Sunday, April 20, 2014

Grandma's Beads

I recognized the man in line in front of me at the estate sale.  He was a scrap metal buyer, a man with a mission to seek out the gold, platinum, silver and anything else metal that the sellers overlooked that he thought could be melted down and turned into cash.  (He's usually disappointed, but that doesn't keep him from inspecting every piece of jewelry at the sale.)

The man plunged his hand into the pile of old necklaces on the table, raised one up to the light, peered at the clasp with his 10x magnifying loupe, then tossed the necklace aside with a dismissive snort.

"Pah," he said, "nothing but Grandma Beads."

I waited till he moved aside, then I picked up the same necklace and looked at it.

Grandma Beads.  Yes.

I don't think too many other people refer to this style of necklace as "Grandma Beads," but it's rather appropriate.  The triple-strand necklace (and its variations of two, four, five or more strands) was very popular in the late 1950s, when your mom, grandmother or great-grandmother would have worn them.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and even though you can't melt them down for money, vintage costume jewelry necklaces like these are nonetheless worth having, to many collectors.  The necklaces are often seen with large, matching clip-on earrings.  

And they're pretty affordable.  I can almost always find these multi-strand necklaces of plastic and/or glass beads for $1 to $4 at estate sales, and many of them don't sell for much more than that online. 

Regarding prices:  I've always believed that, in some respects, a vintage item is only worth as much as someone else is willing to pay for it at the time.  I recently did a search of "sold" items on eBay under the search "vintage Japan bead necklace" and of the 1600+ necklaces that sold in the last 30 days, more than 900 of them went for $10 or less and 1400 of them sold for $20 0r less.  So there are plenty to be had.  Some strands of these vintage glass and plastic beads, of course, will sell for more.  

A lot of these sorts of necklaces have JAPAN printed on the hook clasp; others will say WEST GERMANY, and some will have a designer's name.  They often came with large matching clip-on earrings.

But regardless of origin or price, what a wealth of colors and designs await the collector of Grandma's beads! 

Sometimes the beads show signs of wear.  Other times I find them in clear plastic bags because the string has broken.

(That's when it's good to have a friend who is really good at restringing vintage beads.)   

Since I only have one neck, and not that much space (I'd need a 55-gallon drum to hold all the vintage costume jewelry I've found at estate sales), I tend to wear a necklace like this to church a time or two and then find it a new home.  I can always find another one.  

But one of these days I'm going to find one of these necklaces that I can't bear to sell or give away.


Here are some reference sites on vintage 1950s costume jewelry:

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