All The Rage

The Image staff muses on the culture of
keeping up appearances

« Previous Post | All The Rage Home | Next Post »

Bonhams auctions vintage Bakelite jewelry

December 14, 2009 |  6:00 am

Multicolored Squares Necklace Bakelite jewelry was one of the only affordable accessories for women during the Great Depression, but it's expected to fetch a pretty penny at auction this week.

Bonhams will auction off close to 300 pieces of Bakelite -- molded baubles made from an early plastic -- on Dec. 16 at 1 p.m. in New York, with the sale also simulcast to Los Angeles.

The jewelry comes from the collection of New Yorker Susan Kelner Freeman, who's been collecting Bakelite for more than 40 years. Pieces are expected to fetch $100 to $3,000.

Bakelite's humble beginnings as dime-store jewelry, most popular from the 1920s to the 1940s, has made it extremely attractive to modern collectors. Colorful and often flamboyant in design, the jewelry was an easy way to add flair to any outfit and takes on a fetching retro patina as it ages.

Stand-out pieces in the Bonham sale include intricately carved bangle bracelets made to look like ivory, brooches crafted into the likenesses of a frog, polar bear and bull dog and an "Air Raid" charm necklace dangling flashlight, screwdriver and warning-sign charms.

2 Yellow Carved Bangles Bakelite was discovered in the early 1900s and is considered to be the first totally synthetic plastic able to be produced in any color and molded into any shape. Back in the day, it was a cheapie way for women to get the look of coral, ivory, amber and tortoiseshell without investing a small fortune.

The Bakelite look is still hot -- cruise into any Forever 21 or Charlotte Russe store and you'll find what is essentially faux Bakelite jewelry. To nab a piece of the real thing, visit Bonhams' online catalog.

--Emili Vesilind 

Photos, from top: Multicolored squares necklace on a celluloid chain (expected to sell for $100 to $200); and carved hand-painted bangles (estimated to fetch $600 to $800.) Credit: Bonhams.