Treasure or Trash? A Quick Guide to Vintage Brooches

Have you ever wondered about a vintage brooch that caught your eye at a garage sale or thrift shop? Or a piece in a family collection? Collecting costume jewelry lets you own a piece of the past and wear it, too. You can express your style through your collection and learn about history at the same time. 

Brooches and pins are great for the beginner collector because they provide clues about their origin that are easy to spot. Brooches from the 1950s to the 1980s are also common and easy to find and come in a wide variety to satisfy any taste. You can practice your observational skills on these small treasures of the jewelry world before branching out into bracelets or necklaces.

I will go over three quick tests that can give you enough information to decide if a piece is worth more investigation. The easiest clues are located on the back of the brooch. Let’s take a look at what is right in front of our noses. Use this guide on the catch, hinge, and mark anytime you are curious about a new piece.

The Catch

For the purposes of quick and preliminary identification, check out the clasp. If the pin exceeds the length of the brooch and goes beyond the catch, so that the pointy bit sticks out along the edge, you most likely can date your piece to the turn of the 20th century or earlier. 

A simple “C” catch to hold the pin in place is the earliest type used, although some newer pieces also use it. The trombone catch was an early version of a safety clasp seen mostly in European jewelry from the late 1800s until the 1940s, with some in use after that period. In this type, the pin fits into a long tube. 

A catch with a safety mechanism that rolls over the pin to hold it in place has been in use since the 1920s, with some early versions dating to the 1890s – 1910s, but became very common from the middle of the 20th century to the present. Occasionally, you will find very old pieces with a newer clasp that was added on later. This can usually be seen by the small metal pads holding the newer clasp in place. 

The Hinge

A sign of age can be found in the hinge you encounter. From the 1850s – 1910s, tube hinges were common. These had three hollow tubes fitted together with a piece of metal that fit through all three to hold the pin in place. Pieces from the 1890s – 1910s could also have a smaller hinge with more rounded edges. These were much easier to make than the tube hinge and as such quickly became popular. 

The 1920s saw the machine made ball style hinge that has remained popular till today. A glued on bar pin, with one long bottom piece with both clasp and hinge attached to it, indicates a less expensive piece of jewelry than a clasp that is connected to the back by the hinge on one end and the catch on the other. Clasps are very important in dating jewelry!

The Mark

If you find any marking on the back of a piece, it is worth taking a closer look. It could be a maker’s mark or a mark for the type of precious metal used in the piece. However, unsigned pieces are also collected, so do not discount a piece that catches your eye just because it does not have a maker’s mark. A mark just means the piece might be worth taking home and investigating further. 

Once you begin looking into the history of jewelry, you will discover popular designers, like Trifari and Coro. Many designers used specific marks on the backs of their pieces, and some changed their marks over time, giving the collector a nifty way to date pieces. 

Trifari and Coro were very popular companies from the 1930s – 1960s. They both predate this period and continued afterward. The Coro jewelry company was founded in 1901 and lasted until 1979. It trademarked its name in 1939. At this point, they marked their pieces with various renditions of Coro. They introduced some higher end lines over the years with different names, like Corocraft and Vendome. Pieces marked Coro Duette were a type of convertible brooch patented in 1930, which had two smaller brooches artistically attached to a larger one, allowing wear as one piece or three. 

The Trifari Company was in existence from the 1910s to the 1990s and used a variety of marks over the years. A mark of Trifari with a crown over the T was quite common from the end of the 1930s – 1960s. The company was renowned for the level of craftsmanship they brought to costume jewelry. 

Any mark is worth further investigation, if for no other reason than to learn more about the history of a piece. Remember, some highly collectible lines were not marked at all.

The catch, hinge, and mark checklist will help you decide whether you have found a brooch that will warrant more research. Each small clue can add to your knowledge of a piece. What if you find a brooch with a glued on clasp and no markings, but you are drawn to it due to its design or the visible quality of its construction? Enjoy it! 

The beauty of collecting is how personal it can be. Your observational powers will grow as you examine more pieces and do more research. A lesser known or more recent piece might just need time to become more collectible. Even if it is not worth a lot, if it adds to your collection and brings you joy, it is worth keeping.

This site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. By browsing this website, you agree to our use of cookies.