Susan B. Anthony cameo brooch
Oval shell cameo with carved bust of Susan B. Anthony in relief set against carved coffee-colored shell background. Cameo is set in an oval 10K gold frame ornamented with a twisted rope base and flat oval rim. Reverse of brooch has applied hinged pin and clasp joined to back sides of gold frame.
Shell cameos were fashionable throughout the nineteenth century. Based on ancient and Renaissance hard-stone cameos of layered agate, onyx, or sardonyx and kept in curiosity cabinets, shell cameos referenced classical gems, art, architecture, and sculpture, and signified good taste. Beginning in the eighteenth century, finely hand-carved shell cameos were purchased as Grand Tour souvenirs. Less expensive shell cameos became popular among middle class women in both England and the United States after the 1851 exhibition, where many examples of shells and jewelry were displayed. Popular mid-nineteenth-century shell cameos were lightweight and cheaper than finely carved shell examples, and could be produced in a few days with simple engraving tools. This example was probably made from the cassus madagascariensis shell native to the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, which has distinctive white and pink-brown layers. Settings for such cameos were generally fitted into gold-toned frames with minimal decoration.
The portrait bust on this cameo depicts Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906), the famous abolitionist, women’s rights activist, and suffragist. Anthony was nationally known by the 1880s, after she had travelled the United States on speaking and signature gathering campaigns and had repeatedly testified before Congress about women’s suffrage. Because of her visibility, she had many supporters among American women who would have been proud to wear a cameo associated with the leader.