Things are not always what they appear to be. On the table in front of me lay a collection of over 50 cameos. Collected with care from years of estate sales and auctions, they were as diverse as they were beautiful. “I never had children”, explained the lovely ninety year old woman who had invited me to her home, “so I am leaving a number of things to my two nieces who have been like daughters to me. Take a look at these, they are my two favorite cameos. Do you think they would like them?”
The bookcase in the corner held a pictorial record of the two nieces, starting with baby pictures and ending with each of them in cap and gown. Many of the shots included the lady before me, smiling proudly through the year with an identical twin on either side of her. It was obvious her love was equally showered on each of them, so I felt I must tell her that the two cameos were very different not only in their appearance, but also in their value. While one was a very pretty little plastic broach worth about $40, the other was an antique shell cameo that would appraise in the $600 range. Needless to say, we reselected the cameos to be gifted.
The cameo, although traceable to the ancient Greco-Roman Empires of the first century B. C., came into popularity in “modern” culture during the Victorian era. Worn by both men and women, they were highly prized for their high relief designs and magnificent colors.
The majority of the cameos which surface, here in Indiana, are from 1890 forward and feature the female profile. Occasionally a ring will surface with a mythological motif, nature scene, or the face of a historical figure. Rings with these motifs are from the late 1700s through the early part of the 1880s and are a rare find.