Antique Italian Lava & Conch Shell Cameos, ca. 1900

Value (2009) | $1,600 Insurance$1,700 Insurance

GUEST:
My grandfather, in 1904, joined the Navy to see the world, and he did. He was in Naples, Italy, and he saw the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. He bought this cameo, and he bought several more just like it, and my mother had them mounted for my sisters and me. 90-some years later, I went to Naples, Italy, and I went to the same jewelry store where my grandfather bought the cameos, and I bought this cameo. And it's made by the man who made this cameo. And I know this one is made out of lava rock...

APPRAISER:
Right.

GUEST:
...hopefully from Mount Vesuvius. But beyond that, I know nothing about them.

APPRAISER:
How did you know where to find the store?

GUEST:
My grandfather had the postcard of the Bay of Naples, and this store was in it. And I recognized the store from the postcard. It was just lucky that I was there. I think it was meant to be. The man running the store told me that his grandfather carved this, and I realized that it must be related to this one. So I bought this knowing that it was carved by the grandfather about a hundred years before.

APPRAISER:
It's a remarkable story. Now, this is the box from the store where you bought the cameo.

GUEST:
Right.

APPRAISER:
We have this cameo, which is carved out of shell...

GUEST:
Oh.

APPRAISER:
And then you went a hundred years later and bought this cameo carved out of lava stone. But this cameo was an antique when you bought it. How much did you pay for it back then?

GUEST:
Well, I think it was about $400 or $600, but it was in lire, so I don't... I don't know what I spent, really.

APPRAISER:
Anything that's carved up is a cameo. It has to be carved out of one piece of material. So the one your grandfather bought in 1904 was carved out of a piece of conch shell, which are big shells like this. When they hit the shore, they break up, and they would go down and collect the shells and bring them to the workshop.

GUEST:
Oh!

APPRAISER:
The one that you bought a hundred years later is in the frame, but made a hundred years ago, and the hardware confirms that. We know that it is an antique one. It is lava-- or at least what they call lava, that is the natural stone; it comes in a lot of colors-- that they dig up from around Vesuvius. It's an easy stone to carve, but it's in what we call high relief, if you look at how high the cameo comes up from the surface. These materials were not intrinsically valuable. They picked them up on the seashore and dug them up from the ground.

GUEST:
Oh, really?

APPRAISER:
What was valuable was the craftsmanship. The shell cameo in the gold frame, if it were lost or stolen and you went to buy another one, you would expect to have to pay about $600 or $700.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
To find one as nice in a gold frame. Your lava stone cameo, high relief, in wonderful condition, for insurance replacement value, you would need about a thousand dollars to replace that.

GUEST:
Really?

APPRAISER:
So your month's rent did pretty good.

GUEST:
I had no idea.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Edith Weber Antique Jewelry
New York, NY
Appraised value (2009)
$1,600 Insurance$1,700 Insurance
Event
Madison, WI (July 11, 2009)
Form
Cameo
Material
Gold, Lava, Shell

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