Cases for Collectors

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, December, 2005  

Cartier compact. Platinum. 14 karat gold, diamonds and enamel. C. 1920s PHOTO CREDIT : Leah Gordon. Manhattan Art & Antiques Center

As you are probably aware the most successful collectors of antiques and collectibles are the leaders, not the followers. By the time dealers get into a new market, it’s too late, or almost, to find affordable items in that category. Now that Antiques Roadshow and Ebay have alerted buyers and sellers of prices in almost every category what’s a beginner to do?

Study the antiques marketplace as if it was the stock market. What don’t you see in the Price Guides ? Is it possible there is anything not listed?

One still affordable category to consider are cases. From the mid-19th century, hundreds of types of cases were made. Some, of precious metals and with jewels certainly are out-of-sight price wise. Others, with humorous subjects, or of leather and cheap metals are affordable. There are many affordable oldies such as Victorian calling card cases, cigar and cigarette cases, spectacle or eyeglass, comb and brush cases and stamp cases.

Think how “cool” it would be to remove your business cards from an elegant mother-of-pearl or sterling silver calling card case. Or, if you can afford it, try a gold case.

Even in their day calling card cases were a status symbol and not cheap.

These days you can still find Victorian mother-of-pearl calling card cases in shops for under $100. 

Look for intricately carved ivory examples as well as papier mach’e.

More expensive will be cases set with semi-precious stones. Other materials used were tortoise shell and beadwork.

To recognize a card case look for a hinged opening at one end or with a top that lifts off. Both men and women carried them. There was a more simple look to the men’s, often with a monogram, if they were metal.

By the turn-of-the century(19th) they were produced and even sold in Sears Roebuck catalogs. However, even some of those also had interesting motifs. At about the same time leather card cases came into vogue. Just before World War 1 combination vanity and calling-card cases were introduced in sterling silver and silver plate.

To add interest to a calling card collection, look for the cards. Many have survived in scrapbooks or turn up in dresser drawers.

CLUES: There is still time to start collecting cigarette cases. Look for the stylized Art Deco types that combined color enamels with silver plate and nickel.

Prices are still low, depending where you find them. Consider those that were presentation gifts. Look inside for historic inscriptions and famous names. In the early 20th century some of the most elegant, and expensive were made in Russia. Often you can recognize them by their use of “niello”, a black, metallic alloy that was pressed into designs on silver. Of course the ultimate then, and now, would be a Cartier cigarette case in gold, with precious stones.

You may not recognize an early cigar case if you see one. They were small to hold the smaller cigars in use at the time. And, made of papier mach’e with colorful decorations.

Another oddity were those made of seal skin around 1900. Interesting are those of silver plate made with cigar shaped , molded interiors, in a variety of metals.

Still around, waiting to be discovered, are early spectacle cases. In the 19th century they were made in Japan of decorated papier mach’e as well as tin, leather and silver plate.

Use these cases or display them , mounted and framed.

If you have any questions, you can Email us at

The Antique Shoppe Newspaper
"Florida's Best Newspaper for Antiques and Collectibles

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