Sept. 2, 2006
by a Collector
I was in Baltimore for the large
antique show at the Convention Center, and learned from
one of the show dealers that Betty Cooke has a shop in
Baltimore called The Store Ltd. I called the shop and
took a taxi out to the shop on Saturday morning before
going to the show.
The Store Ltd. has been the primary sales venue for Betty Cooke jewelry since she opened it as one of the original retail tenants of Village of Cross Keys forty years ago. She said that the Museum of Modern Art shop sold her jewelry at one time. The Maryland Institute, College of Art had a show of her work in 1995. She has and sells in the shop the catalog of that show (cost $30.).
Betty loves her jewelry. She has a Xerox copy of every piece that she has ever made, and will not only repair any piece if someone requests it, but will upon request make any design that she has made previously. She is also willing to make custom pieces upon request.
I told Betty about the three pieces I already own, one of which is a silver necklace which spells out a message that I haven't fully deciphered, but which includes the words "charm joy love." Betty remembered the piece, which was purchased by a Baltimore dealer at the auction of the estate of Betty's friend Ann Boucher. She invited me to send her a Xerox of the necklace and she will try to decipher the entire message for me.
Betty has certain favorite designs, currently a strung necklace of very narrow diameter gold tubes with a center hanging "tail" and small gold disks soldered perpendicular to the tubes at uneven intervals. Before packing this piece in its box for me, she said several times that this would be the last item packed as she wanted to "pet" it before it went away. Her sales assistant later told me that she had previously refused to sell this piece to another customer and insisted that the customer wait for her to make a second version of the piece. (click here to see necklace)
Betty was wearing a ring featuring a thick wire U shape shank, with a flat gold disk on one end of the shank, lying horizontally across the back of the hand, and a matching gold disk on the other end of the shank, standing vertically and perpendicular to the flat gold disk. Betty makes this piece in sterling, gold, or a mix of gold and silver (one disk in each metal) and in different size disks, depending on the preference of the customer. This is one of the designs for which she is known, and has been in continual production since she first made it twenty years ago. She told me that she made it specifically because someone told her that it couldn't be done (that the vertical disk would break off) and that she had worn this ring continuously for the past twenty years ("hah!" she exclaimed to me triumphantly, at the success and durability of the design.)
Packaging: Betty is very attentive to design and presentation. Her Maryland Institute show catalogs are wrapped in dull gold paper and tied with white ribbon. Each of her jewelry pieces, when purchased, is individually tucked in purple tissue paper and put into a white box signed by her on its top, with The Store Ltd. business card inside, then wrapped in paper and tied with a purple or white ribbon passed once around the box lengthwise and knotted in a half knot with a ribbon loop at the top edge of the box cover. Every box is tied identically. If a box top isn't signed, she signs it. If the ribbon isn't correctly positioned, she positions it. Everything is just so.
Before wrapping and packing the pieces I purchased, Betty hand-sketched each piece and jotted down next to it the price and its inventory code (type of piece - b for bracelet, n for necklace, e for earrings; followed by s or g for type of metal; then a number for the design) on a piece of stationery. This appears to be her way of keeping track of what has been purchased. At my request, she gave me a Xerox copy of her sketches and signed them, and then insisted that my copy of the sketches (along with the original, as she took a Xerox copy for herself to keep) be put into a purple envelope with a special orange sticker closure.
I asked Betty if it would be possible to arrange a group visit with her at her shop with some friends who are also interested in her jewelry, the next time they and I are in the area. She said that this would certainly be possible and that she would enjoy meeting other jewelry collectors. Betty was consistently charming, cheerful, very attentive to the sales process, and completely engaged with me as a customer and with her jewelry. She hand-cleaned each piece with a cloth before packing it up, and verbally mourned the loss of each piece that she particularly favored before putting it in its box.
One hour for looking at jewelry and selecting the pieces to purchase, and another hour to pack up the pieces and pay!
by Scott Martin
Over the past year, several of us heard the above story, and have been lucky enough to have discovered some pieces of Betty Cooke's jewelry. So when we all were in Baltimore at the Antiques Show, we jumped at the chance to be included in the return visit to see Betty Cooke at The Store Ltd.
Early one morning, six of us eagerly entered the shop whereupon we immediately separated, each selecting a case of jewelry to explore. Soon the air was filled with "oohs", "ahs", "cool", "neat" "spectacular" & "that's great". When I next looked up, I saw the petite, elegant and handsome Betty Cooke standing there enjoying our comments.
Betty's sales manger, introduced Betty to each of us. Immediately we felt welcomed, at ease and somehow Betty managed to have a personal conversation with each of us.
I explained to Betty about the Silver Salon Forums and that I would like to take some photos that may become a post or an article. She very graciously told me that I may photograph anything I see. She also offered to take anything out of its case. As I looked around trying to decide where to start, Betty came to my aid again. She asked what I might be particularly interested in?
Immediately Paul Lemieux's collection of Betty Cooke's bird enamels came to mind (see Paul's Silver Salon Forum Post (click here)). I told her about Paul's collection of her enamel bird pins and asked if it would be a good place to start. Betty pointed to a case and said that was where the bird pins were. She added that it had been a few years since any enameling had been done. She proceeded to assist me by removing several pins from the case and secured a black background for me photograph them on.
While I was busy photographing the new bird pins, Betty slipped away. I guess my disappointment showed.... When she returned, she had several enameled bird pins from her private collection for me to photograph. I spent the next little while happily photographing all that I could. My digital camera soon ran out of space.
I put all the jewelry back into the proper cases and took one more long look at the enameled bird pins before returning them to Betty.
While I wasn't looking, June and the
others had been very busy selecting their purchases. They
had chosen some of the best available pieces. One of our
group also arranged a special order. June was about to
make a substantial purchase but when I saw what she had
selected, I felt ever so much richer.
Betty is a legend and anyone appreciative of the modernist jewelry genre should get themselves to The Store Ltd. in Baltimore. If your timing is right, you may be fortunate to meet Betty as well.
The Store Ltd.
Village of Cross Keys
Baltimore, MD 21210
More photos of
Betty Cooke's designs and jewelry
are on the pages that follow.
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Tuesday, October 09, 2007