In the history of antiques, we consider all things old but rarely do we discuss objects associated with the very young among us. Baby antiques and collectibles are among the most cherished and sentimental objects.
Let’s start with one object that is every parent’s saving grace … the pacifier. The pacifier is the answer to a noisy newborn’s nursery at 3 AM. Yet, in the Colonial times, only a select few babies of significant wealth and privilege could actually afford a pacifier. Today, on the retail market, a late 1700s teething ring would set the most discriminating infants back about $2,500.
A wealthy child of the late 1700s would have been outfitted with her first baby toy/teething ring from the local silversmith. Typically, made of sterling silver or gold, a Colonial era pacifier would have been adorned with natural materials such as coral or mother of pearl. It would also have literally all the bells and whistles. Metal bells and a whistle on the end of the pacifier entertained the baby. The smooth coral piece attached to the pacifier satisfied the baby’s urge to suck. The bells and whistles on such a fancy pacifier satisfied the baby’s urge to scream.
Colonial silversmiths produced silver and coral teething rings. For example, in the 1790s, Newport, Rhode Island silversmith Benjamin Brenton’s baby pacifiers were commissioned by socialites of the period in a manner similar to way a family’s silver tea service would have been ordered. Although these teething rings were riddled with small parts, back then few worried about the child choking. In the 18th Century, most people were happy that both mother and child survived childbirth.
These fancy pacifiers had specific symbols and references. Silver, gold, and other precious metals spoke to the status of the family, only the best for these high style Colonial babies. Coral was selected for its smooth composition and its ancient association with preventing illness and warding off ailments. Mother of pearl was another popular teething ring material which offered a bright white color symbolizing purity. Many teething rings, even those produced in the 1900s, white was the color of choice as with the popular sterling silver duck pacifiers with white plastic teething rings.
From Victorian baby rings to tiny earrings, baby collectibles and particularly infant jewelry is quickly gaining popularity with collectors and curators. Stylish babies always accessorize with bling!
For instance, the mid 20th Century American beaded baby bracelets produced for general hospitals everywhere has sparked interest with contemporary jewelry designers and promise to command high prices with collectors. In the 1950s and 1960s, bracelets with alphabet letter beads spelling out the mother’s surname were a baby’s first bobble. With pink for girls and blue for boys, these baby bracelets were worn during the first days of a newborn’s life, usually in the hospital. Many mothers save the tiny jewelry pieces as family keepsakes. On the market today, these collectibles are rarely parted with and when someone does sell them, they command sky high values.
Art & Antiques by Dr. Lori