The History Behind … Mizpah jewelry
July 24, 2014
First made in the 1850s or 1860s, Mizpah jewelry, illustrated in this heart-shaped pink seen here, mainly was manufactured in silver, enabling people from all classes to buy and exchange the pieces.
New York--First popular in the earlier part of the Victorian era, Mizpah jewelry symbolized what so much jewelry still means today--a bond of love between two people.
In the first installment in the new “The History Behind …” series, National Jeweler explores the when, where and why of Mitzpah pieces with Harry L. Rinker.
Western Michigan-based Rinker is a writer, appraiser, consultant, collector and researcher in the field of antiques and collectibles. He recently took the time to chat with National Jeweler about Mizpah, which is a category of Victorian-era sentimental jewelry.
What is Mizpah jewelry? Mentioned in the Bible, Mizpah is a Hebrew word that has come to connote an emotional bond between two people. Mizpah jewelry generally was exchanged between two people who were lovers or close friends and might be separated from each other for some amount of time, Rinker said. Some of the pieces are engraved with the phrase, “The Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another,” which immediately follows the mention of Mizpah in the book of Genesis.
When was it popular? Rinker said Mizpah jewelry first came about in the 1850s and 1860s during the Victoria era and was popular through the 1880s before experiencing a drop-off in popularity. The pieces experienced a revival, however, in the early 1900s, when men were leaving their families to fight in what at that time was called the Great War (World War I).
By the end of the conflict, interest in the pieces waned and they never regained popularity, Rinker said, though “sweetheart jewelry” was popular during World War II, pieces also exchanged between loved ones separated by war.
Why did people wear Mizpah jewelry? The Victorian era was a very formal age, with strict rules for courtship; couples, for example, often were chaperoned on all outings until they were married.
The social mores of the time severely limited gift options between men and women. A man in those days never would have bought a woman clothing, and the gifting of a necklace might have suggested a closer relationship than what was acceptable. “You had to be very careful” with gift-giving in those times, Rinker says.
Enter Mizpah pieces, which could safely be exchanged as sentimental tokens of affection, some of which even containing a verse from the Bible, as noted above.
People also wore these pieces because they believed it would help their relationship grow, return their loved one to them or ensure the continuation of a friendship. They ascribed power to Mizpah, as people have done of jewelry and gemstones throughout the ages. “There’s no doubt in my mind that the Victorians and people up until World War I believed this was a kind of amulet of protection,” he says.
What materials were used for these pieces? While a few high-end pieces were gold or gold and silver and a few Mizpah rings even contained diamonds, most of it was silver, as it was made to be accessible to society as a whole.
Some of the pieces, including the lockets and heart-shaped pins, broke into two so each person could wear a piece.
How much is Mizpah jewelry worth? “It’s a very affordable range of antique jewelry, especially the mass-produced ones,” Rinker says.
Mizpah pins in silver can range between $85 and $150, while gold pins go for $400 to $600 or more. If a Mizpah necklace is on a period chain, the price could be even more, he adds.
“It’s a fairly inexpensive piece of jewelry that says … a lot.”
How can a retailer add Mizpah jewelry to their antique jewelry offerings? While Mizpah jewelry has not been popular in about 90 years, “The survival rate is enormous,” Rinker said. “The truth of the matter is a lot of this stuff was mass-produced. This was spread across the board in the Victorian era, not just in England but in the United States and elsewhere too.”
He recommends retailers who want to add Mizpah jewelry to their antique offerings try eBay in the United Kingdom, or dealers such as Jane Clarke at Morning Glory Antiques & Jewelry in Albuquerque, N.M. or Lenore Dailey of Lenore Dailey Fine Antique Jewelry.
To reach Rinker, who is the owner of Harry L. Rinker LLC, and obtain more information on Mizpah jewelry, visit HarryRinker.com.
The History Behind … is a new monthly feature for National Jeweler that aims to educate readers on antique jewelry. The August feature will focus on Georgian era mourning jewelry.