A Jewelry Box Full of Stories

by guest blogger Susanna P. Barton

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Vintage jewelry is more than stuff. It can be a little piece of someone, a relic of a precious time or a thesis of your personal narrative. It can start conversations, define your style and help people get your ju-ju before they even know you. Stuff is soulless jank you find at Claire’s or big gettin’ stores. Vintage jewelry, to the contrary, is an extension of inner brilliance – it’s your story.

Many baubles have found their way to my jewelry box over the years. A few pieces are fine, but most are not. All, however, are valuable to me because I have loved or admired the women – and some men! – who wore them long before I took possession of them. Heirloom jewelry almost always has a story, whether you have a personal connection to the original wearers of them or not.

My jewelry box is full of stories, and here are a few of them:
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The beautiful woman on the left is my great-grandmother, Addie Tucker Biedenharn. She married the youngest son of seven boys born to German and Danish immigrants. Addie lived with her hardworking husband, Albert, outside of Vicksburg, Miss., for a few years before the two of them headed west and started their family. Addie and Albert represented the very best of the American dream and industry at the time. Part of the family who first put Coca-Cola in a bottle and delivered it to consumers in the country, Albert and his quiet bride, Addie, kept moving West to open Coca-Cola bottling plants into Louisiana and Texas. They had four children, including my grandmother, and I often think how hard that must have been for Addie. She was constantly the new gal, the new mom on the scene, during a time when people didn’t move around as much. But she did love her Albert. And being a “transplant” to a big industrious, socially-situated town like San Antonio, Texas, certainly had its lows but probably wasn’t the end of the world.
I don’t know when Albert gave Addie this cameo necklace, perhaps it wasn’t even he who gave it to her! Maybe it belonged to a special gal in her family, maybe it was from an old boyfriend – I really don’t know. But I like to think it was a little “thank you gift” for being such a patient person, for being supportive and moving all over the South as her husband and his family built a successful business. She wore it in several pictures, so the cameo piece must have been special for Addie. It definitely gives off a good vibe, and I feel privileged to have it.
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Let me pause for a highlight from my Dad’s side of la familia. This is my Great Aunt Bess. (And that’s my younger brother, Clay, doing one of the original photo bombs). She is wearing a beautiful gold medallion that her grandmother received from Franklin Female College. I don’t think the school exists anymore, but boy was this medal important to Aunt Bess. She wore it All. The. Time. I think for Aunt Bess the medal represented a heritage of higher education for women – which wasn’t necessarily the case for a lot of women in her day. Bess was a professionally trained singer and pianist. She taught piano lessons to all the kids in Goliad, Texas, including my dad and his three brothers. As long as I knew her, Aunt Bess was an eccentric, single, older lady who constantly told me I needed to Enunciate. My. Words. God bless Aunt Bess. I am still trying to figure out the best way to revive this medal in more wearable setting. But I put it on from time to time with a long gold chain and absorb the good mojo from generations of educated women. Right on!
My mom had lots of beautiful jewelry. She passed away when I was 20, so I have everything from the door-knocker and shrimp earrings so en vogue in the 1980s to some really sweet pieces she had as a teenager. One of those pieces is a simple pearl drop with a few very tiny little diamonds on the end. The above mentioned Albert, mom’s grandfather, gave this drop to her and her female first cousins. Once Addie and Albert settled in San Antonio, they established a real family nest. All four of their children went to college then returned to San Antonio to raise their family in one big pack.
unknownHere’s a picture of Addie with her three daughters: Cat, Margaret (my grandmother) and Lee. Aren’t they just gorgeous, couch-posing little creatures?
So with all this sibling closeness, it was no surprise my mom and her first cousins were very good friends growing up. This little pearl drop was a graduation present, I think. It is also the drop she wore when she and my dad married.
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I wore it in my wedding. It’s hard to see, but I am wearing it…and that’s my beautiful-in-blue grandmother, Margaret, more commonly known as Bobbie.
And several weeks ago, I had the honor of giving it to one of Addie’s great-great granddaughters to wear in her wedding.
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Jewelry is not just stuff. It tells a story, has meaning and has soul.

The 2016 Show, December 2-4, will be an excellent time to peruse the jewelry dealers’ booths and find a piece to add to your story. Show admission is $15. You can buy your tickets here or at the door.

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