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Beguiling frames for photographs

Photographs framed in everything from silver to papier-mache are again stylishly personalizing homes. In a recent Architectural Digest article about Nancy Reagan's refurbishing of the White House, variously framed photographs are shown bringing elegant dignity to the President's study, the First Lady's office and dressing room, and a bedroom.

In earlier years, Queen Victoria revealed her penchant for photographs by ladening her desk and that of her husband, Albert, with numerous richly framed ones. Film stars of the 1930s were often shown seated before dressing tables with photographs of themselves and their leading men. And proud parents of the 1920s and '30s frequently placed photographs of their children on living-room pianos.

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Fondness for family likenesses was nurtured by the proliferation of photography during the late 1800s. This proliferation, in turn, spawned a heavy demand for frames to hold photographs. They were made in many sizes and shapes and of countless materials - gold, silver, bronze, Italian mosaic, and even jade.

Peter Carl Faberge, jeweler to the Court of Russia during the late 1800s and early 1900s, created the creme de la creme of frames for his clientele of wealthy and royal patrons. His Imperial Frame, a spectacular double-sided one resembling a fire screen and made for the Imperial Family of Russia, is extravagantly fashioned of gold set with rock crystal panels and further enhanced with salmon pink enameling and rose diamonds. He pleased many of his patrons with silver-gilt frames of rich design, with scarlet or pale blue enameling.

Notoriously acquisitive Victorians were fond of many types of frames, especially ornate sterling silver ones. They also made numerous ones of applied shells as tokens of friendship and love during evening ''family hours'' to demonstrate their artistry and to occupy leisure hours.

The Victorian desire to possess, with its resulting abundance of easel-backed frames to hold a photograph of a newly arrived family in this country, a stiffly posed wedding picture, or other cherished portrait, has bequeathed us many frames to choose from. (Some people who buy old frames holding Victorian photographs enjoy retaining the photos as comments on an era past or call them ''instant ancestors.'')

High on the list of frames now being sought are sterling silver repousse ones and sterling and silverplated frames of art nouveau styling. Their prices have recently escalated, and they have become more difficult to find. However, when compared with reproduction silverplated frames - many of which are attractive - the older ones have a quality of workmanship lacking in their new counterparts, and are often less expensive.

Victorian silver plate is often heavy and durable, and a grouping of such frames becomes a pretty focal point in a living room or bedroom. For a home with the ''country look,'' there are the expensive but mellow and lovely curly maple frames that add distinction to a decor; the intriguing shellwork frames, many of which fall in the folk art category along with those of tramp art or burnt wood; and the appealing papier-mache frames with inlays of mother-of-pearl.

The plainer silver frames that were widely used in the 1920s and '30s and often reflect art deco styling are now being eagerly sought as appropriate accents in a home of contemporary furnishings.

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A collection of oval, round, square, and other shaped frames with easel-backs holding a variety of photographs makes an arresting arrangement on a table and affords pleasant hours of hunting for them at antique shows. Before buying frames of this type, however, check to see if the easel is in working order if you intend to stand it on a piece of furniture. If not, but you like it, consider buying it to hang on a wall.

A number of smaller frames were jeweled or made of silk or velvet, providing a small touch of opulence in a room. But any choicely chosen frame - whether it is of silver, paper-mache, or glinting brass - honors the person whose photograph it holds as it simultaneously brings warmth to a home.

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