What is a real Cameo? Vintage plastic cameo or antique shell?

Posted by Michelle , Wednesday, January 30, 2008 10:13 AM

I think there are a lot of misconceptions about valuing cameos on eBay. I see a lot of cameos listed that I think I might like to bid on. However, as you know with eBay the pictures can be a little dodgy. Getting close up pictures of some of my own jewelry for sale on eBay is like pulling teeth or rounding up a toddler for a fresh diaper. Which is to say getting close up pictures of jewelry, coins, stamps and other small articles can be frustrating- to say the least.

This week I found a rather large lot of cameos and other vintage goodies in one jewelry lot for auction. The opening bid was kind of pricey though, particularly if the cameos in question were just old vintage plastic cameos. The seller had stated that these items once belonged to her Grandmother, but the accompanying pictures were a bit blurry. Furthermore, the seller had revised her listing at a later point, because she thought she might have grossly under priced her jewelry after seeing other listings for cameos. This of course warranted some further investigation in my mind.

I contacted the seller (a very lovely person with the same first name as myself) and asked her if any of the cameos were shell. Unfortunately, she did not know and she then asked me- how does one find out. In a nutshell- I said via email, "you look through the cameo- hold it up to the light, can you see through it?"

The problem with this technique is; that I am sure that there are some plastic cameos that are probably so thin, that I suppose some one could erroneously believe they are looking at shell. The seller was kind enough to send me some more pictures, although I couldn't make heads or tails out of these either and the auction ended.

So here it is, the basic, brief pictorial lesson on what a shell cameo looks like.

Picture One: Antique 19th Century Shell Cameo in presumed gold setting.

This a beautiful antique shell cameo with no
chips or cracks. The clasp, the hinge and the extended pin help to put an approximate date on the piece.


Note the beautiful smooth back of this cameo.

Here is a picture of the same came held to the light.


Next we have a pretty little vintage plastic cameo.

While quite a pretty little cameo, it is not nearly as valuable as a hand carved shell cameo. A shell cameo is a work of art and made by a master craftsman. I love to look at real cameos, in the same way I like to browse a museum or an art gallery. A vintage cameo does not impart the same feelings. Vintage cameos are wonderful to wear however. I personally would not feel comfortable wearing an antique shell cameo out of the house.


I have seen several sellers on eBay touting the wonders of their vintage cameos and even exclaiming that they sell more vintage cameos then real! Of course- more vintage cameos are sold because of price constraints. I rather think more Dodge Neons are sold then Jaguars, but I would prefer the Jag...

Comparing a shell cameo that was handcrafted to a plastic cameo is not like comparing apples to oranges either. Apples and oranges are both healthy fruit- it is to your taste whether you like either, both or neither. Comparing a shell cameo to a vintage cameo is more like comparing fillet mignon to a quarter pounder with cheese. I know what I would rather eat, but because of market value and scarcity I get a lot more McDonald's than steak.