BEWARE OF REPRODUCTIONS
Over the years I’ve had occasion to see reproductions of early 1900’s jewel boxes. Some of them have been new in stores, others in antique or collectibles shops, and yet more on line—for example eBay. Both gold and silver boxes displayed in stores or in gift catalogs were, obviously, new. Those in antique shops and on-line, however, could be and have been mis-identified by dealers and/or shoppers/collectors. My concern here is primarily with the Art Nouveau style jewel boxes so popular in America during the early 1900’s.
How to tell the Difference: First, Art Nouveau reproduction boxes are almost always silver—I’ve never seen a gold finished Nouveau box (although there have been gold reproductions usually Victorian, etc. in style). Original silver Art Nouveau Art Metal jewel boxes manufactured in America 1900-1925 were lined with silk (usually pastels), faille, sateen (also pastels), silk velvet, or cotton velveteen. Reproduction boxes are generally lined with either bright red, very dark red or black very low pile artificial velveteen. Second, the silver finish on the “old” boxes was the least successful in holding its color. The original finish was real silver, with only a very thin layer of electroplating. Silver tarnishes, and handling over time rubbed off much, or all, of the box. That is why so many of these antique jewel boxes today appear black. (There were a few original boxes that were actually “silver plate.”) Reproduction boxes have been plated with modern methods and different materials—not necessarily real silver—and finishes are much brighter. Even those that have “aged” have a more chipped look in the used areas than the soft worn look of the originals, and the brights are still bright. And third, the hinges: The antique box hinges were normally formed by small tubes soldered to the jewel box top and bottom alternately, with a wire running through. Reproduction boxes tend to have, for example, two smaller separated hinges.