Romance is key for photographer and author Starr Ockenga, whose gorgeous new book "On Women & Friendship: A Collection of Victorian Keepsakes and Traditions," (Stewart, /^ Tabori & Chang, $35), is a precursor to her forthcoming volume on courtship and marriage. She suggests that toppers likely weren't used until the late Victorian era, when weddings moved out of the home and became big business. Until the 1880s and 1890s, family members or friends generally made the wedding cakes, decorating them mostly with flowers. According to Ms. Ockenga, figural toppers probably didn't appear until commercial confectioners began supplying wedding cakes.
One of the earliest toppers in Ms. Ockenga's collection is a Victorian bisque figure of a --ing young mustachioed groom in formal attire standing on a tall sculpted sugar base next to a
veiled bride whose gown is trimmed in real lace. They're posed under an arbor of oversized white silk flowers; a bisque cherub with sugar wings is suspended above them. This rare ethereal wedding souvenir survived intact because it was kept under a glass dome. Ms. Ockenga says it's worth over $300.
Nineteenth-century cake toppers like Ms. Ockenga's are increasingly difficult to find and ever more costly when they turn up. She relies on an extensive network of dealers and kindred collectors to help her add to her collection, which includes everything from love notes and marriage licenses to hand-embroidered bridal handkerchiefs and wedding dresses. When she started collecting wedding memorabilia in the 1980s, vintage bride-and-groom toppers cost around $25 each. Now bisque ones from the 1920s or '30s can fetch about $75 to $150 a pair, she said. Older, carefully painted examples generally bring the highest prices.
Although some are marked, it's often hard to date toppers. Clues include how the bride is dressed and if the figures are separate or attached, phenomena worthy of sociological or psychological studies. Pre-1940s couples typically are attached, with arms intertwined; later they're frequently individual figures. This independent streak facilitates mixing and matching figures for multi-racial or same-sex couples. Divorces are simple to accommodate, as well.
Grooms' attire and faces changed little until the 1970s, while bridal fashions changed with the times, observed Ms. Blayney. For example, 1920s toppers typically feature brides in flapper-style dresses, while 1950s and '60s bridal figures resemble heroines of the day, Ms. Blayney added, noting the vast supply of Marilyn Monroe and Jacqueline Kennedy look-alikes.
' Solis Cohen Enterprises