From time to time I write the odd article about collecting antique and vintage costume jewellery and I will post things here for information. If I can help you with more details about this subject do not hesitate to get in touch. I will always do my best to give you advice about your old and collectable jewellery.
IN THE PRESS......
November 2013 and I have written a four page article for the Bead Society's Quarterly Journal - the article is all about the jewellery of Lea Stein of Paris.
March 2013 and I am featured in the Limited Edition Magazine in their popular Castaways series. Basically you have to say which antique, book or work of art you would take to a desert island - think 'Desert Island Discs' but with antiques as the theme! Well I chose the Hoover Art Deco Building which is on the outskirts of London. ( I do have copies of the original architects' drawings!) However this was deemed too large and so I selected the fabulous 1920s and 1930s Hat Flash style Hat Pins that were used to decorate Cloche Hats in the Art Deco era. I often have these celluloid and diamante hat flashes for sale online and in my shop units. Photos were taken of me with my lovely lady mannekin in a cloche hat and wearing the 1920s and 1930s Celluloid and Diamante Hat Pins. The Antiques Trade Gazette also picked up the story and so I appear that as well!
My jewellery and story have appeared in August 2012 copy of Limited Edition, published with the Oxford Times. Thanks to Denise and Ric for their words and photos. Also supplied some information about Collar Necklaces and the history behind them for Denise's article in December's Limited Edition. Particularly proud that both of my beautiful daughters were photographed for this magazine wearing a craft upcycled necklace by Barb Goodbun and a genuine vintage pearl collar by the USA designers Le Ru from the 1960s. They looked stunning!
Pleased to have an article published in December 2011's " The Plastiquarian" which is the Journal of the Plastics Historical Society. The article is entitled "Early Plastic Jewellery - Fakes and Forgeries".
AS SEEN ON TV......
2014 sees me yet again on TV. This time I am purchasing some Art Deco style earrings from Kate Bliss and it was lovely for her to visit Oxford as in the past she studied at Oxford University. I am also so pleased to have provided some jewellery for the TV series The Great Fire, written by well-loved reporter Tom Bradby. As this series was set in the 1660s the brief was to come up with a few pearly pieces, necklaces, brooches and earrings. For inspiration I scoured all my jewellery history books and also looked at the details in old portraits and museum collections; the best of all was the famous Cheapside Hoarde! When the series was on TV I was particularly delighted to see the Queen in a necklace I had made up with faux pearl components and a special silver, white enamel and real amethyst droplet that looked incredibly old to me and had been waiting in my 'spares and repairs' box to be used for a project just like this!
11th November 2013 and I am seen helping Anita Manning to beat James Lewis on the BBC 1 series Antiques Road Trip! Anita visited Antiques on High where she purchased some 19th Century steel castors that looked like paws and managed to make a tiny profit on them at auction. Anita was tremendous fun, she loves art deco and bright, colourful plastic jewellery so we were kindred spirits. She was full of jokes and commented that my limited edition Lea Stein pin in the form of a Monkey reminded her of her ex! Anita is a fan of Lea Stein's jewellery. It was good to see a group of Lea Stein brooches make a profit in Anita's auction house on Bargain Hunt recently too!
August 2012 and the team from BBC's Antiques Road Trip filmed at Antiques on High, Oxford. Lovely to meet expert James Lewis and I had a fleeting few moments on TV selling him a silver item which helped him win his challenge in February 2013.
April 2012 and Jonty Hearndon visits me to sell some lovely pieces of vintage costume jewellery. He was battling Catherine Southern in the latest BBC TV series of 'Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is'
November 2011 has seen me on TV, twice over! Yours truly was filmed with Actress Caroline Quentin and Antiques Auctioneer Charlie Ross for the BBC's Children in Need version of 'Celebrity Antiques Road Trip'. The good news is that Caroline bought some vintage costume jewellery from me! Sir Terry Wogan also featured on this show. A repeat of an Antiques programme from a couple of Summers ago shows me selling Vintage Cufflinks to Antiques TV Presenter Jonty Hearndon as part of the 'Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is' series.
ON THE INTERNET....
New York, USA Vintage Clothing Guru - Sammy Davis has featured my story on her website. http://sammydvintage.com/vintage-style/40s/1940s-fashion-photos-caroline-henney/
ON THE RADIO....
I enjoyed it on BBC Radio Oxford on Wednesday 24th April, 2013 - I talked about National Antiques Week and about the collectables business in general.
Thank you BBC Radio Oxford for the warm welcome! Jo Thoenes interviewed me on her afternoon show so the Oxford listeners will know a little bit more about collectable costume and vintage jewellery now.
