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This week's blog is all about the delicate, meticulous art of Essex crystal jewelry. These spectacular miniature paintings are otherwise known as 'reverse intaglio crystals' and were popular in the Victorian era and into the Edwardian era, being featured on buttons, stickpins, and cuff links for gentlemen, as well as on the brooches and pendants of ladies.

Rare late-19th century American reverse intaglio of a Boston terrier, set in a 14ct gold rope twist frame Antique Animal Jewelry




What is an Essex Crystal?


Essex crystal pieces are made from a piece of rock crystal, polished by hand repeatedly to create a domed cabochon with a flat base or back. A design is drawn on the flat side and is delicately hand-carved into the crystal, and then painted in reverse by a masterful maker. This is quite unlike normal intaglio, which is painted on the front, as everything has to be done in reverse and from the back. Painting directly into the carved inside of the dome gives the paintings an incredible three-dimensional or '‘trompe l’oeil' effect. Finally, the piece would be sealed with a backing, with early examples being backed onto gold foil, and later examples in mother of pearl and gold. These would often then have been framed by mounts made of sterling silver, 18ct or 22ct gold.


This might sound like a relatively straightforward task, but it was actually extremely difficult and required an incredibly high level of skill to achieve. The carving alone was often so small and so fine that a 'scribe pencil' and up to 250 different soft steel tools were needed to create such a piece, in combination with a special paste made out of diamond powder and oil. After the design was carved, the detail would then have to be painted on with extremely fine brushes, some of which may only have consisted of a single hair. As if this wasn't enough, the first colors to be laid on the metal support have to be the ones that need to be fired at the highest temperature. As more colors are added the enamel has to be periodically re-fired, with the colors that need the lowest temperatures going on last. This meant that the colors would not fade when exposed to light.


Given how complicated and skillful the process was, the secrets of making such pieces were often kept within particular families of craftsmen. It wasn't until cheaply produced imitations started to be made, cast in glass or later made from plastic instead of rock crystal, that the popularity of these pieces faded.




how the 'Essex Crystal' got its name


Although Essex crystal is the popular name for this kind of jewelry, it's actually a misattributed one. Essex Crystal does not, as you might've thought, have anything to do with the county of Essex. Stranger yet, it has nothing at all to do with the man who it was named after. To understand the story of the Essex Crystal, the first thing to know is that miniature portrait pieces, particularly miniature enamels, were very popular in the Victorian era. Queen Victoria herself was actually so enamored with the style that she appointed herself a royal enameler in 1839. His name was William Essex.


William Essex (1784 – 1869) was an English enamel painter thought by many to be the best enamelist of his generation, specializing in intricate miniatures. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1818 and wrote a treatise on the art of enameling. When in the mid-19th century reverse intaglio crystals began to appear on the market in Britain, the most famous and most skilled known miniature painter around was William Essex. It was his name that was on everyone's lips and it was assumed that these pieces, requiring such exquisite talent, could only have been created by such a celebrated miniature enamellist as Essex. This rumor was fed by the fact that one of Essex's students, William Bishop Ford, was known for creating enameled pieces set in jewelry with depictions of a fox head, which was a popular motif in Essex crystal jewelry. The name stuck, and the pieces became known as Essex crystal pieces, as they still are today - despite their having nothing at all to do with William Essex.


Miniature fox's headscarf pins, painted in enamel, made by William Bishop Ford. c.1875

Via Bonhams



Reverse intaglio crystal jewelry is a technique that is actually believed to have originated in Belgium, with the first person to sign their name to a piece being the Belgian artist Emile Marius Pradier. Reverse intaglio crystals were then developed and made popular in England by Thomas Cooke, who made crystals for Lambeth & Co, and who trained an apprentice in the art who then passed the secrets of Cooke's techniques down through his family.


The most common themes depicted on Essex crystal pieces are animals, flowers, and occasionally nautical motifs. Some of the most common animals found in Essex crystal jewelry are dogs, cats, racing horses, foxes, insects, and birds. Hunting animals and racing animals were particularly common in Essex crystal, where they would likely have been worn on stickpins and cuff links by men.




dogs


These may have included pet dogs, hunting dogs, and racing dogs, and many are commemorative pieces dedicated to animals that won races or were loved and passed away.


