SOUTHINGTON — If you went to the Italian-American Festival at the end of July, you may have seen a table filled with cameo jewelry from rings to necklaces and brooches for sale.
Vintage from the Heart sets up at the Italian-American Festival, the Apple Harvest Festival and the town’s annual Christmas event each year and often offers discounts.
The local shop at 101 Center St. started as an antique store and has transitioned into primitive country and vintage. It provides seasonal services like Christmas tree decorating and custom wreaths, but Vintage from the Heart’s most unique feature might be more than 300 pieces of cameo jewelry for sale.
Shop-owner Amy Kline said she didn’t start collecting cameos or costume jewelry until her mother-in-law gave her some pieces for a family tag sale.
“I thought they were pretty, but I really had no appreciation for them until I started doing research and started learning the history on them,” she said.
She’s been collecting for about eight years and estimates owning 300 to 500 pieces from all over the world. Kline claims her shop has the largest collection in New England.
Cameos originated when pirates in the 1700s would carve images of their loved ones – children, lovers, mothers – into conch shells while at sea. Since then, they’ve been made all around the world, in Italy, Western Germany, Japan, Czechoslovakia and the US. The jewelry has been made of various materials including shell, glass, agate, mother of pearl and marble.
The jewelry was most often a sign of wealth or rank, but also used when mourning a female loved one or to help in prayer, as a rosary would.
Kline has studied the history and appraisal of cameos for years and knows little things like tiny inscriptions on clasps might say ‘Western Germany’ or that you can check if a material is resin or shell by tapping it on your tooth. But she admits there is still so much she’s still learning and gets “schooled” all the time.
Cameo jewelry goes for anywhere between $20 to $500. Kline’s most expensive piece is about $475 for a white gold European brooch from around 1880 to 1900. The woman depicted has flowers in her hair. Kline’s oldest piece is from 1830 to 1850, a yellow gold hand-carved European pin.
Her collection includes jewelry from Italy, Western Germany, Czechoslovakia and the United States. All of the pieces were made before the 1970s.
When a new cameo comes into the shop, Kline first looks at the type of metals used, what the stones and cuts are and looks at the woman’s hairstyle to get an idea of its age. She says if a piece is cracked – something you might not notice until holding it up to a light – it goes down in value almost 80 percent.
Kline hasn’t always been in the vintage business. Her first career was as a nanny and nurse, but had to let it go after an Alzheimer patient hit her and she was warned by doctors another blow to the head could leave her blind in her left eye.
Her first time selling vintage jewlery somewhere other than flea markets and craft fairs was at a place on Main Street in Southington, where she could rent a 200 square foot space each month. Vintage from the Heart has been in Southington for five years, the last three in its current location.
“It’s a scary business. It’s happy, scary, it’s every emotion you could put into it because on the quiet times, that’s when it gets scary. When you’re just making enough to pay bills,” Kline said.
Kline said big craft stores put her small shop at risk. “But ours are one of a kind and unique. You’re not going to find it somewhere else,” Kline said.
Kline is looking now to move to a larger space in town to accommodate recent growth, but nothing is official. If the store does move, she plans to announce it on the shop’s Facebook page, “Vintage from the Heart.”