Antiques & Collectibles: Amethyst pin has gold rush provenance

Pins similar to this antique amethyst heirloom one, fashioned from California gold rush nuggets. have sold for $500 to $600 during the past year when settings were 18K gold.

Question: My close-up photos show the front and back of an amethyst heirloom pin which measures a little more than 1 1/2 inches across at its widest point and is stamped "JEC & Co." During the California gold rush, my great-grandmother's grandfather worked in San Francisco where he purchased several gold nuggets from a prospector. He later married and settled in Philadelphia and a jeweler there used some of the gold to fashion the pin, a wedding gift to his wife. I would like to know about its maker, style and value. - S.T., Bordentown

Answer: "JEC & Co." is a mark frequently found after 1848 on high-end, hand-fabricated, gem-set jewelry created by designers and artisans employed by J.E. Caldwell & Co. of Philadelphia. Founded during the 1830s by silversmith and watchmaker, James E. Caldwell, the Chestnut St. firm earned a worldwide reputation as the purveyor of fine silver items and jewelry ranging from 19th-century European style pieces to later Art Nouveau and Art Deco articles. The company closed its Philadelphia store in 2003.

Your pin's style incorporates many of the design elements used during the Victorian era's "Grand Period" of jewelry which began in 1861 and ended in 1888. The amethyst gem, secured by an applied chain and surrounded by an engraved geometric border, as well as the piece's beaded edge and pierced gallery frame were favorite motifs of jewelers who worked during those years.

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Worth of your pin should be based on its examination by a certified jewelry appraiser who will determine the quality of its stone and purity of its gold. However, I can note that similar pieces with 18K settings have fetched $500 to $600 during the past year.

Question: My daughter thinks this 9-inch high bisque bridal couple under a floral arch, purchased at a yard sale years ago, may be collectible. We would appreciate information about its age and value. - J.S., Oceanville

Answer: Your photo shows a flapper bride and her groom in top hat and tails perched on a mica-sprayed base under a bower of fabric violets.

This charming piece is a 1920s wedding cake topper and the somewhat notable couple are collectible Rose O'Neill Kewpie dolls.

Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., O'Neill was a talented artist who began providing illustrations for magazines when she was 15, moved to New York City three years later and at 22 was the first American woman cartoonist.

During the early 1900s, her bright-eyed, baby-face Kewpie cartoon characters became international cele-brities and in 1912, she contracted with a German porcelain factory to produce various series of the bisque babies that re-mained popular until the late 1930s.

Your piece, known as a cross-collectible, will attract Kewpie enthusiasts as well as folks who collect wedding cake toppers.

Originally made of marzipan and placed on imposing Victorian-era, tiered wedding cakes, figural toppers have been fashioned from wax, wood, metal, plaster, ceramics, fabric, glass, celluloid and plastic since then. Clad in contemporary clothing including military attire, the figures portray more than 150 years of fashion and social history.

Although asking prices for Kewpie cake toppers such as yours have been as high as $175 lately, one in excellent condition recently sold for $90.

Alyce Hand Benham is an antiques broker, appraiser and estate-liquidation specialist. Send questions to: Alyce Benham, Life section, The Press of Atlantic City, 11 Devins Lane, Pleasantville, N.J. 08232. Email:

Letters may be used in future columns but cannot be answered individually, and photos cannot be returned.

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