Reverse intaglio crystals in a dog collar design. The crystals feature from the top left: a Boxer, a Bull Terrier, a Jack Russell, a Ruff Collie, and in the center, a German Shepherd, English, c.1905

Via Hamshere Gallery



Victorian Essex crystal reverse-painted dog pendant in 14k yellow gold

Via Worthpoint.com



Gold brooch with a reversed crystal intaglio of the head of a red and white Welsh collie with an inscription on the reverse, c.1880. © The Trustees of the British Museum



Antique Essex crystal of a Pekingese dog in a diamond border

Antique Animal Jewelry


Antique Essex Crystal depicting a Dalmation

Antique Animal Jewelry



Late 19th-century reverse intaglio Essex crystal dog brooch depicting a Bull Terrier, with a mother-of-pearl background and a 14k frame with a riding crop bezel

Via 1stdibs



Antique Essex crystal French Bulldog cufflinks

Via Pinterest



Antique Essex crystal of two dogs looking up and to the left, bordered in rubies and diamonds

From Jackson Jewellers via Pinterest



Victorian Essex crystal of a ring Spaniel, (nee stickpin) converted using 18ct wide gold band Antique Animal Jewelry



A polychromed gold brooch set with a reverse intaglio crystal depicting a Yorkshire Terrier, c.1875-90

©Victoria & Albert Museum, London



Essex crystal stick pin featuring an English terrier dog, in 14kt gold

From carolmarksantiques via Instagram



Reverse intaglio box of a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, English, c.1880

Via Hamshere Gallery



Essex crystal of a spaniel, bordered in diamonds and rubies

Via Pinterest



Antique Long Haired Dachshund Essex Crystal Brooch

From Market Square Jewelers via Pinterest



Essex crystal Boston Terrier double band, shaped like dog's collars

From One Kings Lane via Pinterest



An Essex crystal reverse intaglio stick pin, featuring Miss Glendyne: winner of the Waterloo Cup 1885-6. The Waterloo Cup was a prestigious coursing event that attracted thousands of spectators

From thomasgloverjewels via Instagram



A reverse Essex crystal portrait of “Quick” the greyhound, with a rose-cut diamond surround mounted in silver and gold, c.1900. From simonteaklejewelry via Instagram




Reverse intaglio crystal 'clover leaf' brooch of three crystals, Malteses, Jack Russell, Yorkshie Terrier, 18ct gold and rose cut diamond set, English, c.1880

Via hamsheregallery.com



Antique Essex Crystal pin depicting a Hunting Dog, with a mother-of-pearI backing and set in a 14k gold

From A Dog's Tale Collectibles via Ruby Lane





Cats


Victorian 18k gold brooch set with 6 diamonds and a crystal reverse intaglio of a tabby cat, France, c.1880

From fabiandemontjoye via Instagram



Victorian/Edwardian-era Essex crystal of a Persian Cat brooch crafted in 18ct gold, set with diamonds and sapphires. From Millys Marvels Jewelry via Instagram



Antique Essex cat crystal in a border of diamonds set into a ring

Antique Animal Jewelry



Antique Essex crystal stickpin of a tabby cat

Antique Animal Jewelry



Reverse intaglio of a white cat

Via Pinterest



Essex crystal of a cat with a pearl border, suspended from a gold bow

Via Pinterest



Ginger cat Edwardian Essex crystal with rubies and diamonds

Via rowanandrowan.com




Birds


Rare Victorian Essex crystal brooch depicting a European goldfinch, c.1860

From The French Jewel Box via Instagram



Antique Essex crystal ring depicting a goldfinch against a backdrop of leaves

Antique Animal Jewelry




onlinegalleries.com



Antique reverse intaglio crystal of three birds on a branch, bordered in diamonds

Antique Animal Jewelry



Antique reverse intaglio crystal finch bracelet, set in gold with a gold beading border

Antique Animal Jewelry



Gold pendant with a reversed crystal intaglio of a robin in a snowy landscape, with a compartment on the reverse containing a tinted photograph of a bearded man in a gold locket-case, c.1860

© The Trustees of the British Museum




Edwardian goose crystal watch

From thevintagefox.com



A very rare stickpin by famed Austrian jeweler Ernst Paltscho. Made of solid 18ct gold, set with an Essex crystal of a male capercaillie or woodcock - a large grouse renowned for its courtship display, and backed in mother of pearl, c.1910. From victoriousantique via Instagram



Essex crystal of a Long Billed Dowitcher with a diamond border

Antique Animal Jewelry



Essex crystal snuff box mounted in hallmarked 18ct yellow gold and set with a single cabochon sapphire. Reverse carved & painted scene of hunting birds in a woodland setting

Via Ebay



Antique reverse intaglio / Essex crystal of a Pheasant

Antique Animal Jewelry



Late 19th-century gold brooch with a reversed crystal intaglio of two pheasants in a landscape backed with mother-of-pearl, in a gold collet setting. © The Trustees of the British Museum



Gold brooch with a reversed crystal intaglio of a cock pheasant amidst ferns and grasses with an applied gold ivy leaf in each corner and an applied gold trade label, made by John Brogden, c.1870

© The Trustees of the British Museum






Insects


Bees were a popularly depicted insect in miniature jewelry, symbolizing industriousness. They were particularly sought after for their association with Napoleon Bonaparte, who took the bee as his emblem to represent his status as Emperor.