Reflecting the style, fashion, history and innovation of each era, costume jewellery is a fascinating collectable. It has the added advantage of being wearable, easy to store and available to anyone with a budget from 50p to £500+ for some of the more important ‘signed’ pieces. If an item is referred to as ‘signed’ it means it carries the trademark or signature of the designer and/or manufacturer. Often this is in the form of an applied plaque on the back or tag on the clasp of the jewel or maybe in the form of a paper label. Not all pieces of Costume Jewellery are marked and some of the most valuable works – the early collections from great designers - were unsigned. It is helpful for collectors to learn some of the important makers’ names and the best way to do this is to invest in a book on the subject. Highly recommended are Carole Tanenbaum’s ‘Vintage Costume Jewellery’ ISBN 1-85149-511-8 9000 and Judith Miller’s ‘Costume Jewellery’ ISBN 1-4053-0014-0. Both books have a gorgeous selection of photos and lots of useful information for both novice collectors and specialists.
EARLY PLASTIC JEWELLERY – FAKES AND FORGERIES by Caroline Henney
Published in ‘THE PLASTIQUARIAN’ December 2011
The Plastiquarian is the Journal of the Plastics Historical Society.
There is a certain irony in being asked to write about ‘fake plastic’ in that most of the wonderful, collectable and valuable costume jewellery pieces we encounter today were originally ‘fakes’ themselves. So many of the inventions and compositions from the past which resulted in the manufacture of Vulcanite, Celluloid, Casein, Bakelite and Lucite plastics were achieved by scientists attempting to emulate natural materials that were valuable or difficult to source. There was something honest back in those days, however, as the pieces were developed to allow a larger number of people to enjoy wearing and using items that would have been beyond their budgets. The French manufactured a celluloid product which mimicked Ivory very well; complete with lines which look just like the cross hatching you find on ivory. It was used for all the things you might expect to find made of real ivory – boxes, dressing table sets, jewellery etc but it was generally heat stamped ‘ French Ivory’ and sold as such. The popularity of Whitby Jet in the Victorian era led to a plethora of jet substitutes, the plastic ones being pressed horn, Vulcanite and other compositions. Young maids in Edwardian England could sweep their hair up in a celluloid hair comb whereas tortoiseshell combs would have been reserved for their mistresses only. Factory girls and aristocratic flappers alike piled on their colourful Bakelite bangles and wore ropes of obviously fake plastic pearls – Chanel herself made that quite ‘OK’ and the affordability appealed to all back in the 1930s .
Another great benefit from these early plastic materials, made in imitation of the real thing, was a decline in animal cruelty, which had often pushed species to the verge of extinction. Man-made early plastics made credible substitutes for ivory, tortoiseshell and corals; looking good and being functional too. It could be argued that the use of Horn involves material from animals but it was a by-product of the food chain and as such it would be wasteful not to use it. It wasn’t just products sourced from the living world that were ‘mimicked’ the list of Bakelite bead colours in an American advert from 1924 reads Amber, Jet, Ruby, Jade, Carnelian and Emerald. These beads would never have been intended to be sold as genuine precious stones just as fun items in real jewel colours.
In the vintage jewellery world the term ‘Bakelite’ is often applied to all kinds of early plastics. Some price guide books actually describe celluloid jewellery and casein jewellery as Bakelite. I like to use it to describe those pieces made from phenolic resin and this tends to be the standard. Just like Hoover is synonymous to the vacuum cleaner, then Bakelite has become the same for phenolic pieces and Lucite for acrylic pieces.
Today one of the most common misnomers is encountered in relation to Amber bead necklaces, particularly in those dating from the first quarter of the 20th Century. Nearly all the faceted ‘Cherry Amber’ or ‘Red Amber’ long beaded necklaces that I am asked to value turn out to be Bakelite. They have often been ‘handed down’ in the family and are fondly referred to as ‘Granny’s Amber Necklace’. I often see Bakelite beads wrongly described as ‘Amber’ at antiques fairs, on line and in shops. The good news for the owners is the price is high for these Bakelite beads, they might not be Amber, but people value these early Bakelite copies and they command high prices on auction sites and at fairs. Another dealer told me that many of these red coloured amber-like Bakelite beads were being sold to overseas buyers and were being rethreaded for use as prayer beads and that this is the reason for the price hike on internet auction sites where it is not uncommon for them to sell for over £200.
When it comes to describing things, there is, at best, a lot of people who don’t really understand their stock and, at worst, a whole load of dishonest people out there deliberately fooling the public and selling modern, cheap plastic as ‘1930’s Bakelite’ or ‘1950’s reverse carved Lucite’. The reason for this could be the big prices that are achieved for the genuine pieces that date from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. I am appalled at how often I see modern plastic bangles in particular being described as old, genuine Bakelite and with big price tags to prove it. It is not just auction sites that have are cheating people, it is also antiques dealers at fairs and in shops too.
