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WhatWorld

Why Vintage Jewelry?

End cap for Victorian Braided Hair Jewelry

My mother returned home after the war to reclaim some of her extended family's belongings. The neighbors who were paid by my grandfather to watch over the family effects had long ago deduced no one would ever return "from the east" and believed they had the right to appropriate everything entrusted to them as their own. "We suffered, too," they said, a refrain uttered throughout Europe to absolve citizens of complicity.

My mother's household once bustled with the presence of three children, four elderly aunts, a mother and father. The family were working class but each woman had collected some jewelry and important family heirlooms. Most of these things, especially gold and precious gemstones from the five women, were stolen by friends and neighbors in Weseke, Germany, but a few things were returned when my mother insisted they belonged to her.

My mother was grateful for everything that was returned to her, an attitude I admire and wish my cynical nature allowed me to embrace. Instead, I feel regret and envy over objects that have been denied to me. During my one visit to Weseke, I stared at the displays inside antique shops and wondered if anything came from my mother's former home. After her death, I inherited a trunk full of linens, a china set, a brass Sabbath candle, and some broken Victorian era gold fill jewelry. There are a few lightweight gold pieces, all dented and broken, whose gemstones were removed and replaced by glass before being returned. Ideology may be driven by hate but often action is aided by the desire to profit. Sometimes I look at the heavy brass Sabbath candle and know that if eBay had been around at the end of the war, our family would own even less that proved our presence in the past.

Segue to vintage jewelry, something I began to study and collect some thirty years ago. I didn't analyze my compulsion to own objects from past times until one day when I recognized that a fragment of a Victorian gilded necklace my mother had stored in a plastic bag alongside other bits and pieces was the end piece of a braided hair necklace woven in the late 1800s. It was the closest I could come to seeing and touching and enacting with an object associated with my family's past. The hair was frizzled and broken, perhaps rotted or cut away. I don't know whose hair was braided for posterity but lost to reality. I have to be satisfied recognizing that this object was important and not a scrap to be thrown away. This fragment is my bridge to the past, my portal to seeing a glimpse of the unknowable family history I yearn for. It may sound histrionic, but vintage jewelry allows me to feel a connection to all that was lost. It's a hobby and a calling, let's call it a cobby. Researching the history of vintage objects brings me joy and a feeling of completion I'm only know beginning to understand.

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