Hess Fine Art

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What’s It Worth? Sometimes, History Trumps Material

Sometimes, History Trumps Material

While the material this cameo is made of is mere Pinchbeck (a copper and zinc alloy resembling gold), a secret unfolded when researching the names on the cameo that was truly astounding – and that secret took an otherwise $50 cameo to a $1,000 cameo.

Adah Isaacs Menken was a childhood friend of Annie Holcombe. Annie and her sister were considered the belles of the Confederacy. Volumes have been written about the Holcolmbe sisters and their activities in Confederate society.

Though a beauty in her own right, Adah Menken became far more than a Southern belle. With her shockingly cropped hair, theater career, public smoking and multiple marriages and affairs – one of them with Alexandre Dumas père – she was notorious.

Flamboyant and fearless, Menken was the highest-earning actress of her time. She was dubbed “America’s first pinup girl” for posing in scandalous photos and on stage – in nothing but her underwear or a flesh-toned body stocking – which was simply not done in the 1860s.

Inside the cameo, we found a handwritten note from Adah noting that this was a souvenir from when she played in Mazeppa at the Old National Theater – her starmaking role. Ms. Menken died in 1868 after a devastating illness; she was only 33 years old. Do you have a remarkable cameo or other piece of impeccable provenance to sell? We are always buying and make complimentary house calls.

Comments, questions or suggestions for this column, please send to jeffreyphess@aol.com.

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Hess Fine Art - Fine Art, Auction, Watch and Antique Experts Since 1984

What’s It Worth? Sometimes, History Trumps Material.PDF

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Publish Date: 
April, 2016