Some craftspeople re-work original material to make new items. For example, Ron and Esther Shultz in America have made such an art form of it that their works are collected in their own right. But they sign their pieces. Some of the modern fakes of vintage pieces have the signature also faked. However, many times pieces such as cast phenolic resin (termed Bakelite) bangles, earrings and pendants made out of old Mah Jong or domino pieces are neither signed, nor sold as original except for the materials used.
The Americans tend to be more savvy when it comes to the fakes and forgeries. Dubbing the rogue pieces masquerading as Bakelite as ‘Fakelite’ some of their top dealers have been sounding the alarm bells for a number of years. There are quite a few of them ready to expose fakes so guidelines and photos are often published on line. . I love the website of Karima Parry www.plasticfantastic.com. Not only does she sell the most fabulous Bakelite bangles she is a real authority on early plastics and is willing to share her knowledge with her published information.
It matters to collectors to have correct pieces in their collections. So what can we do to counter this Fakelite fraud? Educate and inform is the answer. Familiarise yourself with the genuine pieces by looking at the items at fairs, in books and on trusted websites. If you have a real interest in Bakelite, Lucite and other early plastics it is likely that you will have handled it and learned to appreciate its features. Talk to dealers, ask questions. Be wary if there are lots of the same piece available in different colours and designs. It is quite hard to collect together a good stock of early plastics. Whilst some things may have similarities, too many of the same thing being available should ring your alarm bells. Most of the good pieces were hand finished and very well designed, often quirky. You get to know the colours of Bakelite. Remember here that Bakelite has a tendency to oxidise so pieces that were ivory cream in the 1940s will be an amber yellow now, pinks change to orange, violets to brown and blues to green. The marbling on Bakelite is distinctive; so is the patina it builds over the years. Bakelite has a certain weight to it so when you handle it often you get accustomed to that feature. When Bakelite bangles are worn together on the arm they have their own music – a special and unmistakable clunk! The way that pins are attached to the back of brooches can be an indication that they are genuine and by keeping an eye on what is sold in mainstream shops you can learn so much as you identify the current products’ features and compare them to items from the past. A particular acrylic bangle made by a High street retailer last year and sold for £1.50 appears on auction sites all the time described as ‘a 1950’s reverse carved Lucite bangle’ and often sells for £25 or more
It is a measure of the popularity of good early plastic that people have devised tests to confirm if something is Bakelite. The Americans tend to use a product called 409 but I find T-Cut works too. When rubbed onto Bakelite it gives a deep yellow stain onto the cloth. Even this test is not fail proof however as some items were ‘resin washed’ or coated in varnishes and some black and red coloured pieces do not always conform. Hot water helps as if you dip a piece of early plastic material into it there is usually a smell – camphor like for Celluloid, formaldehyde like for Bakelite and phenolic plastics and very cheesy for Casein and Galilith, no smell at all for Lucite and most of the new plastics. A test often recommended which fills me with dread involves piercing an item with a red hot metal pin. I fail to see why people would do this. First, it will ruin the piece forever and secondly, if it is celluloid it could well explode and injure you!
