Winter seems like the perfect time to explore a company that referred to its rhinestone jewelry as ice. Yes, even when advertising early Eisenberg Original pieces, the company described its jewelry this way even though pieces weren’t actually marked Eisenberg Ice until much later.
Many collectors know that Eisenberg & Sons, founded in Chicago, got started in the jewelry business by sewing rhinestone embellishments to dresses in the 1930s. The notion that Eisenberg expanded their jewelry marketing because the baubles were being stolen off clothing, however, is largely a myth according to jewelry historians. Instead, it seems to be a simple case of commercial success.
As the popularity of selling jewelry along with clothing grew, eventually those sew-on baubles morphed into removable brooches and dress clips. These were sold with blue velvet-lined boxes for storage. The jewelry wasn’t actually designed or produced by Eisenberg though.
Agnini & Singer, also a Chicago-based company, began their association with Eisenberg by making buttons for their garments. This business was also the first to make jewelry for Eisenberg. Many of these older pieces are unmarked so without one of the company’s original design cards, it can be hard to attribute the jewelry correctly. Some of the original design cards are shown on the Costume Jewelry Collector’s Int’l website but many more are held in the company’s archives.
As the demand for rhinestone jewelry grew in the 1930s, Eisenberg began marketing it more seriously. They also forged a new relationship in the mid-1930s with Fallon & Kappel. Eisenberg representatives would visit the Fallon & Kappel showroom in New York and select styles to be produced with their branding. Ruth Kamke, who eventually became the primary designer for Eisenberg jewelry during this period, sketched some of the most desirable designs sought by collectors today. Only a few of these designs were patented by Fallon & Kappel in 1942, and they were registered by Florence Nathan who was not a designer.
Eisenberg Jewelry got its own division within the organization in 1943, and by that time Fallon & Kappel was their only manufacturer. During this period, wartime metal rationing led to the move from using pot metal to sterling silver in Eisenberg pieces. This was also the era in which the slogan “Eisenberg Ice” was used in advertising. Some were even marketed as “Collector Pieces” when they were new due to the high price points.
It wasn’t until later in the 1940s that Eisenberg branched out and began selling jewelry in retail outlets other than their own dress salons. When manufacturing restrictions were lifted after World War II ended, jewelry made with rhodium plated metal was more the norm. Their designs changed as well from the earlier pot metal pieces with clear rhinestones and sterling silver figurals to pieces incorporating more colored rhinestones. Consumer demand for updated styles drove some of the shift, but the new looks were also mass producible yielding lower prices. The associated success led Eisenberg to stop making clothing to in 1958 to focus on jewelry sales.
The Timeless Appeal
An exclusive agreement between Fallon & Kappel and Eisenberg purportedly remained in place through 1972 (the year Fallon & Kappel closed). This may not be entirely true, however, because at least one Rhode Island factory worker recalled making jewelry pieces for both Eisenberg (some of which were marked Eisenberg Ice) and Weiss in the late 1950s and ‘60s. Similar jewelry designs stamped with each mark respectively support this claim.
In the 1990s the brand was resurrected, and new designs were made using the Eisenberg Ice brand. These include a number of Christmas tree pins and several patriotic jewelry pieces as well as others. Some of these are nice collectibles but the plating and quality may not be as high as with older jewelry by Eisenberg.
Depending on desirability and rarity, however, values can be comparable. For instance, Eisenberg Original pot metal pieces with clear rhinestones from the 1930s now sell in the same range as some of the more desirable Christmas jewelry pieces marked Eisenberg Ice made decades later.
Eisenberg Valuation and Fakes
Many folks assert that fakes produced and marketed decades ago killed the vintage Eisenberg market. That’s partially true since some collectors shy away from brands they know to be reproduced. In actuality though, the number of fakes circulating in the marketplace is relatively small. That’s not to say you shouldn’t question authenticity when something seems off, but most Eisenberg Original pieces being sold by veteran dealers are indeed authentic.
Nevertheless, prices for older Eisenberg pieces in general are at an all-time low with the exception of the rarest designs. You can find Eisenberg Original brooches (which includes dress clips and fur clips) with clear rhinestones for less than $150 and that wasn’t always the case. Part of the depressed price on more common pieces comes from a lack of demand, but that will likely turn around as new collectors discover the beauty of Eisenberg in the future.
If you’re just getting started, be wary of colored rhinestone pieces or rare figurals marked Eisenberg Original that seem priced in the too-good-to-be-true range. On the other side of the scale, be prepared to do some comparison-shopping and online research before laying out a huge sum on one of the most desirable pieces. The Eisenberg Original mermaid is one that comes to mind.
Resources for Further Research
Studying authentic pieces, including holding them in your hand, is the best way to become acquainted with older Eisenberg, especially if you’re concerned about fakes. If you’re still not able to do much in-person shopping at this point in time, looking at pieces being sold by online dealers you trust as well as perusing references guides are good backups.
Obtaining a copy of Eisenberg Originals by Sharon Schwartz and Lauren Sutton is a good place to start. I’d also suggest checking out Sutton’s online resource called “The Eisenberg Project” to learn more about marks (because some are signed with only an “E” in script). The site is a little rough in terms of spacing, which makes it a bit hard to read. Regardless, the information there is useful and interesting.