Wedgwood bought many of these molds from William Tassie. Wedgwood produced and still produces jasperware plaques in blue and white which are in the style of cameo and are also often referred to as cameo. In fact, many people will think of these as being the archetype of cameo. However, these are not true cameo as they are made from molds. There were quite inexpensive in their day; they are nowadays considered collectible.
Cameo was also loved by the artisans and designers of the Art Nouveau movement and continued in the Art Deco era.
With the advent of Industrialization, many ‘cameos’ could be produced with molds, with dyed agate layers and later with ultrasonic machine carving. (In my opinion, this is why many people today don’t admire cameo or think of them as desirable, they are associating them with the mass-produced, machine made or mold made variety). Cameo continues to be produced and loved today to one degree or another. However, the artistry, technique and popularity of cameo that was experienced in earlier eras, particularly in the pre-industrial Georgian and the early and mid Victorian era, (as well as by a few eminent Art Nouveau artists), has not been seen since.
Dating and Valuing Cameos
There are many clues to look for when dating and valuing cameos and these are just a few below. Evaluating cameos is challenging as so many have been remounted and also many cameo artists were really good at copying older styles. Some experts devote their careers to appraising cameos and it requires great skill. I will come back and add more to this list as I learn more.
Style: If the cameo features a long Roman nose, the chances are it is from before 1850 and if it has a more pert nose, it is likely to be afterwards. Up-swept hair suggests late Victorian; short hair would imply 20th century.
Materials: If it is made from lava, it is almost certainly Victorian. Shells are also not likely to be from before 1800 (shell is translucent when held to the light). If it is jet, it is likely to be mid-Victorian and later.
Mounting: If the mounting is made of pinchbeck, it will probably be from between the mid-1700s to mid-1800s. If it is gold electroplated it will be from after 1840. If it is 9k, will be from after 1854. Silver implies it is from the 1880s, but certainly not necessarily so. A safety clasp implies it is from the 20th century. (But take into consideration that it might well have been remounted).
Value: Scenic cameos are often considered to be more valuable than simple portraits. Stone is considered more valuable than shell. Obviously, ivory, coral and gemstones are the most valuable. Of course, the mounting is important. Most important of all though is the fineness of the carving; fine detail, flowing lines and grace show skill. Less skilled cameos with be harsher with jagged lines and with less details.
Authenticity / method of creation: Things to watch out for are whether or not it is mold made / where it is actually two pieces glued together / laser cut (in which case it is modern). All of these are best examined with jeweler’s loop. Ultrasonic machine made cameos will have no undercutting and a satin surface texture. There will be absolutely no variation between them and many others of the same design. Dyed agate will show very strong color contrast between the layers.
Other: if it is signed it is probably from after the mid-1800s. However, it doesn’t mean that if it isn’t signed it is older than the mid-1800s.
Sources / further reading:
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