Unsigned Eisenberg Facts
Are there unsigned Eisenbergs? Of course there are, but there aren't supposed to be....
When Eisenberg began working with Agnini and Singer in the 1920s to accessorize their dresses with magnificent ornamentations, these pieces were permanently attached to their dresses. Were they signed? It doesn't appear so, but it does appear that there may have been a few brooch pieces designed along the way...I doubt these were signed either, but these would not be the huge intricate crystal designs you will commonly see sold as unsigned Eisenbergs. These would be Deco designs, more delicate, though equally intricate as Agnini & Singer were among the finest jewelry makers in the country.
There are a few surviving dresses I've seen from the 1920s that still have their glitter, but most of the dresses have been lost, or there are holes left behind where the decoration most likely was. Now those holes aren't always a guarantee of an original decoration, not all Eisenberg dresses had glittery baubles, so women would have pinned or clipped their own decoration to the dress as ornamentations were part of the styling of the time.
Additionally, an Agnini & Singer creation doesn't mean an Eisenberg adornment...they were jobbers that made for multiple companies across the country, though Chicago was a major fashion hub and they had plenty of local clients. I've seen deco sew-ons I would swear were Agnini & Singer pieces based on their design aesthetic, quality stones, and impeccable finishing. But they could have been done for any one of their clients.
Not terribly long ago it was discovered that tons of design cards were still stored at Agnini and Singer, and as they looked, they saw many names the company had created for, including Eisenberg. These cards were introduced to the world by - and we were allowed to show them in the book. Should pieces turn up matching these cards, there will of course be no doubt who they were designed for.
But for now, there is no way of identifying these early pieces unless they are still sewed to a labeled Eisenberg & Sons dress.
The Base Metal Era - by the mid 1930s Eisenberg had switched to Fallon & Kappel to create the dress decorations. They had begun to attach more substantial pieces to the dresses, but these would still be sewed on, and several 1930s dresses with original adornments have been looked at, and the pieces are marked - save for the buttons. They were beginning to get larger in size, but during this period the iconic look of the "Ice" hadn't been firmly established. These pieces would include a wide range of materials, styles, and unique looks, and they would all be signed.
Very quickly they would start to make the pieces independent of the dresses; they would be attached, or sold with a specific dress, but they could be removed and clipped to another garment. They were so close to being independent jewelry pieces but they weren't there yet. You'll see these pieces also still have the wide variety of design styles. They are in fur clips, dress clips, and brooches. The rapid boost in sales of these dresses and the demand for more pieces solidified the direction the brothers Sam and Harold were moving.
By 1937 they had belts on the market, removable jewelry pieces that were beginning to take on the look we have all come to know and love, had launched a more practical and complete clothing line, and had begun their plans to launch their first French provided perfume the following year. Within a season or two the jewelry pieces began to be offered individually but the official line wouldn't hit the market until 1940. Then there were necklaces, bracelets, and rings as well as the brooches and clips. They would still also be making adornments for dresses and suits. All marked.
In 1942 Fallon & Kappel and Eisenberg would sign an exclusivity agreement and F&K would only design for Eisenberg. They were no longer "jobbers" but rather the manufacturer of Eisenberg's jewelry line. They would begin using sterling due to the war shortages of base metal, and all the sterling pieces of Eisenberg are marked. This is important, if there is a sterling piece offered as an Eisenberg it should definitely have their signature, either Eisenberg Original, with the small word sterling imprinted, or it would simply say Eisenberg and sterling.
So why are there so many "unmarked" Eisenbergs? And why did Ruth say some of the unmarked pieces were hers?
So to the first one...many of the "unmarked" Eisenbergs are actually Fallon & Kappel creations done for one of the many other companies that bought their creations. These are exactly the same in feel, design etiquette, quality, and materials, since they were all just as equally likely to have been chosen by Eisenberg. Remember these pieces were drawn, samples were made, and then they were shown to their customers...any customer could choose any piece. Though I think they generally tried not to sell the same piece to multiple customers, it's bound to have happened; the likely explanation of the "twins" from different companies. There's also some talk of Reinad having contributed to this; again we'll cover that later.
Sam Eisenberg was the one who went to F&K to select the pieces for each season. They had to buy at least a gross of each style, and he was the one that gradually turned the line into the iconic styling that most of us serious Eisenbergers can spot across a room. However, I've been fooled by a few pieces that have caught my eye with Eisenberg styling, that have turned out not to be theirs. Remember, if it's base metal, it could have been bought by any company; Eisenberg was marking their pieces from the beginning of them actually being considered jewelry.
So they are all marked? Well that would be too easy. I've seen many pieces that have lost their dress clip, where the marking on many base metal Eisenberg Originals were. I've seen pieces were there is a ghosting of a mark worn or polished off. There may even have been one or two that escaped unmarked, though that was never supposed to happen. Hence the setters marks....What are those you say?
Setters marks are small numbers of letters that are often in a circle, and are on many pieces of the day, and many of the F&K pieces. These were the equivalent of quality control marks...the pieces would routinely be reviewed to make sure stones were set straight and true, nothing was missed, color patterns were followed, and so on. If someone were setting stones cockeyed then the mark would tell them who it was. These are on F&K pieces from the beginning of their existence, as far as I can tell, until the end of the 1950s. They are not on every piece, more likely they had to mark on a regular basis, and they do not indicate an Eisenberg piece as they were on everything they created for all their customers.
