Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - December - 2008 Issue

Books About Gems and Jewelry from Twelfth Street Booksellers

12th29

The latest on gems from the Twelfth Street Booksellers.


By Michael Stillman

We recently received the annual catalogue from Twelfth Street Booksellers of Santa Monica, California. Twelfth Street specializes in books about gems and jewelry. This is a field where books tend to be uncommon or obscure, and few individuals are expert in the book side of the business. As such, their clients go beyond just collectors to those with specific needs for these works, such as jewelers, jewelry designers, appraisers, museums, historians and librarians. Whether your interest in these titles is as a collector or for some specific, practical need, Twelfth Street supplies a wide assortment of books and expertise in the field. Here are a few samples from Catalogue 29. Gemology, Gems, Jewelry, Minerals.

We will start with the most valuable resource for those seeking the literature of the field: Gemology. An Annotated Bibliography, two volumes by John Sinkankas, published in 1993. It describes 7,458 books and other papers concerning gemology, jewelry, and related subjects. The books described range from the 15th century to the 1980s. Twelfth Street describes this one as "the monumental work on the literature of gemology." Item 87. Priced at $200.

Item 85 is another Sinkankas work: Gemstones of North America, published in 1959. This book will tell you about gemstones found in North America, their properties, and where they are found. Included is a section on collecting. $65.

Item 13 is the story of a great jewelry theft: Drama in Diamonds. The Story of the Oppenheimer Jewel Theft. One night in 1955, someone broke into the bedroom of Harry and Bridget Oppenheimer of Johannesburg, South Africa. They made off with $600,000 of Mrs. Oppenheimer's jewelry from her safe, an amount equivalent to many millions today. Their ease of entry and use of a key she kept hidden led to the belief of an inside job, and suspicion fell on her domestic staff. However, they all checked out. This 1957 book will tell you the rest of the story, the finding of her jewels, and the shady characters who played a role in this exciting story. $35.

Perhaps the Oppenheimers should have joined the organization described in this book: The History of the Jewelers' Security Alliance of the United States 1883-1958. Okay, this is the wrong country for them, but the point is you can't just leave millions in jewelry lying around the house. This organization has helped its members protect their jewels as well as providing assistance in tracking down and prosecuting thieves. Tales of the work they did in catching criminals add to the entertainment value of this book. It cuts off in 1958 as the book was published in that year, the group's 75th anniversary. Item 33. $65.

Item 80 is the first step in the story of the discovery of the "Bactrian Gold" in the long troubled country of Afghanistan: Bactrian Gold from the Excavation of the Tillya-Tepe Necropolis in Northern Afghanistan. The author is Victor Sarianidi, an archeologist who preceded the invading Soviet forces into Afghanistan in 1978. This book was translated from the original Russian and published in Leningrad in 1985. What the Soviet archeologists discovered was some 20,000-plus gold and other ornaments in several burial mounds in northern Afghanistan. They date back some 2,000 years. While this book was published before the Soviets were forced to flee the country, the collection has had an extraordinary story since, hidden in a vault during the Taliban regime and only more recently being rediscovered. Selected items can currently be seen in a touring exhibit in the United States, and eventually, the collection will be held in a new museum in Kabul. $650.

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