Collection should be valued between $4,000 and $4,500.
Dear Helaine and Joe: I have a collection of 14 pieces of jewelry made by Francis Holmes Boothby. There are pins or broaches and one pair of earrings. Each piece is signed “fhb sterling.”What is the value of my grouping? — M.B., Otisco, N.Y.
Dear M. B.: It can be difficult to value jewelry from a photograph. For the most part, worthwhile jewelry pieces need to be examined in person by a specialist.
The metal content of the jewelry pieces needs to be assessed carefully, as does the quality of any stones, whether they are diamonds, rubies or emeralds or less highly regarded minerals such as agate, jade and labradorite. In this case, however, the most important factors are the maker, the subject matter and the style.
Frances Holmes Boothby is considered a modernist jeweler most widely known for her nature-inspired broaches. She worked mainly in sterling silver, but also in exotic woods (such as ebony), and occasionally in brass, plastic, and gold. These materials were sometimes combined with semiprecious stones.
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Boothby was part of a small group of artisan jewelers who helped to popularize American modernist jewelry during the mid-20th century. Her work is usually associated with the 1950s and ’60s, but she produced well into the 1980s and had a sales shop for her work in Weston, Vt.
No birth date could be found, but she was a graduate of Iowa State College. After 1955, she became a jewelry-making instructor at the Birchkill Arts and Crafts Guild in Troy, N.Y., and is said to have taught the same subject for the prestigious Emma Willard School, also in Troy. She reportedly died in 2000 in Sedona, Ariz.
Boothby’s designs were characterized by natural forms such as birds, owls and pigs. She is particularly known for her eccentric-looking birds with long, spindly, wire legs, of which M. B. has three nice examples.
All of Boothby’s pieces were handmade by the artist herself. She had no apprentices. She has become recognized as an important part of the American Modernist jewelry movement, and her work was featured at two important exhibitions of contemporary jewelry at The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis in 1948 and 1955.
Boothby signed all her pieces with a lowercase “fhb” and when she was working in silver the word “STERLING” all in uppercase. Today’s question involves pieces indicative of the core of Boothby’s work.
We particularly like the two owl broaches and the rather charming piece that resembles a mouse walking on its hind legs. For the most part, Boothby’s work is currently retailing for $250 to $500, with larger broaches bringing higher prices and less significant pieces bringing lower.
We think that M.B.’s collection should be valued between $4,000 and $4,500 for insurance purposes.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of “Price It Yourself”(HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. E-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org.