Falling for antique Mizpah jewelry

Editorial Staff Art

It’s easy to fall in love with Victorian jewelry. The combination of beauty and sentimentality in objects such as mourning brooches made of facetted jet and Etruscan beaded bangles is nearly unparalleled, while the symbolism in 19th-century jewels makes them especially alluring for collectors. Names, inscriptions, and the coded languages of flowers and stones all contribute to their significance. One such example is Mizpah jewelry, which from the mid- to late-1800s was given to a loved one during a period of long separation—military service, travel, or otherwise—as a “forget-me-not.”

The word Mizpah—taken from the Old Testament (Genesis 31:49, “And Mizpah; for he said, The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent from one another”) and meaning “watchtower” in Hebrew—can be found emblazoned on an abundant amount of jewelry from the period. Predominately made in England and America, the most common examples are brooches and rings made from gold, silver, or brass that range from simple bands and bars with little decoration to complex arrangements of entwined hearts, anchors, roses, vines of ivy, and lengthy inscriptions. Because antique Mizpah jewelry was generally mass-produced, most examples found today can be purchased for under $500, while the sheer variety of designs makes them fun to collect.

Silver with gold overlay pin, hallmarked E, Birmingham, 1908 (Morning Glory Antiques)

Gilt metal brooch, c. 1880 (Atlanta Antiques Gallery)

Gold locket, hallmarked S. Bros, Birmingham, 1908 (The Three Graces)

Rose gold brooch, c. 1895 (Kalmar Antiques)

Double heart brooch (Morning Glory Antiques)

To learn more about Mizpah and other types of Victorian jewelry check out these links:
*  Morning Glory Antiques and Jewelry
*  Fine jewelry auctions at Skinner, Inc.
Antique and Twentieth Century Jewellery: A Guide for Collectors by VivienneBecker (second edition, Robert Hale, 1997)
Jewelry in America (1600-1900) by Martha Gandy Fales (Antique Collector’s Club, 1995)

Images: Tri-color gold brooch, hallmarked, Birmingham, 1888 (Vininghill). Ring with original box, hallmarked P & T, Birmingham, 1862 (Morning Glory Antiques)