Vintage jewelry boxes can elevate even your cheapest costume jewelry with their beautiful designs and stylish decorations. Unlike some collectibles from the historic boudoir, jewelry boxes can be used in a modern context with ease, making them a cheap and thrifty investment for every style imaginable.
Common Vintage Jewelry Box Styles
Jewelry boxes have been around for thousands of years, from elaborate curios to Y2K wire earring and necklace trees. Yet, there're a few types of jewelry boxes that've continued to be popular and circulate the thrift store shelves to this day.
- Compact jewelry boxes - Compact jewelry boxes were made to be traveled with and typically could hold only a few items.
- Presentation boxes - Unlike most jewelry boxes, presentation boxes are only meant to house one or two pieces of jewelry inside. They're designed to accentuate the jewelry since they're meant to be presented to someone. However, in reality, a lot of people use their presentation boxes for their expensive or sentimental pieces.
- Lacquer jewelry boxes - Typically made during the 1920s and 1940s, lacquer jewelry boxes are known for their indisputable shine and usually come in rich, reflective colors like black, red, white, blue, and so on.
- Jewelry cabinets - Perfect for people with large jewelry collections, jewelry cabinets were quite popular in the mid to late-20th century and were usually made out of wood. They featured an abundance of storage and were their own type of standalone furniture.
- Upright jewelry closet style boxes - During the mid-century, jewelry boxes that were made to resemble tall cabinets and chest-of-drawers were popular. Think the Wardrobe character from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, but scaled down significantly. Small hinge doors would open into free space for hanging necklaces and a series of drawers to store earrings, rings, and pins.
Vintage Jewelry Box Materials
Antique and vintage jewelry boxes were made out of just about every material available, with certain types being more popular than others. The common most materials include:
Unique Jewelry Boxes to Look For
Thankfully for collectors, there's an abundance of different historic jewelry boxes made in small and large sizes in a myriad of styles to fit any person's jewelry-keeping needs. These are some of the rarer boxes to keep your eyes peeled for.
Antique Metal Jewelry Boxes
Metal jewelry boxes became popular in the early 20th century and were usually made with Art Nouveau designs, including elements like stylized floral and natural motifs, as well as female figures with the long flowing hair. These boxes were made out of several types of metals, including:
- Ormalu, an electroplated gold
- Ivory enamel
- Zinc-based alloy
These jewelry boxes, while mass produced, are rare due to how the materials degrade over time. The hinges broke especially easily, and the finishes wore off. It's rare to find one of these Art Nouveau metal jewelry boxes in good condition. Some of these art metal boxes were made to match antique dresser sets, and they're very rare if found complete. For more information on these particular jewelry boxes, you can head to the ASCAS website.
Commemorative Jewelry Boxes
Another type of unique jewelry box features commemorative designs and motifs in honor of a specific event. The more unusual or historic the event, the rarer the jewelry box. Special events like the 1904 World's Fair were often celebrated with the manufacture of a series of products as promotional items, and you can occasionally find these collectible items at auction today.
These products often seemed of little value to the original owners because of their humble beginnings and were often discarded or lost in the depths of an attic or basement; think of the many times you've tossed out a commemorative bulletin, cup, or wristband. Today, these commemorative boxes can be worth quite a bit of money to some collectors, though they're quite difficult to find.
Designer Jewelry Boxes
Fashion houses and luxury jewelry designers have contributed to this boudoir space for many years now, launching collections of accessories like jewelry boxes starting in the late-19th century. These boxes are typically made out of very fine materials and feature expert craftsmanship. In addition to precious gems, enamel boxes manufactured by artists like Fabergé or Limoges are a special, and often expensive, find. These were imported from France and carefully detailed with beautiful portraits, landscapes, and flowers. The bright enamel colors are often as vivid today as when they were first applied. Similarly, other luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Tiffany's put their own well-known branding logos and styles in their old jewelry boxes, making them particularly desirable to brand-name collectors.
Manufacturing marks and paper documentation should substantiate any suspicion of a piece's designer origin. However, you're not as likely to find antique examples of these boxes up for auction as you are to find vintage examples. For instance, this Christian Dior jewelry box from the 1970s is currently listed for $361.15 and a Murano glass and gold plate jewelry box from the 1950s is listed for $2,900.
