Book Reviews

RUSSIAN TREASURE

Humboldt’s Travels in Siberia (1837-1842) &endash; The Gemstones, by Gustav Rose, Translated by John Sinkankas. 1994. 80 pages. 11 black/white illustrations. $25.00. (JCK Data Center MR-010)

Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) was probably the most prominent scientist of his time and certainly well versed in what we would today call PR. He traveled widely and wrote about it. Moderately versed in all fields of nature (one could be in those days when people were less knowledgeable and one brain could encompass all aspects of nature), he was invited by Czar Nicholas I to look over some Russian resources and tell him what he found.

That he did, accompanied by a German geologist, Gustav Rose, and microbiologist Christien G. Ehrenberg. They crossed much of Russia to near the Mongolian border, an area now proving to be a rich mineral source for the new Russia.

Gustav Rose wrote an account of the trip, during much of which they also saw non-gem localities, in two octavo-size publications. From them Sinkankas has extracted and translated the gem-pertinent sections.

Following a long passage on amber, Sinkankas brings us to St. Petersburg where they saw fine specimens in the School of Mines. It is interesting to note that mention of “smoky topazes” gives tradition to this usage, a name still alive and well in Bangkok. He mentions also the Academy of Science collection, in which gem minerals were apparently not significant.

There also were private collections with familiar names &endash; Cancrin, Kaemmerer and a Stroganov. They saw the Shah diamond and the Orlov in the imperial treasury. From St. Petersburg they went to Moscow, saying that the really scientific part of the trip commenced there.

My review could continue, but better you should read it yourself. Even if you don’t think it’s your kettle of fish, buy it and read it. Try it! You’ll like it! &endash; Frederick H. Pough, Ph. D., Reno, Nev.; JCK Book Judge.

WATCH WORTH

Watches, Complete Price Guide No. 15, 1995, by Cooksey Shugart and Richard E. Gilbert. 1995. 1104 pages. 6000 illustrations $21.95. (JCK Data Center NW-005)

The latest edition tops last year’s by 54 pages. Some show advertising, contributing in their own way to information. Text pages, though thinner, are of glossy stock, providing more distinct photos of watches, yet maintaining a manageable thickness.

Comparing the contents with last year’s edition, we find extensive re-editing, new features and much revision of current values.

Among the new material is an upgrading of the many marks found in gold-filled watch cases. The full page of solid gold marks remains the same as last year’s.

In pages devoted to “Market Report 1994,” the authors state that pocket watch activity continued strong and that highly-jeweled railroad watches showed an increase in value. American keywinders also appreciated, due to diminishing availability. Foreign watches and older verge watches also rose in price.

Patek Philippe, Assmann, Lange and other high-grade, complicated watches brought 30% to 50% above previous estimates. Wrist watches showed some rise over previous years.

The Swatch was soft in 1994; “collectors’ habits have changed.” The authors predict that 1995 prices should do well and advise the buyer to be bolder in bidding for better quality and scarce items, as these are finding ready buyers.

General information has been expanded, including a useful listing of word pronunciations; i.e., “Lelocle, lokel” and “repousse, reh-poo-say.”

Another page compares European terminology with U.S. derivitives.

This new edition, costing about two cents a page, is chock-full of carefully compiled and edited current information. &endash; Henry B. Fried, JCK horological editor; JCK Book Judge.

THE PLASTIC STORY

Plastic Jewelry, by Lyngerda Kelley and Nancy Schiffer. 1994. 159 pages. 214 color photos, $14.95. (JCK Data Center CN-059)

This small paperback is loaded with full-color photos printed on high-quality paper, depicting scores of plastic jewelry. It contains a brief five-page overview of the evolution of plastic jewelry, defining types and techniques.

Initially, plastic was an attempt to duplicate more costly materials, but today many artists use it because of its unique characteristics, not because of its low price. Historically, that price drastically influenced its popularity, spurred on by wars and hard times. Queen Victoria inadvertantly assisted by permitting only black jewelry to be worn in her presence between 1861 and 1877 as she mourned her husband. Jet became the first beneficiary, but black plastic jewelry soon followed, again because of its low cost.

Seven more pages highlight sources, mechanical information and facts of interest. Until the 1920s, a plastic dough was made from natural horn (usually buffalo) ground up, heated and pressed into molds. Another concoction was Bois Durci, a mixture of sawdust, blood, egg albumin or gelatin dried, compressed and heated to form decorative objects. Other plastic materials were found in nature, like gutta percha, discovered by Malay natives.

A six-page price guide may assist some readers if they have pieces which are similar.

All things considered, the book is like plastic &endash; limited, not first class, imitative, non-dimensional and inexpensive. But it still provides a little variety to one’s library, and would be of special interest to people who like plastic jewelry. &endash; Mark Baldridge, Longwood College, Midlothian, Va.; JCK Book Judge.