Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Puzzling Evidence - A Helen Burton Champleve Connection?

Helen Burton was proprietor of The Camel Bell gift shop in the Peking Hotel during the 1920s-30s, and a notable prisoner of the Weihsien internment camp during the early years of World War II.  Donald Menzies (now sadly passed) wrote an informative biography of Helen, which includes a Life magazine photo of her wearing a 30s-style necklace and dramatic bracelets.  The photo was taken during a sad occasion; nonetheless, Helen is neat and stylish despite having just been released from two years of prison camp and recovering from pneumonia.  A remarkable woman.

A possible example of the type of jewelry Helen sold at The Camel Bell and its auxiliary shop on the passenger ship Empress of Britain was featured on eBay, and is of interest because it still had the original box with a Camel Bell label.
Note the use of carved blue glass beads and drops typical of those used for Qing court necklaces.

In my quest to find pre-World War II Chinese cloisonné dragon beads, I encountered two specimens of an interesting brass belt:
Sold by MagicDragonsStore on Etsy

Note the two different styles of dragon/phoenix beads

The floral and dragon bead patterns can be found in other late 1930s-early 1940s costume jewelry, as explored in previous posts on MiriamHaskell and Louis C. Mark.  However, upon examination with a loupe, there are two striking anomalies about the large disk-shaped dragon/phoenix beads:
Beads in the belt in my possession

1) They are not wired cloisonné.  That is, unlike the other beads, the cloisons are not formed by thin strips of copper wire; instead, the cloisons are all perfectly identical, and are specimens of the champlevé technique.  I have no idea how the designs were reproduced – stamping from a die seems most likely, as this technique shows up in other Chinese cloisonné right up the present.  In other words, the design was not outlined by thin copper strips, but instead stamped or etched; the only difference from one bead to another is the colors of enamels that were subsequently painted into the design holes and background.
Here is a little bracelet featuring champlevé bells – note how the interior view shows what seems to be a stamped pattern [possibly Thai?].
eBay vendor didirdh

And here is a more recently manufactured small round box offered by eBay vendor liwz88 that shows the technique very clearly. Because of the transparent enamels, I suppose this particular piece could also be called basse-taille - but the point remains that the cloisons were formed mechanically, not by hand, and can be exactly reproduced from one piece to the next.

2)    The dragons are not drawn in the stereotypical style that shows up in the other beads, as described in a prior post.

Here’s a similar dragon design offered by eBay vendor, featuring transparent enamels reminiscent of the Canton enamel technique.  Interestingly, this piece is listed as a Japanese obidome.
courtesy of eBay vendor the-original-crazy-lady-antiques

A large Haskell-style brooch featuring these champleve beads:

This necklace also features old court necklace-style cut glass beads, a large disc-shaped cloisonne pendant, brass chain and other assorted Chinese stone charms:

And recently on eBay, a silver brooch featuring this champlevé dragon design in a round brocade-covered cotton-filled box that appears to be similar in style to the Camel Bell box that accompanied the blue glass beads necklace and earrings.  
courtesy of mymomsantiqueshop

In the biography by Don Menzies cited above, in a letter Helen says that she sent a shipment from her shop to Rhode Island in 1937, just prior to the Japanese invasion of China.  A possible origin for these cloisonne beads, belts, and other jewelry?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Puzzling Evidence - Louis C. Mark, Rice-Weiner, and the Mysterious Qun Li Mark 群力


Most costume jewelry collectors have encountered the famous water carrier brooch patented in 1941 by Louis C. Mark, head designer for the Rice-Weiner jewelry company during the early 1940s. 

Mark also patented a Chinese-themed bracelet.
Has anyone ever seen an actual produced example of this?  

Another famous patented Mark design is the eagle brooch from 1940.
courtesy of eBay vendor amxbmw
An extensive account of the Rice-Weiner company can be found in the second volume of Carla and Roberto Brunialti’s American Costume Jewelry: Art and Industry1935-1950:

…in the period under review, Rice-Weiner was an important firm, which, particularly in the years between 1938 and 1950 manufactured premium jewelry, which was famous for the quality of its design, materials, and manufacture.

The first design patented on behalf of Rice-Weiner by Louis C. Mark of Providence, the firm’s head designer, was an American eagle in fighting stance, dated 13th August 1940. … In September of the following year Mark designed and partly patented brooches, necklaces, bracelets and earrings  inspired, according to “Women’s Wear Daily” of 7th July 1941, by Byzantine, Moorish, and Persian motifs (the latter bear the trademark PERSIAN CRAFT accompanied by signs that could be Persian alphabet letters), as well as Etruscan … Maya … and Chinese motifs.

