Research on Antiques & Collectibles


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Snapping gold terriers. Roaring tigers with sparkling gems in their jaws. Greek goddesses, minutely carved in crystal. These are all antique stickpins, and they are also - as dealers will happily tell you - very much in fashion. While prices for antique jewelry have soared in recent years, old stickpins of every variety - from a classic pearl tiepin to a whimsical platinum-and-diamond winged elephant - can still please the collector without emptying his wallet. And for those seeking the truly fine piece to add to their collections, there is the occasional stickpin by such notable firms as Tiffany, Lalique or Faberge, or by a master craftsman whose personal signature can greatly enhance its value.

Stickpins found nowadays in antiques stores and galleries generally date from the late eighteenth century to the 1930s and can range in price from less than $50 to several thousand dollars - although the rarest or finest pieces can go even higher. Though there have long been dedicated stickpin collectors, their ranks have multiplied in the last year or two, and the stickpin business is booming. "We've sold several hundred antique stickpins this year – and that's incredible, because we used to sell about two a year," said a New York dealer. Most of the items are men's tiepins, though some women's dress pins - commonly called jabots, after the frills that once graced feminine bodices - are also being sold.

In the past it was mostly men who collected stickpins, but the new customers seem to be women, whose interest stems in part from the dictates of current fashion. The arbiters of couture have recently decreed a forties look, replete with boxy blazers and man-tailored shirts. These styles have opened a new market for stickpins, tucked singly or in bunches in jacket lapels or shirt collars, or even in the mannish neckties worn by "Annie Hall" lookalikes. With tiepins serving a dual role as fashion fillip and collector's item, more people may also be entering auction houses on the trail of the antique stickpin.

The variety of antique stickpins is considerable, since they incorporate the workmanship and styles of more than 200 years. It was in the late seventeenth century that the great lacy collars and ruffs favored by gentlemen were first replaced by a form of cravat; and crystal tiepins from about 1700 - consisting of a gold backing set with gold-thread embroidery or tiny enamel figures, and covered with a piece of faceted crystal - may turn up occasionally in the hands of a fortunate antiques dealer. But portraits of the time show that tiepins were not in general use until the late eighteenth century, and the stickpin was not considered de rigueur for the well-dressed gentleman until the mid-1800s.

By the turn of the century, jewelers and manufacturers were wracking their brains to meet the increased demand for new motifs and novelty designs. The sporting set especially favored horseshoes and jockeys in their ascots, while a veritable stickpin menagerie of animals and insects appeared on other ties of the day. The best examples of that time are distinguished by their painstaking attention to detail and superb craftsmanship; by the 1920s, there is less emphasis on detailed workmanship and more on fine gemstones, especially with Art Deco designs.

This diversity means that today's collector has a tiepin for practically every taste: "There are two kinds of collectors - those who collect by subject matter, and those who go by age and quality," said a well known owner of an Antiques shop in Santa Barbara, CA. Holding up a jeweled, 18-karat gold butterfly dating from about 1880, she said, "There are some to whom this would mean nothing. To others, who collect butterflies or insects, that is a collectible item."

The cost of stickpins, as with most period jewelry, has been going up in recent years. Yet price tags for the pins remain comparatively modest, and dealers say they are a good investment - albeit with certain caveats. A cute trinket should be bought only for amusement, not for serious collecting, whereas a good quality piece will increase in or at least retain its value.

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