Ivory jewelry enjoyed popularity during the Victorian Era, a period of time named for Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom encompassing the years of her reign (1837-1901). Jewelry artists used ivory, coral, and jet to make secondary jewelry, i.e. pieces less expensive than those made from precious metals and stones. As people began to travel more in the mid-1800s, they brought carved jewelry pieces home as souvenirs from Switzerland and France.
Large ivory brooches reached their height of popularity in the mid-Victorian period (1860-1885). By the end of the Victorian Era, jewelry became more delicate, brooches were very small, and ivory fell out of fashion.
The two ivory brooches pictured above lack extensive documentation. A handwritten note accompanying the brooch at the left indicates that it was brought from Switzerland to the United States in 1889.
A woman with an ivory brooch
The photograph below depicts a woman wearing a similar brooch.
The Madison County Historical Society received this photograph of an unknown preacher and his wife, who once lived near Pleasant Ridge, from the estate of Martha Lange Meier. Martha Lange married Louis Meier in 1897. The couple lived in Pleasant Ridge, where Martha attended St. John’s Lutheran Church. Perhaps Martha became acquainted with this couple through her church.
The photograph has the typical shiny surface and sepia tone of an albumen print. The technique began in about 1855 and employed very thin paper coated with egg whites (albumen). An albumen print mounted on 4.5″ x 6.5″ card stock, like this one, is called a cabinet card.
This cabinet card includes information about the photography studio embossed in fancy lettering on the front of the card below the photograph. Reading from left to right, the card reads “Welge” “the leading studio” “Chester Ill.”
William Welge opened his photography studio on State Street in Chester, Illinois, in about 1902. But by that time the popularity of albumen prints had already started to wane. Welge probably produced this photograph shortly after he opened his studio.
The yellowing and the evident grain on this pendant identify it as ivory, as opposed to bone or a synthetic material like celluloid. However, this piece lacks the characteristic “engine turned” look of elephant ivory. It may be made of hippopotamus or walrus tusk.
Bell, C. Jeanenne. Answers to Questions about Old Jewelry: Covers 1840-1950. 6th ed. Iola: Kraus Publications, 2003.
Flower, Margaret. Victorian Jewellery. South Brunswick: A.S. Barnes and Co., 1967.
[Mrs. Martha Meier obituary]. Edwardsville Intelligencer. January 12, 1955.
Weinstein, Robert A., and Larry Booth. Collection, Use, and Care of Historical Photographs. Nashville: American Association for State and Local History, 1978. Available at the Madison County Archival Library.