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To Have and to Hold



For Barbara Flood, rhinestones are the good stuff.

In the living room of her vast Upper East Side apartment, Barbara Flood—a lithe former Rudi Gernreich model and actress, reborn as a stylist with her own company, Flood's Closet—is showing off items she uses to dress clients. "But these I keep for myself," she says, smiling, as she sweeps her arm over several display boxes. They contain 42 splashy oversize brooches by Eisenberg, costume-jeweler to Joan Crawford, Rita Hayworth, and Lana Turner. For many, the first-name-less Eisenberg, who favored huge Austrian crystals, epitomizes forties Hollywood.

"I always loved fashion," recalls Flood. "In college, I read movie-star magazines and was hypnotized by those elegant dresses with these huge things right at the cleavage. Then about eight years ago, I started collecting them." Flood found some pieces in shops, but most have come to her from private owners. "Once word got out that I collected it, I would get calls saying My mother died and left me all this Eisenberg jewelry; do you want it?"

Some people pooh-pooh costume pieces, but Flood disagrees. "If I were dressing someone for the Oscars, I wouldn't put them in Harry Winston—I would use an Eisenberg. It's unique, plus it lights up the room, so it can be even more glamorous than the real thing." Unlike many jewelry collectors, Flood doesn't save her Eisenbergs for big occasions: She wears them every day. "I don't go out without an Eisenberg," she says with a flip of her red highlights. "I wear a sweater and tights and plunk a big Eisenberg in the middle." As if expecting protest, Flood points to a photograph of her hero, Frida Kahlo. "Frida knew about style; she wasn't demure. I'm with her—I like things that are over-the-top." -- Ada Calhoun

PRICE RANGE "Max is about $1,200. Minimum, $300."
RAREST ITEMS "Flower pins."
FAVORITE ITEMS "There are gold ones, but I don't collect those. I like the glitter and the color."
WEBSITE OF CHOICE "I don't like the Internet. I like real people and real things."


Black history is everyone's history—but especially Sample Pittman's.

For Sample Pittman, the urge to amass the more than 10,000 objects crowded into his Harlem brownstone was born not of affection or nostalgia but of a need to document the history that, says the bow-tied 70-year-old community-college professor, "you can't find in history books." The drive, he explains, "comes from coming out of the Army with a chestful of medals and not being able to find employment at anything but washing dishes or shining shoes."

Pittman's collection—from lithographs of lynchings to dolls of the Williams sisters—documents the slave trade and the African-American experience. The rusted iron rod with an R on the end? Used to brand the foreheads of runaway slaves. The battered leather saddle hanging in the corner? "Belonged to a Buffalo soldier in 1865," he says. "Black soldiers—that's how the West was won." The tins of "hair grower" and "glossine"? Precursors to Jheri Curl from Madam C. J. Walker, the first female self-made millionaire, black or white. The we serve colored—carry out only signs? Just like the ones Pittman encountered on road trips as a boy in Texas.

And while his grandchildren may not be eager to decorate their apartments with shackles, lawn jockeys, four original volumes of Uncle Tom's Cabin, spoons bearing images of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, and three proclamations of emancipation signed before Lincoln's, they will make no mistake about their grandfather's identity. "Who is Sam Pittman?" he asks. "Any part of this house you look at, I'll show you. He is somebody with a very proud history." -- Jada Yuan

RAREST ITEM A 150-year-old carved elephant tusk—one of three in the world depicting the overland journey of slaves from Africa to their eventual sale.
TOUGHEST FIND A $100 bill with an image of Abraham Lincoln and an African-American signature. It cost Pittman $7,000 and took his dealer three years to turn one up; Pittman now owns examples of nearly every piece of currency or coinage bearing an African-American signature or portrait.
DEALER OF CHOICE Thomas Panichella at Stack's, the coin dealer: "He's my Captain Ahab."
WEBSITE OF CHOICE "Please, girl, I just changed my phone from the dial to the push button."


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