Aunt Sew

My mom’s family is full of collectors. Collectors of art. Collectors of natural objects. Collectors of impossibly specific categories of memorabilia (e.g., 1933 World’s Fair commemorative merchandise; pre-Colombian pottery from the banks of the Mississippi River; antique miniature canoes). I once saw a sign at an antique store that read: “We Pay Top Dollar for Old Things,” and that resonated as a potential credo for my family.

No one’s collections speak to me more than those of my dear Aunt Sue, who is my mom’s middle sister:

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Aunt Sue is one of the most creative and crafty people I know. Her passion for sewing earned her the nickname “Aunt Sew” when I was a kid. Her house holds many wonderful treasures, not the least of which is an actual English pub in the basement where my Uncle Tom watches football games and helps himself to PBR from the built-in tap. She also has a small powder room covered in drawings of pin-up girls from the 1950s, and a giant vintage Double-Mint gum box in her kitchen. But her best treasures of all are her hundreds of pairs of earrings. And that’s no exaggeration. Here’s but a small sampling of her inimitable collection:


I interviewed Aunt Sue about her incredible collection. Here’s what I learned:

  • Her jewelry is all costume jewelry, and 90% vintage. She’s not interested in the fancy vintage brands, like Miriam Haskell or Weiss. Instead she prefers earrings of the kitschy variety. (Note: she has a ton of vintage brooches, too.)
  • In my observation, she has never worn the same pair of earrings twice around me, and her earrings always match her outfit impeccably.
  • She had never previously counted her earrings until I asked her to estimate how many pairs she owns. She counted 370 in her personal jewelry chest, but she also has a separate stash of jewelry she purchased specifically to re-sell (she frequents estate sales in the Quad Cities, where she lives, and often scores unbelievable deals on vintage items that she then sells through her Etsy shop–check it out).
  • In terms of storage, she organizes her earrings in the plastic trays that come in boxes of chocolates. Before returning to graduate school later in life to become a special-education teacher, Aunt Sue worked at a popular candy store in Rock Island, Illinois called Lagomarcino’s. While working there, she realized that the chocolate trays the store threw away were perfect for earrings, and so she started saving them.
  • She has never had pierced ears and has never wanted them. All of her earrings are clip-ons or screw-ons.
  • [My favorite tidbit:] She keeps a spare pair of earrings in her car for times when she forgets to put them on in the morning. She admits to returning home many, many times in the past when she has forgotten earrings and was without a spare pair. She “feels naked without them.”
  • Early on during the pandemic lock-down, she eschewed earrings for a while as she wasn’t leaving the house. Now that her grandson (my awesome cousin, Xander!) is coming to her house daily for remote schooling, she has resumed wearing earrings so he will “respect [her] as his teacher” and not just see her as Granny Sue.
  • In college, she wrote an ode to her favorite pair of snake earrings.
  • When I asked where her love for jewelry originated, she recounted this memory: “The family two doors down from us growing up had a flashy mother. The daughter and I went up to the mother’s bedroom one day and checked out the jewelry she kept in a bureau under the eaves. I vaguely remember taking something. Maybe I put it back. I don’t remember whether the daughter took something too. This experience made me want jewelry and to have my own drawers full of it.”

So it seems that extreme love for jewelry runs in my blood. I can’t wait until the pandemic is over and I can not only see Aunt Sew again, but also rifle through her drawers to marvel at her amazing collection in person.

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The Crazy Collector Crew.

Back to School

This fall, the return of children to school (in some form or another) got me thinking about class rings. My class rings are among the jewelry pieces I wear least often, if ever. I have one from high school and one from college, shown below:

My high school ring.

My high school ring is very intricate. Set in sterling silver, it features our school’s mascot on one shoulder and crest on the other, an “LP” insignia (for “Lincoln Park”) on a central emerald-shaped prasiolite stone, my initials on either side of the stone, and my graduation year in four segments surrounding the stone. One feature I had forgotten about until now is that my full signature is etched inside the band. Funny to see that hasn’t changed much in 17 years!

My college ring.

My college ring is more modern and simple. It features an oval-shaped center black stone carved with the university shield, my graduation year on one shoulder, and my degree acronym on the other shoulder. It also has my initials etched inside the band.

At some point, I acquired my mom’s high school class ring, which I happen to like better than both of my own:

My mom’s high school ring.

Hers, which is set in 10k gold, appears to feature the “comedy and drama” masks on either shoulder, her graduation year across a central deep blue stone, and a “C” insignia with a tiny “Davenport” inscription for Central High School in Davenport, Iowa, where she grew up. Her initials are also etched inside her band (that must be a thing). Her ring has some really beautiful art deco waterfall lines:


I remember when the ring catalogs were distributed during senior year of both high school and college. At the time, I thought the rings were an absolute necessity to serve as a lifelong reminder of my academic achievements and glory days (only kidding). But in actuality, my rings have sat in my jewelry box, largely untouched, for years. Why is that?

It’s not because they’re ugly, which they certainly are not. Maybe it’s because they’re too…personal? Too gimmicky? Too tied to a specific place and time to feel relevant today? It’s hard to pinpoint the reason.


The tradition of wearing class rings began at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1835. According to custom, the wearer should face the insignia on the ring inwards while still enrolled in school, and after graduation, the ring can be worn with its insignia facing outwards.

If you’ve ever met someone who graduated from MIT, they might have been wearing the school’s very distinct class ring, shown here:

Although it is affectionately called the “Brass Rat,” this ring depicts a beaver, not a rat, and is made in various alloys of gold, platinum, or stainless steel–not brass. The beaver is MIT’s mascot because it is considered to be “the engineer of the animal world.”

Next time you see someone wearing this ring, you can impress them with your very esoteric factoids.


I scoured the Internet for modern designer versions of class rings, but that appears to be a niche market that doesn’t yet exist. Instead, I leave you with these lovely vintage class rings:

14k Gold 1884 Class Ring ($268) (My birth year and my ring size!)


Do you have a class ring? Do you ever wear it? Let me know in the comments!

Biodata

Have you watched the Netflix series “Indian Matchmaking”? If so, you know the central importance of “biodata” to the matchmaking process. (And if you haven’t, you should! Such a thought-provoking show.) Basically, a “biodata” is a dating resume that describes a person’s fundamental qualities, interests, and lifestyle. The matchmaker uses the biodata to determine whether two people are compatible for marriage. Empires rise and fall on biodata!!!

This got me thinking: If jewelry came with biodata, what would it say?

To facilitate this intellectually challenging and high-brow thought experiment, I asked friends and family to identify what type of jewelry best reflects their personality and why. I loved the answers I received from my network. It inspired me to create the imagined biodata below, some of which reflect my friends’ answers (you know who you are :)). Full disclosure: one of the biodatas is my own jewelry alter ego…

[As an aside, to cast a wider net, I also posed this question in several Reddit forums. The one and only answer I got was from user “babybossmafia” who wrote: “mushroom earrings. idk why I just like them.” Certainly not an auspicious start to my research…]

Here goes. If any particular biodata speaks to you, take the plunge!

Available here.

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Available here.

So what do you think–any love connections here? Don’t fret if nothing suits your fancy. One takeaway from “Indian Matchmaking” is that when one match doesn’t work out, there’s always more biodata to consider.

What would your jewelry biodata say about you?