A gold brooch with a reversed crystal intaglio of a bee set in gold ropework and beading with a hair compartment in the reverse, photographed alongside bee stick pins, c.1870

© The Trustees of the British Museum



Essex crystal reverse intaglio Bumblebee brooch, set in high-carat gold with granulated decoration, c.1880

Via Rowan and Rowan



Victorian 18kt reverse intaglio Essex crystal Bumblebee pin, c.1880. Backed in mother-of-pearl and set within an 18kt yellow gold frame, etched with vertical lines

Via A. Brandt and Son



Essex crystal reverse intaglio butterfly set in 18ct gold with a natural ruby and rose-cut diamond border converted from a pin to a pendant, c.1880

From elizabethroseantiques via Instagram



Antique 18kt gold and reverse-painted crystal brooch, depicting a butterfly and bellflowers, with an enamel border. Via Skinner




gentlemen's Edwardian crystal spider cufflinks www.1stdibs.com



Foxes


A wily reverse intaglio fox set inside a golden hunting horn brooch, c.1900

From Lang Antiques



A reverse intaglio crystal tie pin depicting an open-mouthed fox, set in 14k gold, made by Wilkens & Danger in Bremen, Germany, c.1940

From Beck Antiques and Jewellery via Etsy



Antique Essex crystal fox ring

Antique Animal Jewelry




1stdibs.com



Horses


Antique Essex crystal yellow gold stickpin with a racing horse in full gallop, straddled by a jockey

From matthew.weldons via Instagram



Reverse intaglio crystal stickpin depicting a horse within a rose-cut diamond horseshoe, platinum-topped, 18kt gold mount. Via Skinner



Reverse intaglio crystal brooch depicting two horses mounted in a 14kt gold stirrup

Via Skinner



Reverse intaglio crystal of a horse set into a gold money clip

Antique Animal Jewelry



Three reverse crystal horses heads, set into gold hunting horns with stirrups between to create a bracelet

Via showstableartisans.com



Antique horse and carriage Essex crystal stick pin

Antique Animal Jewelry



Antique Essex crystal horse and carriage with gold beading border

From @ishyantiques via Instagram



Reverse painted crystal brooch set in a gold hunting horn

From 1stdibs via Pinterest




Other Animals


Edwardian 14k gold reverse intaglio Essex crystal Antelope pin

From Kirsten's Corner via Ruby Lane



Essex crystal 14kt brooch/pendant

From Ruby Lane via Pinterest



Victorian gold-mounted Essex crystal pendant of a stag on a rocky ledge, backed with mother of pearl and with a border of Etruscan revival wire and bead-work with a glazed locket compartment to the reverse

Via Bonhams



running hare stickpin conversion ring from antique animal jewelry





Flowers


Possibly used as a watch fob, this die-shaped charm has six Essex crystals including a ladybird, a four-leaf clover, and white heather, which can be seen here. Made in 15k gold and dating to the Victorian era

From Fellows via chatsworthlady.com



A Victorian die-shaped Essex crystal parasol handle made of gold and accented with diamonds, displaying six different flowers. From this angle, we can see a daisy with a bee on it, an iris, and a red carnation

Via chatsworthlady.com



A Victorian Essex crystal parasol handle displaying a single white rose, with a second crystal on the reverse (not photographed) showing a red carnation

Via chatsworthlady.com



An Essex crystal bouquet of lily of the valley on a gold pendant with milgrain edge and bale trim

From Peter Wilson Fine Art Auctioneers via chatsworthlady.com





Nautical pieces


Nautical Essex crystal scene set in a gold ship's wheel

From 1stibs via Pinterest



An Essex crystal sailing ship mounted in 14k gold accented with deep blue and crisp white enameling, hallmarked Enos Richardson & Company, an American jewelry manufacturer (1890s - Art Deco era)

Via Skinner



Reverse crystal intaglio Sailfish cuff links

From Lang Antiques



14k gold mounted Essex crystal reverse intaglio Trout pin, in a fly rod border

From Ruby Lane via Pinterest



Pair of earrings each formed of a double reversed crystal intaglio, mounted back to back, in a gold setting, depicting goldfish in round bowls, made by William James Thomas, c.1870

© The Trustees of the British Museum



A pair of Victorian reverse intaglio crystal ear pendants, c.1870

Via Christie's



18kt gold and reverse intaglio crystal fishbowl ear pendants, each in a cylindrical bowl with a ruby and pearl fringe, suspended by ribbed batons from disc surmount with applied ropework accents, c.1870s

Via Skinner




To wrap up, here are a few more of Antique Animal Jewelry's Essex Crystal and Miniature enamel pieces:



For more rare Georgian and Victorian jewelry, follow Antique Animal Jewelry on Instagram.

