The apparent lack of any brooches made by my anonymous 1930s jewelry maker has puzzled me for a long time, but I recently discovered that they did indeed produce at least two. Both are bow motifs which also appeared on some of their necklaces as well, and both were later reproduced by other manufacturers. This is the larger of the two designs.
Original 1930s Large Bow Brooch by the Mystery Jewelry Maker
This is, of course, the same bow that was used – either with or without an added ‘drop’ – on many of the necklaces seen elsewhere in this blog series. The brooch was produced in brass and also in a silvertone-over-brass version, just as their other pieces typically were. The bow as shown is 1 5/8” wide and just a bit over 1 1/8” high.
The construction of this brooch, and especially the clasp design, is the means by which this original (first) version can be differentiated from the later adaptations.
This brooch is constructed from three separate pieces: the tails, the loops, and the small central ‘tie’. The ‘tails’ piece was placed in the center of the ‘loops’ piece, whose narrow ends were folded inward to enclose it; the small central tie piece then encloses all. The ‘tails’ piece – with or without the central tie – was also used separately by the MJM (Mystery Jewelry Maker) as an element in several known necklaces.
It is the clasp construction that marks this as the first iteration of this brooch. It’s a variant of the C-clasp seen in late 19th century pieces but differs in two respects. First of all, it’s not a C-shape… it’s a tab (we can’t call it a “tab clasp”, though, because that term is sometimes applied to a box clasp.) And unlike typical C-clasps of any era, the clasp ends are not separate, soldered-on pieces – instead, the clasp is formed by cutouts in the actual brass die. These cutouts on both ends of the clasp were then bent into the proper position. This method results in an integral (self) clasp that is as thick as the brass casting itself. A single brass rivet passes through the two tabs and the pin on the hinge end. This is an elegantly simple and effective clasp design which I admit I had never seen on a brooch before this one (and also the other bow brooch also produced at the same time.)
This bow with the identical stamping but not the same clasp construction was later reproduced by only one other jewelry company, and that was:
The Forstner Reproduction (late 1940s-1950s?)
In my previous post entitled Where’s Sherlock Holmes When You Need Him, I introduced the reproduction that was made both in sterling and vermeil by the Forstner Jewelry Company.
Here are the two versions produced by Forstner, probably sometime in the 1940s or possibly even the 1950s. Because Forstner is now out of business, it’s impossible to date their production of this brooch but I’d love to find some old catalogs or ads showing this!
The back of this brooch has the Forstner cartouche; see my previous post for a discussion of how Forstner may have acquired the copyright to this bow, as well as more and better photos. Supposedly this Forstner signature stamp first appeared in 1947, which if correct would date these brooches to late 1940s-1950s most likely. The Forstner clasp is the typical modern soldered-on rollover type instead of the original’s integral cutout tabs. It is not known when Forstner stopped producing this brooch; they did not produce any other designs that I have found in the 1930s MJM history.
The Leaf Design Stamping (1960s?–1980s/1990s)
Imagine my surprise when I discovered brooches bearing a completely different stamping pattern on this very same brass bow “blank”! The big question then became ‘Was this version ever produced by my Mystery Jewelry Maker?’ followed by ‘When were these made?’ I’m calling this the “Leaf Design bow” to differentiate it from the 1930s pattern.
I have never yet found this design stamping on any confirmed 1930s MJM piece of any type (brooch, necklace, or bracelet) but I continue to look for it… just in case.
All of the brooches below are of more recent date than the MJM version because none have the cutout/tabs clasp. What’s surprising is the production timespan that this alternate stamping covers, and also that the most recent versions were used by designer companies right through the 1980s, whereas the original (“arrow”) stamping was apparantly used only by the MJM and then subsequently by Forstner.
Although there are differences in the materials and construction of this Leaf Design Bow, two things are consistent: they all have a loop to accommodate a locket or a drop, and they all have a rollover C clasp. The designer-signed brooches all use a soldered-on clasp but almost all of the others ones use the less expensive clasp-on-backplate version.
Here are two examples, one brass and one silvertone finish, with attached lockets. The actual size of the bow is the same as the original 1930s and Forstner die. They appear to be still made of three separate stamping pieces but from the photos I cannot be 100% positive. They are unsigned. It’s hard to date vintage-repro pieces because they could have been made anytime during the 1960s, 70s or 80s.
This version uses the lower-end clasp-on-plate and may have been made from a cheaper brass as well (if it even is brass rather than a brass finished metal.)
A few versions were decorated with rhinestones, as part of the drop and/or applied directly to the bow as well. The first example may have a replacement clasp; hard to be certain from the photo whether there was originally a soldered clasp there. There was no photograph of the back of the second example.
This is a low-end knockoff copy of the examples above; not only is the finish merely a thin and garish goldtone coating over base metal, but the bow itself is cast as a single piece – not three separate pieces joined together.
On the other hand, this piece is quite intriguing and is the only one that makes me seriously wonder whether this leaf-motif stamping might be connected with the MJM after all. This is not a brooch – it was cast for a necklace, because in addition to the ‘drop’ ring there are also two at the top of the bow loops for attaching a chain – just as there are in the original MJM bow necklaces. It also combines two finishes: their typical brass, and also a coppery/bronze finish that I just recently discovered on two of their necklace chains: an embossed link and a flat mesh. I’m continuing to look for examples of this stamping on pieces that I can say for sure are theirs… just in case!
Three well-known design houses latched onto this leaf-motif bow brooch finding during the 1980s.
One of them was Sadie Green, who specializes in antique and vintage reproduction costume jewelry. All of their pieces are signed. The company was founded early 1970s and still operates today; I reached out to them in hopes that I might be able to trace back the history of this stamping. The founder of the company replied that she had purchased this brass bow from a New England-based findings supplier during the 1980s but was not sure which one it was; I checked with several that still exist but they did not have this design in their archives. Most of the old findings companies are long gone now. However, the owner of Sadie Green does clearly recollect that this bow was a “very expensive” finding when her company purchased their supply of these during the 1980s.
Even Miriam Haskell got into the act with the Leaf Design bow! Although I tried several times to contact them to inquire about what decade they produced this bow (and hopefully what findings company they originally obtained it from) I was unable to get a reply. Most likely their brooch was made during the 1980s as well.
Apparantly this Leaf Design bow finding was also produced in a smaller size suitable for earrings, although I have only found this one item which was made by Banana Bob. The Banana Bob line was founded by Ann Venditti and, like Sadie Green, they produced antique/vintage reproduction pieces during the 1980s and into the 1990s. Banana Bob items were not signed; they were sold with paper hangtags and on cards such as this one. Their pieces have a distinctive look that has a following among vintage costume jewelry collectors. The company is no longer in business and so I could not attempt to trace the finding’s origin that way.
The final entry into the Mystery Large Bow sweepstakes is a piece that is most probably a modern-day assemblage of elements from various vintage pieces but again I’m including it just in case. I’ve seen this brooch offered for sale online twice; no idea whether it was the same item both times. The bow tails piece is a MJM element, although the small center “tie” does not appear to match the tails of either stamping pattern. The metal/finish of the snake heads differ in appearance from the bow tails and from the snake chain sections they are attached to. Overall this piece seems simply too muddled designwise to have been an actual retail production item. This brooch was claimed to be “antique Victorian pinchbeck” a few years ago by an eBay seller known for engaging in hyperbole; a 2015 eBay seller described it as being a Deco era piece.
The second (smaller) bow brooch from the Mystery Jewelry Maker will be examined in the next post.