The signs that appear before and after the trademark “Thief of Bagdad Korda©” are not, as is commonly believed, the figures 113 and 61, but letters from the Arabic alphabet… Whether they are correct or a fantasy creation is not known.  The designs were probably by Louis C. Mark.”
A brooch from the Thief of Baghdad series, featuring Arabic? letters

What seems relevant here is the penchant for use of non-English letters in the trademark stamps.

The water carrier brooch appears in two main variations.

The first version closely matches the patent drawing, with enamel dots on the man’s shorts and Chinese cloisonné beads.  The pin is positioned vertically.
Gold-colored plating with patent mark, courtesy of eBay vendor kraftyrose

Silver-colored plating with Qun Li mark, courtesy of eBay vendor popgems

Brooch in upper left is in the private collection of Morning Glory Antiques & Jewelry

Brooch on bottom courtesy of eBay vendor jeweler2

A second version features rhinestones instead of enamel dots on the shorts, and Venetian lampwork beads, pressed glass, or wood beads. The pin is positioned diagonally.
Brooch on right with blue beads courtesy of eBay vendor victorian_lady

An unusual version as a sweater chain

As shown above, the cloisonné bead versions display either of two marks - one with the patent number, and the other with a mysterious pair of Chinese characters.  One of the posters at kindly identified these characters as Qun Li, translating roughly as “group-herd-flock strength,” pronounced approximately as “joon lee.” (An older transcription might appear as Ch'un Lee - I'm not up to speed in this area, however, so don't accept that without question.) The fact that it is accompanied by a © copyright symbol makes it seem unlikely to be a non-US. mark – who except a U.S. manufacturer would care about a U.S. copyright?  I wondered if there was someone named June or Julie or Lee among Louis Mark’s relatives and acquaintances. Perhaps those literate in Arabic can examine those other Rice-Weiner marks and determine if they have any assonance or other similarity to the Qun Li characters.

The rhinestone pieces lack any identifying mark.  While the Brunialti book features a photograph of a rhinestone water carrier brooch, I think the evidence indicates that this was a later version produced 1) when the original supply of Chinese cloisonné beads ran out and could not be restocked (trade interruption due to World War II, Chinese civil war?), or 2) as a design variant or copy, or 3) both.  

Louis Mark left Rice-Weiner in 1946, formed the Barclay Company, and died in 1954.  The travails of the Barclay Company and the 1950s costume jewelry trade can be sampled in this legal document.

Mark’s patented designs for Rice-Weiner featuring Oriental motifs seem relevant, as the Qun Li mark appears on other brooches.  Notice how these are all very large pieces.

Morning Glory Antiques & Jewelry's website

courtesy of eBay vendor coutequecoutenote similarity of pot metal and enamel between eagle and dragon brooches
courtesy of eBay vendor willexpectit

These strike me as a Westerner’s impression of Oriental motifs, not something produced by an actual Asian designer.  The cloisonné beads used, however, are distinctly Chinese.  Those who have waded through my previous post onMiriam Haskell will have noticed the similar variety of Chinese cloisonné dragon and floral motif beads appearing in those pieces, which seem to date from the late 1930s-early 1940s.

I’ve been unable to find any rhinestone versions of the water carrier brooch that feature the Qun Li mark. While Louis Mark may have used Qun Li for his own mysterious reasons when he worked for Rice-Weiner, it seems unlikely he used the mark when he worked for the Barclay Company. The company was formed in 1946, and the supply of Chinese cloisonné beads had likely run out by then.  World War II was over, the Dior New Look was in the wings for 1947, and big early-40s brooches were falling out of fashion.

It appears that someone imported a stock of Chinese cloisonné beads around the late 1930s, at least two distinct costume jewelry designers used them in the early 1940s … and then they were gone 

UPATE April 2014:
eBay seller wondollar found another vintage brooch that is likely a Rice-Weiner piece.  The size of the bead is about 1".

UPDATE: eBay vendor sarahjean.860 found another Rice Weiner dragon brooch with the Louis C. Mark "Qun Li" mark:
UPDATE: More examples:

Fabulous gilded dragon brooch from the private collection of Morning Glory Antiques & Jewelry (brooch is not for sale)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Puzzling Evidence - The Miriam Haskell Mystery

When I first became interested in cloisonné dragon beads, a member observed that these beads showed up in costume jewelryattributed to Miriam Haskell 

Investigating further, I learned that Frank Hess was the head designer for the Miriam Haskell workshop after Miriam hired him in the late 1920s, and that Haskell jewelry prior to World War II was unsigned.  However, in none of the books I had on hand could I find the slightest mention that this jewelry featuring “oriental” charms was the product of the Haskell workshop, although such an attribution seems to be a consistent piece of internet auction legend and lore.  The closest thing I could discover was a cryptic quote from Deanna Farneti Cera's "The Jewels of Miriam Haskell” at the website of Morning Glory Antiques & Jewelry:

Political events also influenced designers. Out of sympathy for the Chinese and Greek people who were fighting Japan and Italy…they turned to those antique cultures for inspiration." Cera, The Jewels of Miriam Haskell, p 29.