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Have you ever seen a piece of jewelry with two or more different animals on it, and wondered what the significance was? Maybe you've seen a snake and a lion fighting, or a fox and a bird facing each other, and wondered why they've been paired together in that way. Well, there's a good possibility that the jewelry you've seen is depicting a scene from one of Aesop's fables.


A tortoise-shell box with a silver relief scene of 'The Fox and the Crow' from Aesop's Fables. Classical ruins are shown in the background, and there is a border of fruit and shell motifs entwined with snakes. © The Trustees of the British Museum




What are Aesop's Fables?

Aesop's Fables are a collection of moral stories credited to Aesop, a slave and storyteller - or 'fabulist' - living in Ancient Greece between 620 and 564 BCE. Aesop's Fables were stories supposedly told by Aesop and passed on by storytellers after his death. They weren't collected in written form until roughly 300 years later.


If you've ever heard the story of 'The Hare and the Tortoise' then you know at least one of Aesop's Fables already. Maybe you've also heard of 'The Boy Who Cried Wolf', or 'The Lion and the Mouse'? Aesop's Fables have been told, read, and taught for thousands of years. They have been in print in England since the first English publisher produced an English translation in 1484.

Aesop by Diego Velázquez, c.1638. Via Museo Del Prado

New fables, translations, and illustrations are being added all the time to Aesop's collection. It's estimated that there are up to 725 of them, and there could be more still, though it's hard to know if Aesop is the origin of all of these. In fact, it was fairly common practice to attribute any old fables with no known literary source to Aesop.


In the mid-late 1600s, Jean de la Fontaine collected fables from the global West and East, including many of Aesop's, translating them into French free verse. Rhyming, poetic translations of Aesop's fables like this were not uncommon, but La Fontaine's were considered so great that he became the most famous French 'fabulist' of the 17th century.




POPULARITY

Aesop's Fables became particularly popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. At this time, Aesop's Fables were not only moral tales for adults but also illustrated children's stories read in nurseries and schools. The fables became popular amongst all age groups, and the Victorians in particular cultivated a love for their wisdom and proverbs, making many buttons, plates, and jewelry featuring subjects from the fables. At a time where the symbolism of animals was a particularly enticing concept in artwork and jewelry, having added layers of moral meanings and maxims had the power to take such symbolism to the next level.


Antique 18kt gold and hardstone cameo necklace depicting scenes from Aesop's Fables. The central cameo shows 'The Fox and the Stork', the suspended drop on the left shows 'The Fox and the Crow', and the one on the right shows 'The Wolf and the Lamb'. Via SkinnerInc.com




Identifying Aesop's Fables Jewelry


It can be very hard to identify pieces showing scenes from Aesop's Fables, particularly where animals are featured alone. Often the difference between a piece of antique fox jewelry and an antique piece depicting the fox from one of Aesop's fables lies in the borderwork or in the suggestions of accompanying scenery, such as a bird or a bunch of grapes. This means the true meaning of many Aesop jewelry pieces may not be known, carrying their symbolism silently through the ages.

The easiest pieces to identify are pieces that depict two or three different animals together in one piece, likely interacting with each other, or one or more animals interacting with some other significant object in some way. In this blog, we want to provide a list of some of the most popular fables, to help you identify pieces of Aesop inspired jewelry.




Most Popular Animal Fables


THE HARE AND THE TORTOISE


This is by far the most well-known of Aesop's many fables and is still taught in schools today. In this fable, a hare boasts about his swiftness and agrees to a race with a tortoise. In some versions of the tale, a fox acts as their judge. The hare is so confident he will win, that he decides to run ahead of the tortoise and take a nap until the tortoise catches up. While the hare is napping, the tortoise keeps going, slowly but surely. When the hare eventually wakes up, he realizes he has overslept and the tortoise is now ahead of him, near the finish line. He runs as fast as he can to catch up, but it's not fast enough.


© The Trustees of the British Museum


The story has several moral lessons; one of these is often condensed into the maxim, 'slow and steady wins the race'. Other associated sentiments include, 'never give up' and 'perseverance always prevails'. The story and the symbol of the hare serve as a reminder to avoid hubris - i.e arrogance and overconfidence - relating to the biblical proverb 'pride goeth before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall'.


A Late Victorian gold brooch depicting the tortoise and the hare from Aesop's fables with natural pearl accents. Converted into a pair of earrings on fine 18carat chain that thread through the ear. Antique Animal Jewelry



Victorian 15ct pair of brooches depicting 'The Hare and the Tortoise', both set with precious stones and held together with a chain dotted with seed pearls. Via potteriesauctions.com



Victorian paste-set silver 'the tortoise and the hare' pendant brooch. The running hare and tortoise are set with round paste stones, and the tortoise has cabochon ruby eyes.

Via The Saleroom



Silver and paste Tortoise and Hare brooch, c.1900 Via Cobra and Bellamy Jewellery



Antique silver and paste brooch, England, c.1910. Both creatures are set with white, faceted paste with red paste for eyes. There is a pin on the back of the hare, and the hare and tortoise are linked by a short chain.

Via Ruby Lane



Two rings made from 19th-century wax seals. Diamonds are set at crucial points: the center of the heart-shaped padlock, and at the tortoise and the hare's finish line. Made by @jeanjeanvintage. Via @ericaweiner on Instagram




THE FOX AND THE GRAPES


© The Trustees of the British Museum


The story of this fable goes: One day a fox saw a beautiful bunch of grapes hanging just out of reach. The fox tried and tried to reach for them, but couldn't. He went away in disgust, scornfully saying that they were probably sour anyway and not worth having. This tale bears the reminder: 'It is easy to pretend to despise what you cannot obtain'.


Victorian-era gold and enamel pendant earrings depicting Aesop's 'The Fox and the Grapes', France, c.1860. Via 1stdibs.com



Late Victorian 9ct gold fox brooch with 9ct gold vine leaves and seed pearls depicting grapes

Via Selling Antiques



Antique sterling silver 'Fox and Grapes' scissors

Via @bee_vintage_41 on Instagram



Antique pictorial figural depicting Aesop's fable of 'The Fox and the Grapes'

From Pinterest via Ebay



Antique clothing button depicting Aesop's 'The Fox and the Grapes' with an embossed, brass, open-work front and a tin backing, c.1800s. Via Ebay



Heart charm of Aesop's 'The Fox and the Grapes' in crisp relief, accentuated by a rich patina, c.1940s. Via Ruby Lane



Gold brooch set with a glass micro mosaic of the 'Fox and Grapes', inlaid into a black glass background, c.1830-1850. Unlike in Aesop's fable, the fox here has secured the grapes. © The Trustees of the British Museum




THE FOX AND THE STORK


This fable tells of a fox who, seeking to play a trick on the stork (a.k.a the crane), invites the stork to dinner. For dinner, the fox serves soup in a very shallow dish, which the stork cannot drink, his beak being too long. The fox has no trouble, however, and makes a great show of enjoying the soup. The stork stays calm, and not long afterward returns the invitation, asking the fox to dinner. He serves the fox a delicious fish meal in a vase with a long, narrow neck, so that the fox can do nothing but smell it and lick the outside of the vase while the stork enjoys his meal. The fox flies into the rage and the stork says, 'do not play tricks on your neighbors unless you can stand the same treatment yourself'. This illustrates the biblical teaching, 'do to others what you would have them do to you'.


© The Trustees of the British Museum



Antique silver 19th-century watch key featuring Aesop’s Fable, 'The Fox and the Stork'. The watch key has the message of the fable in German on the reverse.

Antique Animal Jewelry



Jasperware medallion, possibly of French origin, depicting the Aesop fable of 'The Fox and the Stork' set in dark patinated brass or bronze with a bright rhinestone border, mid-19th century.

Via Ruby Lane



Aesop's Fable of 'The Fox and the Stork' Perfume Bottle

From The Three Graces via Pinterest



Victorian-era French 18k yellow gold and silver depiction of Aesop's stork. Silver body, gold outlined wings, crest, claws, and tail, and an amphora crafted from a natural saltwater pearl with a gold rim and a seed pearl in the gold bottom. The eyes are cabochon onyx and turquoise, c.1850-1870. Via ADIN



Antique button depicting a scene from Aesop's 'The Fox and the Stork' From Ruby Lane via Pinterest



Antique button depicting the fox watching in dismay as the stork eats a delicious fish dinner from a narrow-necked goblet, from Aesop's 'The Fox and the Stork'. Embossed, open-work, painted/plated brass front, a brass outer rim, and a tin backing. Via Ebay



Three color gold brooch with a stylized central motif of a stork standing in water in bulrushes, possibly inspired by Aesop's fables, c. 1910. Via Selling Antiques




THE LION AND THE SNAKE


This fable is about a lordly lion who is hunting for prey and finds nothing but a snake. Disappointed, he brushes aside the snake with his paw, but the enraged snake turns on him, delivering a deadly bite. The snake shouts, 'Die, imperious tyrant! Let thy example show that no strength or power is sufficient at all times to screen a despot from destruction, but that even reptiles, when provoked, may be the cause of his annihilation.' In essence, it is unwise to insult any person, no matter how beneath you you might believe them to be, as there will be consequences.


Images via fablesofaesop.com


This story is harder to identify in pieces of jewelry. The serpent and the lion are both considered amongst the most powerful and deadly creatures of the world, so they were popularly depicted fighting together - especially in Art Nouveau jewelry - so it's uncertain how much influence can be traced to the Aesop fable.



