Welcome Back! How were your holidays? Alex and I relaxed as much as possible and we’re slowly but surely settling into Louisville.
My current thrift obsession is Bakelite, an early plastic used for everything from radio and telephone casings to kitchenware, jewelry and toys. There’s a trick to Bakelite identification (I use Semichrome polish) and the thrill of finding a piece at a thrift store fills me with a naughty sort of glee since I am a bargain hunter as well as a vintage one. If you are learning how to identify Bakelite through trial and error as I am, the thrift scene is more forgiving of your budget than an antique store is likely to be and you don’t beat yourself up as badly when you make a mistake. Sadly, Louisville’s thrift scene is rather spartan compared to what I became used to in Denver and the pickings have been slim – Bakelite or otherwise. That said, if you’re from Louisville and think there are any thrift or vintage stores I should check out, please let me know via comment or email. I will happily give you credit for your recommendations!
So, have you put together what today’s “I Spy” is about? If you guessed “Vintage Plastic” you are correct. Specifically, “Vintage Plastic Jewelry”. I thought I was becoming a fairly savvy vintage plastic jewelry shopper, but this Instagram post from Anne (@jarekwastaken) gave me pause:
can we talk about this #leastein for a minute? #shortmoney #celluloid #vintagejewelry #vintagebracelets #plasticruleseverythingaroundme #rideitlikeyoustoleit
Did you know about Lea Stein? I sure didn’t. A quick Wikipedia search taught me that Ms. Stein (1931-) “is a French artist and accessories maker.” Around 1965, her interests turned to plastic and she partnered with her husband, a chemist, to create a unique process of layering thin sheets of plastic, baking them and then cutting them into shapes. This description of Ms. Stein’s process reminds me of how croissant dough is “laminated”. To make croissant dough, layers of dough and butter are alternated, formed into shapes, baked and cooled – a difficult process that can take several days. In Ms. Stein’s case, the thin sheets of plastic can be thought of as the dough and the colors, textures and fabrics can be thought of as the butter. Instead of a few days, Ms. Stein’s process can take as long as six months.
Many of Ms. Stein’s works were created between two periods: The first being 1969 to 1981. This initial grouping is considered to be “vintage” and pieces created from 1991 to the present are considered to be “modern”. Bakelite is among the types of plastic Ms. Stein worked with in the vintage grouping. I don’t know about you, but thinking I might come across a piece that is a Lea Stein and also Bakelite makes it twice as much fun to hunt for these goodies. So, keep an eye out! Ms. Stein’s brooches are named (for example, “Ric the Airedale Terrier”), feature an inscribed clasp and each named design was usually created in more than one variety of color and/or pattern. Lea Stein brooches and bracelets are highly collectible and often sell for hundreds of dollars. Do you own a Lea Stein?