The Madison County Historical Society’s collection harbors jewelry both stunning and strange. The enthusiast has many favorites from which to choose. Some staff picks are featured below.
A 19th-century dog collar necklace
This beaded choker fit around the slender neck of Mary Judy Burroughs, pictured below with her husband Benjamin. Mary was born in 1850 and died in 1940. The Burroughses married in 1873. Alexandra, the Princess of Wales (i.e. the wife of Queen Victoria’s son and heir, Edward), favored the dog collar since it flattered her long, graceful neck. As a result, chokers soared in popularity in the late 1800s.
A creepy brooch
Perhaps unsurprisingly after 50 years of marriage, William and Sophia look rather similar to each other in this photograph. They appear well-matched in stature and build, they both have broad foreheads, high cheekbones, and thin lips. They also both sport a form of neck ornamentation. William’s neckbeard, which doesn’t approach his chin or sideburns at all, almost looks like a fur collar. And Sophia has adorned her high-necked and puffy-sleeved dress with a fair-sized brooch — maybe 2″ or 3″ diameter — in the shape of a stylized spider sporting only six legs.
Insect jewelry of all kinds flourished during the mid-Victorian period (1860-1885). Women decorated themselves with butterflies, dragonflies, and bees; grasshoppers, beetles, and hornets; and even ticks, woodlice, earwigs, and bed-bugs.
This glittering rhinestone belt buckle with matching shoe clips lacks documentation. But comparison with similar items strongly suggests they date to the 1930s. The buckle is two parts which connect together via a hook and loop on the undersides. A woman could transform any drab outfit into a dazzling ensemble by slipping the buckle halves onto a coordinating cloth belt and attaching the matching clips to the vamps of her shoes.
Jewelry as folk art
The Madison County Historical Society received this necklace from its creator, Josephine Motz Narup (née Urich). Alternating cross-wise and longitudinal safety pins strung with tiny black and white beads entirely compose the long strand. The monumental pendant has been achieved using the same materials and a bit of curved wire. Although the piece lacks documentation to definitely date it, Josephine probably made it in the 1950s, the heyday of beaded safety pin crafting. Artisans also made intricate and beautiful baskets from the same materials during this period. Josephine was born in 1920 and would have been in her thirties at the time.
Bell, C. Jeanenne. Answers to Questions about Old Jewelry: Covers 1840-1950. 6th ed. Iola: Kraus Publications, 2003.