19th-century Italian bracelet made from 18-carat gold, enamel, diamonds, topaz, rubies, emeralds, and a sapphire crown. Lion vs. snake, possibly inspired by the Aesop fable.

Antique Animal Jewelry



Art Nouveau locket depicting a lion fighting a snake, rendered in remarkably fine detail with intricate engraving, a ruby for the eye of the snake, and a diamond for the lion's eye, c.1890-1900s

Via Erie Basin



THE LION AND THE MOUSE


In this fable, a mouse is running up and down and annoying a nearby lion who, getting fed-up, decides to eat the mouse. The mouse begs the lion not to, saying that if the lion saves his life now, the mouse may be able to do the lion a favor in the future. Later, the lion finds himself caught in a trap. The mouse, happening to be passing by at the time, gnaws at the ropes and frees the lion. This fable gives us the message that patience, gratitude, and generosity are all good values that may be repaid in kind.


Wax seal necklace with Aesop's 'The Lion and The Mouse' and caption 'Patience'. The wax seal used in this charm dates back to the 1840s, an authentic antique wax seal from the Napoleon III of France era.

Via rqpstudio.com



Sterling Silver 'Lion and Mouse' wax seal ring, made using an 1820’s French wax seal

Via Etsy



Sterling silver 'Lion and Mouse' cuff bracelet made using an 1820's French wax seal Via Plum and Posey




THE DOG AND HIS REFLECTION


In this tale, a dog is carrying some food across a bridge. Looking down into the river below, the dog spies his reflection. Thinking it is another dog and wanting that dog's food as well as his own, he snaps at the other food, dropping his own into the water. The message - covet more and you may lose everything.


Onyx cameo depicting Aesop's Fable, The Dog and the Shadow

Via thehistoryblog.com




THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT


There are several fables connected with the hardworking ant, but the most popular of these is 'The Ant and the Grasshopper'. The story goes: a grasshopper spends his time frolicking around while an ant works hard to store food for the winter. When the winter comes, the ant is comfortable and has plenty to eat, while the grasshopper does not. The message - prepare for the future.


An antique, Roman intaglio ring in carnelian depicting the ant from Aesop's 'The Grasshopper and the Ant' fable, carrying an ear of wheat. The carnelian was originally part of a bracelet, c.1800

Via hofer-antikschmuck



Other very popular Aesop Fables include: 'The Crow and the Pitcher', 'The Bell and the Cat', 'The Gnat, the Ant, and the Bull', 'The Hart and the Hunter', 'The Lion, the Ass, and the Fox', 'The Wolf and the Sheep', 'The Lion and the Hare', 'The Lioness and the Vixen', and 'The Serpent and the Eagle'



Other Fables Found in Jewelry


THE EAGLE AND THE FOX


In this story, an eagle and fox befriend each other. However, not long after the eagle, hungry and needing to feed her young, steals a fox cub to feed on. The fox mourns the loss of the cub. Later, the eagle tries to seize a piece of goat from a sacrificial burning in the village. Not realizing she has also picked up a cinder along with the piece of goat, the eagle takes it back to her nest, and her young die in the ensuing flames. The moral - God is the ultimate judge.


Georgian 'Fox and Eagle' Aesop cameo ring modeled in 18 and 22-carat gold Antique Animal Jewelry




THE FOX AND THE CROW


In this fable, a crow is sitting in a tree with a piece of cheese. A fox comes by and, wanting the cheese, begins to flatter the crow. The fox calls the crow beautiful and asks if it has a lovely voice to match. Opening her beak wide, the crow dropped her cheese straight into the waiting fox's open mouth. The message of this fable is never to succumb to the charms of flattery.


However, Christian circles who read La Fontaine's translation of the tale were offended by the fox's lack of punishment for theft, so a sequel was written in the form of a song. In it, the fox's funeral is described, and the crow says, 'I’m not at all sorry, now that he’s dead, he took my cheese and ate it in my stead, he’s punished by fate - God, you’ve avenged me'.


Antique French jewelry chest with a finely cast decoration of the 'Fables de la Fontaine', c.1870-1880. Decorated with three scenes, each from a fable: On the top the 'The fox and the crow' (Le corbeau et le renard), on the front 'The Lion and the Mouse' (Le lion et le rat), on the back 'The lion and the gnat' (Le lion et le moucheron). Via lot-art.com





Hopefully, this blog will help you to identify pieces of antique animal jewelry in the future that may otherwise have eluded your understanding. Happy fable hunting!


For a more exhaustive list of Aesop's fables, see the Perry Index on fablesofaesop.com


For more rare Georgian and Victorian jewelry, follow Antique Animal Jewelry on Instagram.