So do I buy an "unmarked Eisenberg?" My advice is - only if you want to wear it, or are in love with it on its own merit. Selling an unmarked piece is always dicey, even if it's a twin to an actual Eisenberg, the lack of mark can affect value and the ease of selling it later. But if you love the piece, and all F&K pieces are going to be magnificent; then buy it provided you keep in mind the difficulties there could be in selling it when that day come. Remember though, not all "unmarked Eisenbergs" are actually F&K pieces...some are just random pieces being tagged so for the potential added desire and value. So if it's not to the quality of an F&K piece but just a random clip or brooch being sold as an Eisenberg, then the value of an F&K design isn't there and I would stay away. I'm going to try and set up a section to show you what to look for and what to avoid.
So why did Ruth say some of the unmarked pieces were hers?
Ruth designed for several of the base metal years for Eisenberg and for all the other clients. Just because she remembers the piece coming from her hand, doesn't mean she remembers it for Eisenberg. Additionally Ruth was being asked about some of these pieces decades later, and she was likely judging some of them on the quality and styling, not her own memory. After an entire lifetime of designing Eisenberg pieces, if she judged it to be her design, it was natural to assume she'd done it for Eisenberg. She never would have intentionally misled anyone, and all F&K pieces are immaculate creations worthy of high values and loyal owners. Having a lack of a definitive designers mark doesn't mean you shouldn't be snapping up these pieces...they are not only worth almost as much as marked ones, but they are all stunning creations.
So what are the conclusions -
If a base metal piece, with or without gilding, looks like an EIsenberg - it's probably an F&K design, but it doesn't have to be an Eisenberg. This might affect collectibility, but not value.
There are base metal pieces that have lost their Eisenberg Original mark, either through replaced hardware or wearing/polishing away. Again, if the rest of the piece is in good condition it should still sell but you will have to reasonable in your expectations of price. It's still an Eisenberg Original, but people know the dress clip it should have, and if the mark has been lost on the piece there is likely wear to the piece that will affect the value.
If there is no Eisenberg on a sterling piece, given it was the only company F&K was designing for in sterling, then it should not be sold as an Eisenberg, even if it had the mark originally...the lack of mark affects value. If you know it's a twin to an actual marked sterling piece, then you can list it as an Eisenberg that has lost its mark. You will still likely find less interest especially at higher prices.
Are the exclusions, maybe....I've seen early circa 1940 necklaces that are exact matches to Eisenberg clips and brooches, even to an ad, but they haven't been marked. I've also seen matching earrings that don't seem to have marks. For the necklaces I've noticed that they often have been extended; the originals were for TINY necks only and in that process they might have lost the marked clasp - where the mark should be. But collectors like Bobye have shown a flaw in thinking they have to go together. She pieced together parures over YEARS of collecting, meaning collectors could be matching styling and coloring to form sets that might never have been originally offered. So are these unmarked pieces those that lost their mark, or are they pieces other companies had sold unmarked, but that were designed to be identical to the brooches and clips that Eisenberg DID buy and sell? Remember in the base metal years F&K would design full parures in their offered collection every season, but no company was obligated to buy the whole set, and the various pieces could have gone to different designers. It's just something to think about. Again, matching pieces that aren't signed don't affect value in any way, so long as they are truly all F&K, the more matching pieces the merrier. And the matching pieces only add to the value of the offering. But do pay attention to see if the necklace clasps or earring hardware look like replacements.
So when I saw "affects value" what do I mean?
Through the years I've learned that valuing a piece is highly subjective when being offered by professional and experienced dealers versus random sellers. When it's available on an online outlet or an in-person antique show/shop can change the price. And of course each person values damage or wear differently.
However, I refer to "affective value" in two specific classes - Insurance and Police. Say What?
When you go to insure a valuable piece of jewelry you don't get to just state it's worth what you paid, you have to have comparables and references that back up the value. That's why there are official appraisals offered for "real" jewelry. Any of us could spend outrageously for something worth very little if we didn't know better, or we simply loved it. But insurance evaluators don't play around, they want evidence. If you claim the value of a piece is "whatever" because it's an Eisenberg, then it had better be marked, especially if you are claiming the high end of Eisenberg pieces, such as for a Sterling Figural. Otherwise they will never support you valuation or reimburse you that sum if lost, damaged, or stolen. If like poor Bobye, you have a fire, having correctly identified your pieces and supporting their value is very important if you don't want them to dismiss your requested replacement sum.
NOTE - insurance value for jewelry is usually done using the higher evaluations available, if you go to sell an insured piece don't be surprised if you don't get that sum for it.
NOTE 2 - if you have a massive collection, or pieces that are worth a lot of money, then note that your general insurance coverage for you house and "normal household contents" is unlikely to cover the cost of your collection. You might have to investigate how to cover the collection specifically, or at the least, you need to carefully photograph and write up the pieces to get back as much as you can. And no, I'm not up to date on my own pieces, but do as I say, not as I do.
Additionally, if your piece is stolen, the true value of it is important. If affects the police accurately investigating your case, and their supporting your claim to, you guessed it, your insurance company. Should the piece turn out to be worth a great deal, or you lose a whole collection to a thief, that's the difference between felony and misdemeanor charges. And should a case move forward the burden for you to support the declared value of the pieces will become greater.
Sharon is actually a whiz at this, she has all her original paperwork and I helped her collect references for her pieces whenever we could find them. I am not quite as good, but I do have references for my more valuable items, and I do have an inventory for most things. I just don't have them all photographed, and sadly the ones I did photo were done when I got them years ago, so I would not consider them share worthy images, but in a pinch they would work for insurance.
Obviously condition, legitimacy, markings, and materials affects the value of your piece. If you have missing stones, worn finishes, loss of enamel, no markings, etc. then you can't claim the higher end of prices, even if you want to. You will also see that they won't sell at those high values just on market shrewdness. Though I've seen some trashed pieces go for surprisingly high values to people that just really want them, so never say never.
I hope some of this help clarify the world in relation to my researched view of "Unsigned Eisenbergs."