Beatnik Brooches from Birmingham

The interior of the original schoolroom in the Vittoria Street School as seen in 1891.

As part of their triennial celebrations, the Vittoria Street School of Jewellery and Silversmithing put on their own version of an International Jewellery Exhibition in January.

Among the most exquisite pieces was a beatnik brooch – a simple button and thread that can be worn with any old clothes – and a useful matching suite for lady smokers who forget to put matches in their handbags. The suite includes a piece of emery paper for attaching to the anatomy.

Other ingenious designs were ‘Mother-in-law’s Choker’- a necklet of razor blades – and a ‘Gorgonzola Pomander ” made by Charlie Cellini, offspring of Ben.

In one showcase, against a cloud of white satin, rested a carven female head. Various ornaments ‘for its adornment’ included an ‘Early Greasion Snifal Stopper,” made in the shape of a clothes peg, and a butterfly ring for those about to do a moonlight flit. The lady herself wore a handsome necklace of hooks, the origin of which was ‘uncertain’, and a pair of rock-and-roll earrings, one of which could be unclipped if she became hungry!

A bare pad showed to advantage an example of invisible setting, using brilliantine’s and turpentine’s. Other exhibits included a genuine tide-worn soapstone found in the Wash; an amber caution stone; a fagendium ring for discarded cigarettes; a cascading line of beer bottle tops represented tops-off- the-pops; and a fob off brooch, loaned by a firm with growing connections, which clearly showed its carrot 18.

A handsome spinal ornament connected with ‘The Twist’ was much admired – it was apparently removed from its wearer with great difficulty!

Other finds were the eye of the little yellow idol set with an inflamed cornea stone, and a ring from; Pompeii, set with lava lazuli.

All credit for these amusing pieces must go to the clever hands of the men at the Vittoria Street School and the brilliant designers, who make even Tarara’s Brooch dated A.D. 750 found on Tarara’s Halls by Rosie O’Grady, with the twiddly bits put in by Phil the Fluter, a perfect job.

Also congratulations should be given to Mr. R. G. Baxendale, the Head-master, and his staff, who provided the ideas.

Finally, we must not forget the fine specimen, traditional Indian, of the Ruby ‘At of Omar K, and a piece which would have enchanted the man after whom it was named, Sir Thomas’s Bodkin set with Blarney Stones – a very rare needle.’

Source: By Christine Allen Goldsmiths Journal 1962 & Jewellery Quarter Heritage 2015


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