Warman's Costume Jewelry Review

Warman's costume jewelry book cover

Krause Publications

Over the past 25 years Pamela Y. Wiggins has bought, sold, collected, lectured on, and written about collectible jewelry extensively. It’s no understatement to say that she's passionate about the topic. She sees more than mere adornment when she looks at a piece of jewelry. She is fascinated by the design, craftsmanship, materials, and the pop culture influences that surround these baubles. As a writer specializing in antiques and collectibles, it's also natural for her to want to share some of the knowledge and enthusiasm she has for jewelry with others.

But as a journalist with a passion for vintage jewelry history, Wiggins had an ulterior motive in writing Warman’s Costume Jewelry. There have been many times she has read passages in other guidebooks that weren’t quite right. Others have read them as well and repeated these mistakes in print or through word of mouth. Eventually, those errors were repeated by marketers so frequently that the general collecting community adopted them as truths.

Sometimes these types of errors are honest mistakes. In fact, she can’t guarantee that she didn’t make a single mistake when writing a 45,000-word book and captions for 750 photographs, or that something didn’t get changed inadvertently during the editing process. However, she has to respect the other authors that have come before her and thank them for all they’ve done to research a topic near and dear to her. Other errors were presumed to be factual by the jewelry collecting community until more research was done. Jewelry historians must evolve, and new books must be written to disseminate more recent information as it comes to light. 

There are also sellers out there who make assumptions and stretch the truth to suit their needs. It’s not right, but it happens, and not only in the costume jewelry world. Marketers sell things they know to be reproductions as old pieces. They misinterpret marks to make pieces seem more important than they are, or purport things to be unsigned this and that without doing their homework. It can be a buyer beware minefield out there. And although she couldn’t cover every detail of this nature in the first edition of Warman’s Costume Jewelry, it does serve as an excellent introduction for those breaking into the collectible jewelry hobby or trying to stay up to date.

Who Should Read This Book?

Anyone beginning to study vintage and collectible jewelry will find a wealth of information in this book. It begins with a decade-by-decade overview and moves on to cover some of the most popular designers and manufacturers with collectors ranging from Victorian finery to contemporary designer favorites such as those marketed by the House of Chanel. But perhaps most importantly, the last section of the book provides detailed illustrations for identifying and dating many different types of costume jewelry using stones, findings, and styles.

The book will also be helpful to anyone who has a box of grandma’s jewelry they’re trying to research for their own information or to find out what it is worth. While there are many high-end collector pieces included in the book, the photos depict a broad spectrum of examples in a variety of materials ranging from pot metal to wood and, of course, rhinestones. Dealers of antiques and collectibles who occasionally run across old jewelry they plan to resell will also find the book to be useful. While the values included with each photo reflect markets as of 2014, the text is timeless and will serve as a valuable reference for years to come.

Even for the most seasoned collector, there will most likely be some new information in this book. From recognizing unsigned costume jewelry to contemporary jewelry with a collectible following, there are subjects here not covered in most other general costume jewelry guides. Wiggins also shares some inside scoop gleaned from her years as a costume jewelry insider and interaction with designers, manufacturers, and advanced collectors making this a must-read for any jewelry enthusiast.

Is This a Comprehensive Work?

Could Wiggins write a single comprehensive book on the topic of collectible costume jewelry? Quite frankly, she would have to say no. It would take a multi-volume encyclopedia to cover it all. The jewelry made during each decade from the Victorian era through the 2000s could make up volume upon volume. Each prominent manufacturer or designer could be covered in a single book, and in some instances they already have. For instance. Melinda L. Lewis wrote a 1,000-page book dedicated to The Napier Co. alone, and it still didn’t include every piece of jewelry the company made or all of her extensive research.

The truth is that Wiggins had to do a lot of picking and choosing regarding what to include in her first jewelry guidebook. It is a good overview, but as her partner and photographer Jay B. Siegel remarked while reviewing the manuscript, it just scratches the surface on all there is to know about a vast and fascinating topic. There is much more to discover out there, and she is constantly adding new tidbits to her research bank. She looks forward to sharing these discoveries with others through her future work as it unfolds both online and in print.

Pamela Y. Wiggins also wrote the introduction to Warman's Jewelry 5th Edition.