Beaman woman is a life-long collector
Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series profiling the various personal collections of residents of Marshalltown and the surrounding area.
BEAMAN — Karmen Betts could be described as a Renaissance Woman, a lover of bygone eras and their sentimental trinkets. Her various personal collections include, but are not limited to, stuffed animals, bullet pencils, shoe horns, match holders, yard sticks, bottle openers (over 1,000 of these alone), ice cream chairs (made from heavy wire with a round wooden seat), keychain license plates dating between 1938-75, and memorabilia related to local companies and their products, now defunct. But perhaps the most quaint and decorative pieces in her collection are Victorian ring boxes/jewelry caskets, of which she owns about 70.
Traditionally, ring boxes are used to present jewelry (usually an engagement ring). Because of their decorative nature, many recipients keep the box on public display.
Flowers were the decoration of choice for these boxes, popular in the Victorian era (1837-1901) and the Art Nouveau era (1890-1910). According to collector Enid Hubbard, “Though they look like brass, they’re pot metal washed or plated in gold. Many of these boxes were made by companies in New England after the Civil War. The linings are silk bordering in fabric cording and range in size from 1-1/2 x 2 inches to 5-1/2 x 6-1/2 inches.”
“I just think these boxes are so pretty,” Betts said. “Almost all of the ones I have are different. What I like about them, is they are more ornate than so many things you find today that are just so plain.”
When the late John Kennedy Jr. popped the question to his wife, Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, he presented the ring in an exquisite square, vintage box made by the British manufacturer Birks.
Betts was gifted her first jewelry casket by her aunt, and has been accumulating them for about 15 years. She has been actively scouting flea markets, antique stores and garage sale in search of new ones to add to her collection.
“My collection just bloomed,” Betts said.
Jewelry caskets have the function of holding jewels, trinkets, documents and other special mementos. They are made out of leather, silver, gold, ivory, pewter or brass. Perhaps the most famous jewelry casket ever created was a life-size rendering, made for Marie Antoinette.
In ancient Asian cultures, these boxes were crafted from wood or china. Most you will find from the Victorian and Art Nouveau eras are lined in pretty pink silk or felt.
Heart-shaped boxes, or even ones that resemble a lady’s vanity table, were the most common shapes rendered. Most rare of them all, is the vertical ring holder that opens like a coin purse.
Betts treasure hunts at flea markets, swap sales, antique stores and garage sales.
“I can usually find something to go in one of my collections when I’m shopping,” she noted.
Betts, who is retired from Ritchie Industries, Inc in Conrad, said her passion for collecting came from a desire to better understand and experience the world, without the expense of traveling.
Betts is an active collector, always on the hunt for fun, unique finds to add to her stash. Most specifically, she is in search of keychain license plates from 1938-43, and an actual license plate from 1910.
If you collect something interesting or unusual, contact this writer at the information below.
Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org