Tramp Art Jewelry Boxes
Tramp Art was a type of folk art that was popular in the United States from the late 19th century through World War II. The term Tramp Art emerged in the early 1950s, but the items were not made by tramps as the name implies. The creator used found materials, often cigar boxes, to make various items, including jewelry boxes. These cigar boxes were taken apart and carved, whittled, notched, layered, and glued to make beautiful items.
Tramp Art boxes were fragile and easily shattered by the unwary. Today, there are quite a few people who collect this primitive art form. The intricacy and delicacy of the jewelry box's design typically determines the value; however, each of these is rare because there's only one like it.
Additionally, Tramp art was often embellished with found objects such as:
- Nails or screws
Value of Vintage and Antique Jewelry Boxes
When it comes to antique and vintage jewelry boxes, the value really lies in the materials they were made out of and their age. Typically, antique jewelry boxes from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries can sell for a few hundred dollars apiece. In contrast, your average vintage jewelry box can sell for pennies on the dollar. This can be attributed to the fact that people in the pre-industrial age who could afford a jewelry collection worthy of a jewelry box were affluent and would commission more extravagant boxes. Thus, the boxes from this period are often hand-crafted with expensive materials.
Additionally, the materials can play a big part in jewelry box values. This is particularly true when it comes to wooden jewelry boxes; more expensive woods like mahogany and teak will sell for higher prices than those made out of walnut or oak, for example. Subsequently, both antique and vintage boxes were embellished with expensive gemstones, metals, and minerals, all of which work to increase their market values.
Thanks to the wide variety of historic jewelry boxes on the market, you'll see a huge range in prices. These can span anywhere between $10-$1,000+ depending on these factors and buyer interest. Here are a few jewelry boxes that've recently sold at auction to give you an idea of this breadth in value:
- Vintage Mele emerald green ring jewelry box - Sold for $16
- Vintage clear octagonal jewelry box - Sold for $15.99
- 1960s Mahogany jewelry chest - Listed for $2,750
- 1880s/90s French jewelry box with malachite top - Listed for $4,125
Ultimately, the jewelry boxes that most people have in their family's collection, passed down from a grandparent or a great-grandparent, isn't worth that much money. These common vintage items were a dime a dozen in the mid-century and have low resell values today. However, the pop culture press towards vintage aesthetics means that they're still in demand.
Places to Shop for Old Jewelry Boxes
Thrift shops, garage sales, and local antique shops are prime locations for the observant collector to pick up rare, funky, and expensive jewelry boxes. Always check estate sales and antique auctions carefully, though, to make sure that the jewelry boxes are exactly what you think you're buying. Yet, if you've got a specific idea in mind of the ones that you're interested in buying or want to see a ton before committing to any, these are some of the best online places to visit:
- eBay - The standard in online auction space, eBay is a consistently easy and accessible website to visit if you're looking for antique and vintage items, particularly those that were once found around the house.
- Etsy - Etsy has become another titan of the antique and vintage online market and has innumerable listings of old jewelry boxes available for a range of prices, mostly below $50.
- Always Treasured - Always Treasured is a small antiques retailer that recently modernized their online platform, meaning that you can easily purchase jewelry boxes and historic jewelry from their website.
- Morning Glory Jewelry - A New Mexico-based antique store, Morning Glory Jewelry sells all sorts of antique and vintage jewelry and accessories. They also have a great blog on jewelry mark identification and other collectors' resources on their site as well.
- Ruby Lane - Ruby Lane is a mid-grade online antique and vintage retailer that partners with antique dealers from around the United States to sell their wares. Here, you can find all kinds of jewelry boxes for sale, ranging from low-priced to expensive.
- 1st Dibs - If you're in the market for a more valuable antique or vintage jewelry box, then you should look at 1st Dibs' website. They facilitate sales from antique dealers across the United States, each of whom has high-quality expensive goods to sell.
Protect Your Jewels in Style
Once you've gotten the perfect jewelry box in your hands, be careful to display it properly, particularly away from direct sunlight. Try to keep the room temperature even, and, if the box is made from fragile materials and looks damaged, wash your hands before touching it to make sure that any dirt or natural oils in your skin don't adhere to the finish. By taking good care of your rare jewelry boxes, you make sure they last to pass down for generations.
Give Your Jewelry a Beautiful Bed to Rest On
Just like the baby dolls from your childhood, even your jewelry deserves a luxurious bed to rest on after a hard day's work of gleaming and glittering. From the one-of-a-kind Tramp Art boxes to the luxury boxes of brands like Louis Vuitton, there's a wide range of antique and vintage jewelry boxes out there for you to discover.