Learning About Collecting & Selling Vintage Costume Jewelry

We interviewed instructor Carol Solow about her upcoming spring class, Collect & Sell Vintage Costume Jewelry. Carol stopped by the NCE office to show us some amazing tools she use to learn more about the pieces that she finds, her favorite places to shop and why she love collecting vintage jewelry.

If you are interested in learning more about collecting and selling vintage jewelry, you can sign up now!

1.    Tell our students more about you and how you got into collecting and selling vintage jewelry?

I’ve always loved finding and wearing vintage jewelry and accessories; when I was a child my mother took me too many estates and rummage sales, and “’back in the day” I frequented the vintage shops in New York City’s East Village. I started seriously collecting more recently, after many years as a grant writer and instructor.  I’ve always had a passion for research, and I’ve discovered that research is a vital part of collecting older costume jewelry.

Vintage Jewelry

2.    How does someone go from making this a hobby to a full-time career?

Very carefully!  I do it part-time, but full-timers in the collector Facebook groups I belong to usually start gradually and build up their sales.  To make a living doing this requires lots of time not to the only source (find, buy) jewelry but to also list online dozens of pieces a week on eBay, Etsy, and other venues. It's important to price competitively and use the right selling platform for different pieces. Also, being aware of current jewelry trends and resisting the urge to keep the fantastic pieces you find!

3.    People love collecting vintage jewelry, but how do you start to learn the background information about the jewelry?

Research, research, research! Read books on the subject (the Nashville Public Library has several), look at YouTube videos, join Facebook groups for collectors, and get out there to look at jewelry pieces -try to apply your knowledge.  Also, use online databases to help identify marks (signatures, symbols, initials) of significant designers and companies.  It is important to know the difference between costume and fine jewelry – in a nutshell, costume jewelry is jewelry made with non-precious metals and stones, while fine jewelry is made with precious metals such as gold and silver and precious gemstones such as diamonds, rubies or pearls.

4.    What was your first piece of vintage jewelry that you collected?

My first in Nashville was a carved Bakelite bangle that I found for $1.99 at a local thrift store.  Bakelite is a very collectible early plastic material, and I was advised that the one I have could be sold for $100 to $125.  But I’ll never sell!!

5.    What’s your most prized piece of vintage jewelry that you will never sell?

A pair of faux pearl and rhinestone earrings that I got from my mother’s jewelry box after she passed away.

6.    What are the top tools for people if they want to start learning more about the value of their jewelry?

A jewelry loupe (magnifier) with an LED lamp, to look for and identify designer marks and signatures, a magnet to rule out that the metal on a piece is gold or silver, and an acid testing kit to test metals to see if they are gold, silver or plated. If you think you might own a piece with diamonds, an inexpensive diamond tester.  They are not fooling proof but a good first step.

Vintage Jewelry

7.    Does Nashville have any hidden gems to collect vintage jewelry?

 I’ve found great stuff at garage sales and church rummage sales. I’ve had good luck at thrift stores but be aware that Goodwill stores no longer sell jewelry; that is now sold at shopgoodwill.com. The Salvation Army thrift store in Madison sometimes sell “jewelry jars” – vases full of jewelry for you to sort through.  Not all will be vintage.  There are lots of “jewelry jar haul” videos on YouTube, also a good way to learn.  Estate sales are hit or miss; I suggest either going right when it opens for the best pieces or the last few hours of the sale for the best bargains.  The hunt is part of the fun! 

8.    How old does a piece of jewelry need to be in order to be considered vintage?

Vintage jewelry is 50 years old or older; antique jewelry is 100 years or older.  Jewelry that is less than fifty years old but not too recent is considered “retro” – for example, the 1980s – and is also collectible.

Vintage Jewelry

9.    What are 3 things people should come to your class expecting to learn about collect & sell vintage costume jewelry?

·        The most collectible types of costume jewelry and designers are from the 1920s through the 1950s, and the importance of collecting the types of jewelry that you are most passionate about.  For me, that is plastic bangles and glass beaded necklaces; for someone else, it might be cocktail rings or animal figure brooches (pins).

·        How to properly use essential tools for identifying the materials, styles, and designers of vintage costume jewelry that you own or are thinking about purchasing.

·        Where on the internet to find reputable information and research resources, how to use eBay and other sites to price and list jewelry, and tips for avoiding buying fake pieces.

You can register for Collect & Sell Vintage Costume Jewelry. The class is at Cohn School, June 5-June 19.