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Getting to know hallmarks can seem like an intimidating task. What with assay office marks, maker's marks, time stamps, and different symbols for different countries, there is an extensive, seemingly infinite library of hallmarks out there. Luckily for you, AAJ has compiled an easy beginner's guide to the most common and important hallmarks.


Types of Mark


Hallmarks are marks struck into precious metals as certification of their quality and authenticity. They essentially act as a guarantee that a piece contains the fine materials stated. Initially, they were introduced for consumer protection. They are called 'hallmarks,' because, in English tradition, the marks would be granted by Goldsmith's Hall before being sold. To be classed as a hallmark, an official assay office must be involved in the process.


Although in the UK, there are only three compulsory marks required for hallmarking, hallmarks themselves can have up to five different symbols constituting the mark:


'Anatomy of a Hallmark,' via The Assay Office.


Sponsor's marks are Assay Office approved marks that show the person or company that has sent the piece for hallmarking. For example, this might be the manufacturer, seller, or importer of a piece. Nonetheless, to bear a sponsor's mark, the sponsor must be registered and approved by the Assay Office.


Standard marks / millesimal fineness marks show the fineness of the metal used. They correspond to the purity of the metal as parts out of 1000. 1000 corresponds to 24 carats and is essentially a metric way of expressing purity. For example, '750' is equivalent to the 18-carat gold standard. In antique jewelry, the number of pure carats out of 24 is somewhat more commonly expressed than the millesimal system.

Modern millesimal fineness marks for various materials.


Traditional fineness marks indicate the material used. These are optional parts of hallmarking. Common symbols include a crown for gold, a lion for silver, and an orb for platinum.


Traditional fineness marks often found on antique jewelry in particular.


Assay Office marks indicate which particular Assay Office has approved and marked the item.

The main UK and Irish Assay Office marks from historically prominent jewelry-making cities, via the Antiques Trade Gazette. Nowadays, only the Birmingham, Edinburgh, London, Sheffield, and Dublin offices are in operation, the others having closed down in the 19th and 20th centuries.


Date letters act as timestamps, dating the piece by year. To use recent examples, 'p' corresponds to 2014, 'q' to 2015, 'r' to 2016, and so on. This is also an optional mark and varies by city as to which year has which mark. Therefore, it is important to check the date mark alongside the assay office mark to determine the correct year.

Birmingham is an important jewelry making city in the UK. These are Birmingham's date letters from 1773-1974.


Click through the gallery above to see more date letters from key UK cities.


Maker's marks are marks found on metals that are struck on by the maker of the jewelry. These do not bear official certification, but they can be useful in antiques for determining the maker of the piece.


Gold ring with plaited hair and five surrounding letters spelling REGARD. The hallmark is for Birmingham 1863, in 18-carat gold. The sponsor mark reads 'EV.'

Photos: © The Trustees of the British Museum.


What does the Assay Office do?


Assay Offices are official organizations that test or assay metal to ensure that the composition meets legal requirements. In the past, this was done by scraping a small amount of metal from the piece and testing it. This was called 'sampling.' In the 1990s and early 2000s, a new method was pioneered as an alternative that would not leave scraping marks on the metal, thus necessitating further polishing after the assaying process. X-Ray Fluorescence is now the established alternative method for testing metals.


For the hallmarking itself, hand-operated or hydraulic presses are commonly used, and laser marking is also becoming increasingly popular.


Engraved gold and blue enamel snake ring with a band of ribbed brown hair. The serpent has ruby eyes. Full hallmarking, complete with the maker's mark. The hallmark indicates that the maker is WV, made in London in 1848 in gold. Unfortunately in this image, the hallmark shows upside-down! Photos: © The Trustees of the British Museum.


What if there's no mark?


For a long time, particularly during the Georgian and Victorian eras, jewelry was often sold without proper hallmarking. In fact, hallmarking only became compulsory on all precious metals around the 1920s. As a result, the Assay Office carries a pre-1950s exemption from hallmarking. If a piece was manufactured before 1950 and bears no hallmark, it is exempt from the Assay Office's usual requirements. An antique jewelry expert, however, should be able to determine the materials and time frame of the piece without a hallmark in place.


This means that dating and determining the authenticity of an antique piece may sometimes be more difficult, so it's important as a customer to deal only with trusted and reputable sellers when hallmarks are unavailable. Being a certified member of LAPADA (The Association of Art & Antiques Dealers) is a good sign to look out for, as it means the dealer has been externally approved by the association.


A gold memorial ring with an enameled bezel featuring a ducal coronet and the device of the Duke of Northumberland. The hallmark reads 'L' alongside the London assay office mark, for 1846-1847. The crown along with the '18' indicates 18-carat gold. A maker's mark is also included, 'TE' for Thomas Eady.

Photo: © The Trustees of the British Museum.


