I have a miniature brooch. In the days before cameras, and even after, people had miniature portraits done as gifts for friends and families.
They are painted on ovals not more than 2 or 3 inches at the broadest end, usually showing the subject's head and shoulders. Mine shows a lady from the late 18th century with wavy brown hair. I think it may be a portrait of Queen Louise of Prussia, a formidable woman who stood up to Napoleon.
My brooch belonged to my father's mother, who died before I was born. Then it belonged to my mother. I have no idea how it came into the family, but now it's mine.
Last summer, I went down to the Heinz History Center to learn what I could about my miniature brooch. They have appraisers there every year in August.
I was somewhat relieved to see that the line outside the center wasn't too long, just a dozen or so people, carrying everything from dolls and paintings to cookie jars. Happily, my brooch fit in my pocket in a small bag.
I paid my way into the center and encountered a second line, which wasn't that long either while snaking through the first floor past the trolley and the snack bar. I talked to a woman who had found some paintings in her basement she thought might be worth something. Someone had a Civil War uniform. A man so big he must have played football at some time in his life was holding a blond-haired doll in a frilly white dress.
The line moved quickly. In due time my brooch and I got to a table where a woman wrote a couple of numbers on a card and sent me up to the top floor, where they were appraising art and jewelry. (I suppose my brooch was both.)
Up on that top floor was where I met the real line. There must have been a couple hundred people, separated by ropes, waiting with paintings, posters, china ornaments and other objects. One man had an old wooden icebox on a dolly. A woman had a brass diving helmet in a coaster wagon.
I once again congratulated myself that the brooch fit in my pocket, while I stood and stood and stood, talking to the people in front of me, or the people beside me, about their treasures and mine.
Every few feet along the line, there were chairs available for those of us who got tired standing, or were maybe holding something really heavy.
It took me about an hour and a half to get to the table where a man inspected the brooch through a jeweler's loupe and said, "Beautiful."
I could have told him that.
Then he told me it was indeed from the 18th century, which was good to know. He said it was probably German and possibly painted by an artist named Wagner. Then he told me what the brooch was worth.
It is worth something. That's good to know. It isn't worth so much that I will be afraid to wear it. That is also good to know.
He couldn't tell me for certain where the brooch came from or if the lady in the portrait was Queen Louise of Prussia, so I'm still kind of at square one.
I suspect I got better news than the man behind me, who was holding a poster for an art exhibit. It might have been printed in 1980.
But it occurs to me that a miniature brooch with a portrait of Queen Louise of Prussia is probably worth more than one with a portrait of Frau Schmidt from Dusseldorf. It also occurs to me that a miniature portrait brooch that Queen Louise had painted and presented to someone would be worth more than one sold in a shop to patriotic Prussians.
So it would have been a good thing if I'd learned something about the brooch's background. Maybe someday the brooch and I will go to another appraisal.
In the meantime, I can tell myself what I like about it. I imagine that Queen Louise had it painted as a present for some notable, perhaps Josephine, though they wouldn't have been on the best of terms.
Whatever its origins, it's beautiful. It's a small piece of history -- perhaps important, perhaps not. When I wear it I think of my family, the people I knew and loved as well as the earlier ones I wish I knew.
So the brooch is worth a lot to me, even if in ways that can't be appraised.
Jean Martin of Swissvale can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org