, Garne, Roget, Judy-Lee, and Weiss. Some are even marked "Made in Austria" and "Japan". Also, a brief history of costume jewelry follows the photos. Enjoy the view!

Some chunky bracelets. I've only worn the black and silver bracelet.
Some chunky bracelets. I've only worn the black and silver bracelet.
Fun brooch with original pictures of Bob Hope and Doris Day.
Fun brooch with original pictures of Bob Hope and Doris Day.
Bejeweled pen key-chain.
Bejeweled pen key-chain.
Rhinestone hairpin and treasure chest necklace.
Rhinestone hairpin and treasure chest necklace.
Rhinestone bracelets.
Rhinestone bracelets.
Unique snowflake tie-tack.
Unique snowflake tie-tack.
Fun owl pieces and a chunky bead necklace made in Japan.
Fun owl pieces and a chunky bead necklace made in Japan.
A Coro silver leaf pin and earring set.
A Coro silver leaf pin and earring set.
A Sarah Coventry pin and earring set.
A Sarah Coventry pin and earring set.
Colorful rhinestone pins. The round one in the middle is a Weiss.
Colorful rhinestone pins. The round one in the middle is a Weiss.
The thistle pin is a favorite of mine, but is missing rhinestones.
The thistle pin is a favorite of mine, but is missing rhinestones.
Top row middle pin is a Roget.
Top row middle pin is a Roget.
A few eclectic pieces.
A few eclectic pieces.
Glorious rhinestones!
Glorious rhinestones!
Cute Lucite earrings.
Cute Lucite earrings.
Colorful stones, beads, and metal.
Colorful stones, beads, and metal.
Various earrings.
Various earrings.
Closeup of some pretty ones.
Closeup of some pretty ones.
More interesting earrings.
More interesting earrings.
A pair of plastic earrings and the ever popular rhinestone star design.
A pair of plastic earrings and the ever popular rhinestone star design.
A few button earrings.
A few button earrings.

Costume Jewelry: A Brief History

The term "costume jewelry" was coined some time during the early 20th century and was used to describe cheap jewelry made specifically to adorn a costume or outfit. These colorful pieces were not meant to last for generations, and most were made of glass, plastic, and cheap metals.

There are three different periods of time that influenced the designs of costume jewelry.

The Art Deco period (1920-1930s) ushered in the geometric shapes used in cigarette cases, pendants, bracelets, and cocktail rings. This era ended with the dawning of the Great Depression and World War II.

The Retro period (1935-1950) brought on a dilemma for some designers. How to remain unique and true to design, while being able to mass produce. Items during this period were often plastic and featured sunbursts, ballerinas, and flowers.

The Art Modern period (1945-1960) began the era of more bold and fun pieces of jewelry. Chunky bracelets and animal pins were popular, as were Christmas pins and rhinestones.

Most costume jewelry you find today, can be traced back to one of these three periods. Unfortunately, some designers did not mark their pieces, so many are hard to identify. Some popular designers of costume jewelry were and still are: Avon (1886-present), Coco Chanel (1912-present), Coro/CoroCraft (1901-present), Sarah Coventry (1949-1981), Speidel (1913-present), Trifari (1918-present), and Weiss (1942-1971). Jewelry from these manufacturers stamped their products with identifying marks or names and collectors will often pay top-dollar for such items.

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Costume_jewelry & http://jacksonjewels.com/Reference/Jewelry_Companies_A-C.htm

MCN: W6XKR-XC9C9-YXTY3 © copyright 2012-04-10 11:29:12 UTC - All Rights Reserved
MCN: W6XKR-XC9C9-YXTY3 © copyright 2012-04-10 11:29:12 UTC - All Rights Reserved

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    • nifwlseirff profile image

      Kymberly Fergusson 4 years ago from Villingen Schwenningen, Germany

      The pen chain and the owl set are fabulous! I have fun going through the antique jewellery stores here - good collections of old costume jewellery in German antique stores! But I only have a couple of rings, bracelets and necklaces, nothing like your amazing collection!

      Thanks for sharing!

    • EclecticFusion profile image
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      Lisa 4 years ago from Tennessee

      Julie, I love that pen! I'm so glad you found this treasure because it's so hard to find vintage pieces at garage sales!

      Thank you for stopping by!

    • profile image

      Julie 4 years ago

      Love your collection, and the memories behind it :)

      I just found the *exact* same bejeweled pen keychain today, at a garage sale. I found your blog by doing a search to try to find out more info about it. I think it is such a very neat piece!

    • EclecticFusion profile image
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      Lisa 5 years ago from Tennessee

      Keri, I love those, too. I've never found anything to wear them with, but I'm on a dress hunt for the next few months, so maybe I'll get to wear them soon! Thanks for the comment!

    • Keri Summers profile image

      Keri Summers 5 years ago from West of England

      This is an impressive collection. I think my favourites are the Lucite Earrings.

    • EclecticFusion profile image
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      Lisa 5 years ago from Tennessee

      mljdgulley354: It's all about making memories! Thanks!

    • mljdgulley354 profile image

      mljdgulley354 5 years ago

      I like that "making memories" That's what my girls and I do when we are together. Great collection of jewelry and I too enjoyed your story.

    • EclecticFusion profile image
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      Lisa 5 years ago from Tennessee

      Sally's Trove: Thanks for the comment! My family has a saying now when we are stuck doing something we don't particularly like to do, we put big smiles on our faces and say "making memories"!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 5 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I love the story of you and your mother. It gives me much to think about...my mother is still with me, doing her yard sales and flea markets. I really identify with being "dragged around".

      It's so beautiful that you came to acquire these costume pieces while adventuring with your mother. I see that these are lovely memories of times that may not have seemed so lovely at the moment, what with stepping into a hole or being hungry in the wee hours of the morning.

      Thank you so much for sharing not only your memories but your pics of the costume pieces that defined everyday ladies' wear in the 20th century.