Hallmarks in the USA


Jewelry made before about 1900 in the USA rarely has any marks. In 1906, the Jewelers' Liability Act was introduced, meaning that the maker is responsible for the accuracy of the metal when the metal is marked with a purity mark. In 1961, responsibility marks became mandatory for jewelry that bore purity marks, meaning that the jeweler's responsibility to accuracy must be marked on the metal itself. The responsibility mark is usually the name of the maker in full.


Purity marks and makers marks are not compulsory, however. Unlike in the UK, where precious metals must be marked by an assay office in order to be advertised as gold, silver, or platinum, in the USA metal can legally go unmarked.


For this reason, USA-made antique and modern jewelry will often be unmarked. If it does have a mark, however, it can be distinguished by the American spelling of carat/karat as 'kt' rather than the British 'ct'.



Hallmarks in France (Information courtesy of Lara Fenyar @antikdevotion)


Hallmarking is also compulsory in France, as it is in the UK. In fact, the French hallmarking system dates back to the 13th century and is the most complicated system, with the most variety of potential marks. French law requires that all gold jewelry must have a minimum of 18 carat, so only items destined for exportation may be marked with symbols indicating lower purity levels.


In France, there is evidence of silversmith hallmarks going all the way back to Gallo-Roman times. However, in the late Middle Ages, there was a pressing need to harmonize the laws surrounding hallmarks due to continued fraud and counterfeiting. In the late 13th century, Philippe III implemented the introduction of official hallmarks guaranteeing the silversmith mark. Eventually, goldsmith hallmarks would follow in the early 14th century and by the 15th century. Two separate hallmarks became required: one indicating the goldsmith or silversmith and another showing the quality of the respective metal. 


During the 16th and 17th centuries, French hallmarks became more and more complex, culminating in the 1674 reforms by Colbert and the establishment of la Ferme générale. Under the new laws, les fermiers généraux were responsible for controlling gold and silver pieces in each town and region. Most pieces were required to have 4 hallmarks, unique to the specific town or region. In addition, some places required up to 6 distinct hallmarks. Collectors today love to investigate hallmarks found on surviving pieces, as it provides a unique journey into some complex history.


Everything changed with the French Revolution. We tend to forget that revolutionaries favored not only the abolishment of what they perceived to be privileges held by the nobility but any form of regulation when it came to enterprise. Out went the guilds and in came complete deregulation. There were no longer any indirect taxes and “anyone” could enter into any profession. However, this led to widespread fraud, corruption, and eventually diminished fiscal revenue for the state. The State was quick to rectify this problem and developed the hallmarking laws that mostly survive today. Most of the French antique jewelry that exists today will most likely demonstrate some of the hallmarks of the late 18th century as well as those from the 19th and 20th centuries. During the 19th century, particularly after 1838, the state sought to streamline the hallmarks. Included in the requirements were the silversmith or goldsmith’s stamp followed by the traditional fineness hallmark. In France, the fineness hallmark and what would be the assay hallmark were often combined.  Some common hallmarks found on French antique jewelry include : 

  • Eagle’s head (Gold 750 (18kt) 1838- present). There are several variations. Assay: Paris (1838-1919). After 1919, all of France. 

  • Horse’s head (Gold 750 (18kt) 1838-1919). There are several variations. Assay: All departments outside Paris. Found often on 19th century regional jewelry. 

  • Owl (Gold 750 (18kt) 1893-present). Indicates either an imported piece or piece without any clear origin. 

  • Coquille (Shell) (Gold 585 (14kt) 1994- present). Usually imported pieces. 

  • Boar’s head (Silver 800, 1838- present). There are several variations. Assay: France & controlled in Paris. 

  • Crab (Silver 800, 1838- present). There are several variations. Assay: French departments (outside Paris). 

  • Other fun ones to look for from the 19th century: the sheep’s head, weevil, greyhound head, slug, bear, rat, rose, and the bulldog.


Eagle, horse head and owl, shell, boar, and crab hallmarks often found in French jewelry.


For further reading about French hallmarks check out:

  • Les poinçons français, D'or, d'argent et de platine de 1275 a nos jours by Yves Markezana (silver and platinum)

  • Les Poinçons de garantie internationaux pour l’or, le platine, Éditions Tardy (gold and platinum)

  • Poinçon d’Argent, Édition Tardy. (for silver)



Examples of French marks indicating provincial origins. These marks were used as far back as the 16th century.

Via Hand Book to French Hall Marks on Silver and Gold Plate, ed. Christopher A. Markham. This handbook is great for French marks - it contains 431 stamps.


There you have it - the antique jewelry beginner's guide to hallmarks. Visit AAJ's Instagram to see some of the beautiful pieces you can flex your newfound knowledge on!


Many thanks to Lara Fenyar for her help and knowledge of the history of French hallmarking!

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