Who doesn't love cute animals, right? Right! Well add in to the mix a precious metal and an antique status with an applicable purpose and it is therefore no surprise that the cute little guys pictured are hotly contested by collectors.
Novelty pin cushions come in a wide array of forms including different animals, people and objects. The most common form of animal-type pin cushions are the pig and elephant, however the spectrum is wide and varied and price does vary significantly. For a pig in good condition expect to pay around AU$400 and for a rat or a spider the asking price could be in excess of AU$5000. Pictured above are the bulldog and rabbit and I would say they sit mid-way in the 'rarity scale'.
Also pictured is a pin cushion in the form of a fan - this would be a must have accessory for a lady in the early part of the twentieth century and certainly a talking point.
A few words on what to look for should you wish to start collecting novelty silver animal-type pin cushions:
Detail of hallmark: Gourdel Vales & Co. Birmingham 1907.
(i) Buy the antique ones!
With the recent surge in popularity of these small pieces of silver, they are being reproduced in very large numbers. The 'new' ones are usually marked '925', or 'sterling' or often not marked at all. They are cheaply made and inferior copies of the Edwardian originals. My advice would be to steer clear of the imitators and rather focus your attention on an original. You will want to buy a pin cushion that is English and hallmarked for Birmingham (or sometimes London) and with a date letter for the last few years of the nineteenth century, right the way through to the outbreak of the First World War.
(ii) Condition, condition, condition
These pin cushions contain a small amount of silver (it is basically a 'shell' to house the cushion) and are prone to damage. You want to make sure there are no breaks, holes, splits or solder repairs - watch out for broken trunks, ears, feet and tails! You can however forgive a few dents here and there - a bit like 'marks of maturity' - also, dents are very difficult to take out and so aren't easily rectified. To have the original 'pad' (the cushion where the pin goes) is also very nice, but keep in mind the condition of this may be rather worse for wear! You can forgive an original pad appearing tatty and faded, as that lets you know it is original. Replacement pads are also common, however just check to make sure it has been a professional replacement and not a product of dear old granny's handiwork one afternoon years ago!
(iii) Rare as a hen's tooth
With animal pin cushions it is often about rarity. Like any collectable, the pieces that fetch the most money now, are the ones nobody wanted to buy when they were new. People went mad for pigs and elephants in the Edwardian period and as such, I see hundreds of these. Moving up the scale you get camels, swans, dogs, rabbits, polar bears, crocodiles, cockatoos, kangaroos, spiders and even rats! My advice would be this - instead of buying two pigs, pool your collectible investing funds and buy one camel. You can then move on to a dog or a rabbit and if you are feeling very adventurous - a spider (if you can find one)!
If you would like to know more about pin cushions or novelty silver please contact me for information and pricing.