The Second Sino-Japanese War began in July of 1937, and the Italian invasion of Greece was in 1940.  The pieces in question are lavish with metal findings, which became less obtainable as World War II progressed and metal supplies were diverted to military manufacture, hence another indication for a 1930s or early-1940s date.

However, at first I was unable to find any evidence that these pieces were part of a manufacturer’s “line” – i.e., coordinated pieces that could be duplicated over and over again for multiple sales.  And then eBay vendor coutequecoute provided a clue, pointing out a pinback finding that matched one attributed as characteristic of the Haskell workshop on page 74 of Gordon and Pamiloff’s book MiriamHaskell Jewelry.
Note that the book brooch with this matching pin back is made from orange Czech glass leaves, not coral; however,  an adjacent picture featuring a wired pin back with folded ends is made of tiny coral branches similar to coutequecoute’s set.   Morning Glory Antiques & Jewelry website shows a promotional watercolor from the 1940s of Haskell jewelry made from these little coral branches, and other Haskell coral branch jewelry pieces are discussed on page 152 of Gordon & Pamiloff’s book.
Haskell watercolor from Morning Glory Antiques & Jewelry

Checking my archive of photos trawled from the Internet, I found another coral and dragon bead brooch. 
So perhaps these are indeed Haskell designs featuring cloisonné dragon beads.

More evidence for a designer’s line using dragon beads turned up in my pictures archive – four necklaces with matching clasps, chain, and overall design, including the sequence of the suspended charms (from left to right:  Japanese lacquer, cut crystal, cloisonné dragon, brass/turquoise chip inlay, carved cinnabar and jeweled brass, “Bakelite,” lampwork glass or pressed glass, Japanese lacquer).
Lower left bracelet and necklace set Laurie Steig Vintage Jewelry

Curiously, at first I thought the necklaces labeled 1 and 1A were the exact same piece and that a Neiger Czech pressed glass “Egyptian” bead had been substituted for the cylindrical lampwork bead; however, there seem to be some differences in the fine details.

Many of the beads used in the charms can be found again and again in similar compositions.  The brass findings vary from one piece to another, although appear to be coordinated within a piece.  A Czech origin seems likely for the findings.  The molded “composition” beads with Japanese motifs and the faux-ojime Japanese lacquer beads also appear in other pre-World War II necklaces, which discussions have theorized might be cruise ship or tourist trinket jewelry.
Japanese lacquer beads at
Molded composition beads with Japanese motifs

Note the red-white-blue theme.

with permission of Florence Foster, Beads With A Past

with permission of Florence Foster

Similar brass beads appear in the more opulent pieces above with tiny jeweled cabs attached to them

boylerpf shop at Etsy

Chinese beads, including carved glass beads similar to those used in Qing court necklaces. Likely an outlier from another designer?

Glass, Japanese lacquer, glass with molded glass cap, glass, "Bakelite," cinnabar, molded glass, molded composition with Japanese motifs, silver plated hollow blown molded glass, brass and turquoise inlay, glass.  Big beads, about an inch in diameter each.

sold by Magic Dragon



TerraSoulJewelry - sold

TerraSoulJewelry - sold

TerraSoulJewelry - sold

Not all the pieces pictured above may be from the same designer, of course.  Many pieces are from TerraSoulJewelry, so you may want to bookmark her Etsy shop if you collect this rare jewelry.  

The coral pieces and opulent charm necklaces aside, this type of costume jewelry seems to me to have more of a Ziegfeld Follies rather than a Park Avenue look to it, and might have been created as a fun, novelty line for one season, perhaps as part of a resort-wear line, with occasional one-offs for the 5th Avenue shop or given to buyers as prototypes.  If the line was indeed produced during the 1930s, the decade of the Great Depression, purchasers were presumably more well-to-do and capable of buying something frivolous that within a few months would be unwearable, “so last year”  because of its distinctive and easily recognized look.

1920s?  1930s? 1940s? Haskell?  Other designers?  All of them, Katie?  Puzzling evidence.

Chinese cloisonné dragon beads also appear in brass belts, and in brooches featuring the mysterious Qun Li mark – more on these pieces in upcoming posts.

UPDATE: A commenter sent links to a dramatic necklace of jade rings and cloisonne dragon beads.  Some readers were unable to open the links, so here are the photos: