Cameos have been carved from a wide variety of materials such as stones, shell, coral, lava, bog oak, Vulanite, ivory, and glass.
Common subjects are portraits of ladies, soldiers, rulers and scholars, mythology, animals, Biblical events, and landscapes or scenes.
Worn by both men and women, cameos have been worn set in brooches, earrings, necklaces, rings, bracelets, fobs and pins.
Cameos may be carved in low relief where the subject barely protrudes from the background, or high relief where the subject projects a great deal from the background.
Queen Victoria, a world trend setter, loved cameos. Her interest caused cameos to rocket into popularity once again in the mid-1800s. They were in demand as tourist souvenirs as well. Those who made the ‘grand tour’ in Europe often chose a cameo or two from places such as Pompeii or Herculeum.
Important people also had their portraits made into cameos. According to an advertisement in Godey's Lady's Book in January 1850, “Peabody the celebrated Cameo Portrait Cutter, 140 Chestnut Street, is kept busily engaged with the portraits of some of our most eminent citizens.”