article # 57



by Joanne Wiertella
(click on photos to enlarge image)


Jewelry boxes have long been treasured, for they have held precious items -sometimes valuable in themselves, sometimes valuable for their memories. Throughout history, jewelry boxes had been constructed and designed by craftsmen, one box at a time, each a unique piece reflecting the style of the time and locale.

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, all this changed. And as we know, the concept of mass production was avidly adopted in the United States during the late 19th early 20th centuries. For the first time, metal objects like jewelry boxes, for example, could be cast in quantity and, through mail order catalogs (Sears and Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, Marshall Field), American ladies of the early 1900’s could aspire to the “high style” of the world’s great cities like London and Paris.

Jewel boxes, also called 'caskets', gained great favor -from the tiniest ring box to the very large handkerchief and glove boxes. They were made of cast metal, first plated with copper, then with silver or gold. They were lined with fine pale-colored silks from Japan and China, printed faille and satin/sateen, and were often trimmed with a fine twisted silk cording.
Austin N. Clark & Company Jewelry Catalog, Chicago, IL, 1913
Austin N. Clark & Company Jewelry Catalog, Chicago, IL, 1913
The most popular style of these 'Art Metal' jewel boxes during the early 1900's was Art Nouveau. First the nymph-like young women with flowing hair appeared. Soon after, flowers and vines, birds, and other fauna decorated these fanciful boxes. Floral motifs, in particular, gained great favor, probably due to the very popular Victorian 'language of flowers'.

Mfr. Unknown, 1904, Commemorates 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in St. Louis B&W 149 Danbury, Patented Nov.22, 1904
Mfr. Unknown, 1904, 4 x 3 ½ x 4 in,
Commemorates 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exhibition in St. Louis, Peacock/Wild Rose on lid, Moon and Stars on bottom
B&W 149 Danbury, Patented Nov.22, 1904,
5 ¾ x 4 ¼ x 4 in,
Iris/Nouveau Portraits
JB 824 (Jennings Brothers), 1910 JB 824 (Jennings Brothers), 1910 (open)
JB 824 (Jennings Brothers), 1910,
3 ¼ x 3 ¼ x 2 ½ in,
Oak Leaves and Acorns
JB 824 (Jennings Brothers), 1910,
Oak Leaves and Acorns

The romanticism of the period also gave rise to revival styles such a Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Rococo, and so on--not to mention Americans' reflection on their own Colonial Days.
JB 2733, 1915+, American Colonial scene with Marie Antoinette ribbons
JB 2733, 1915+, 8 x 5 ½ x 3 in,
American Colonial scene with Marie Antoinette ribbons
Weidlich Brothers Patent (Drawing), Oct. 21, 1913
There were several American art metal manufacturers that designed and produced jewel boxes. Jennings Brothers (JB), Kronheimer & Oldenbusch (K&O), Benedict Mfg. Co., N.B.Rogers, and The Art Metal Works. Brainard & Wilson Corp. (B&W) patented one of the first Art Nouveau designs in 1904, and Weidlich Brothers (WB Mfg Co) took several patents and copyrights on their Colonial designs.
Weidlich Brothers Patent (Drawing), Oct. 21, 1913
These wonderful antique jewelry boxes were much treasured, and they held their popularity well until World War I, when the continuity of fashion was broken, re-directing interest from the decorative to the function and power of the machine.
K&O, 1906-10, Aster/Daisy/Pinks NB Rogers 925, 1907, Cherub/Poppy WB 486 (Weidlich Brothers) Copyright 1912-13
K&O, 1906-10,
6 x 4 3/8 x 4 in,
“NB Rogers 925, 1907,
4 ½ x 3 ½ x 2 ¼ in,
WB 486 (Weidlich Brothers)
Copyright 1912-13,
10 x 5 ¼ x 7 in
Baird-North Catalog, 1913, Birth Month broaches show floral motifs used on jewel boxes
- Joanne Wiertella -
photos by Willa Davis
Joanne Wiertella has been collecting and researching antique American jewel boxes for nearly 20 years. She has recently published a book on these lovely American art metal novelties which pictures her collection of 500+ Jewel Boxes. The Jewel Box Book offers inside its full-color, 208 pages, a wide selection of information including: styles (Art Nouveau, Victorian, Rococo, Revival); manufacturers; floral and other motifs pictured and explained; metal composition and finishes; period advertising; trademarks, patents, and copyrights.
More information at