HOW TO CLEAN, CARE FOR AND STORE YOUR VINTAGE COSTUME JEWELLERY
Vintage costume jewellery is generally made from plated or coated metals, plastics, glass, crystal and other assorted materials. Vintage costume jewellery can be fragile and it is easy to dislodge jewels and damage surfaces if you use aggressive commercial cleaning solutions on your jewellery. The best and simpliest way to clean your items is to use a soft baby toothbrush with a little diluted washing up liquid in hand hot water. Lay the jewellery on a piece of absorbent kitchen roll and then just dip your brush into the soap and water solution. Gently stroke the surface of the item paying attention to the areas underneath the stones and around clasps and chain links and loops. By always proceeding gently and carefully you will dislodge any dirt and grime that has gathered on the item. Gently pat the jewellery dry with the absorbent kitchen paper. If your item has developed a verdigris type of deposit this can often be removed with a solution of equal parts tomato ketchup and mayonnaise. This is a recipe that would seem more suited to a bowl of chips but it does gently remove deposits from metal, especially the grimy green deposits that are often found on the inside of old powder compacts. The mayo and sauce mix is a little more aggressive than good old soap and water and it will make brassy metal shine like new. Sterling silver jewellery that is not gem set can be cleaned with a manufactured silver cleaning polish or liquid or with a silver cloth. You can use silver dip if you do not mind the item having a white, almost brand new, clean finish to it. I find that silver dip is a bit too harsh for most vintage jewellery as it strips off all the patina. I do like to have the texture on old and antique silver jewellery showing its age with a little darkening. Diamante jewellery should never be immersed in liquids as if the stones are glued in the liquid with dislodge them. If diamante and paste jewels are foiled then liquids will start to distroy the foils and make the stones appear yellow and dark and dull. You should be very careful when cleaning pearls and faux pearls as they can be very fragile and subject to damage. Talcum powder gently rubbed into them and them polished off with a soft absorbent cloth can bring back the lustre. With real and cultured pearls wearing them against the skin so that the body's natural oils are absorbed into the pearl ensure they stay good and shiny. If you have any doubts at all about how to proceed when cleaning your jewellery then consult a jeweller. It makes a lot of sense to always apply your perfume and hairspray before you put on your jewellery. That way you do not end up coating your jewellery pieces with sticky chemicals. Treat your jewels with a little respect and store them and handle them gently. Some pieces are more robust than others but you will scratch and damage items if they are left rattling around together in a large box. It makes good sense to store jewellery separately, either wrapped in acid free tissue or in little boxes or in a compartmented case, tray or box. Sensible storage will prevent you accidently damaging your precious jewels and will also make it easier to find the pieces you want when you are ready to wear them. Another tip to keep everything in tip top order is to check strings of beads to ensure that their threads are in good condition, it is recommended that beads are regularly restrung and by having knots in between each bead you will prevent accidental loss of your beads if a string does break. Keep an eye on clasp and bolt rings to ensure that all your brooches and necklaces remain fastened to prevent loss. It is also worth checking the claws on stones as they can easily catch and move allowing jewels to fall from much loved items. Seek professional advice for repairs and NEVER use superglue to stick in stones because it sets too quickly often meaning a jewel will be uneven and then impossible to set straight and it also leaves white residue which ruins the jewellery and makes the stones look a different colour to the others.
INFORMATION ABOUT COLLECTABLE VINTAGE JEWELLERY
If you collect vintage costume jewellery, have a passion for antique jewelry and want to have an easy reference point I hope to be able to help with some facts, designer signatures, background information about jewellery manufacturers and artists and a list of jewellery terminology and definitions. I hope that this little cornucopia of information will be of interest and use to collectors and wearers of vintage jewellery. If you are looking at this information and feel that anything is inaccurate or you are a jewellery historian or collector who would like to add to what I have said or ask a specific question then please feel free to get in touch. If I can help with your enquiry I will and I would be delighted to learn from you! One of the joys of collecting vintage jewellery is meeting some of the lovely dealers and collectors who are so willing to share what they know with others. The more we can do this, the more we can enjoy our finds! The information I have here has been gathered from a lifetime of collecting and a couple of decades of dealing in vintage costume jewellery. I have learned the information that I share here from a whole load of sources - from conversations, museum visits, television and radio shows, reference books and documents, the internet, collectors society meetings and talks, specialist magazines and newspapers. This is an ongoing project and I hope that it will be a growing one. Please refer to the INFORMATION section for more........
February’s online shop of the month features Caroline Henney from ‘Bag the Jewels’. February 2012
· Tell us a little about yourself/your business.
My name is Caroline Henney and my website is www.bagthejewels.co.uk. I sell vintage costume jewellery, bags and accessories which date from the 19th Century onwards. My stock includes a wide range of items for ladies plus gent’s cufflinks and tie pins. The pieces are all genuinely old, in excellent wearable condition and some are very collectable. My business is based in Oxford city in the Antiques centre, and I also have cabinets in two other centres in the county. I am a regular stall holder at the London Vintage Fashion Fair, and I have to travel all over the UK to purchase my stock. I source pieces for film, TV and stage and give talks about vintage jewellery too. I have been running my business for around 20 years following a 15 year career as a PR Executive for marketing research company, A.C. Nielsen.
· Why did you setup your business, and what do you hope to achieve?
The business started out as a hobby when my daughters were tiny, and it has grown into a full time job. I set up the business as I value the flexibility, variety and challenges it presents. There is never a dull moment and there is always something to do! I like being my own boss and having a different pattern of work every day. I am a ‘people person’ and value the relationships that are built up with regular and new customers and other dealers. It is exciting to seek out interesting items and research them and then make a profit selling them. When I started out my business was in a very niche market, but I have seen it grow in popularity. High street stores, designers, celebrities and people from all walks of life are embracing all things ‘Vintage’. I think that this trend will continue and that the market for vintage goods will grow even more in 2012.
· Why did you choose ekmPowershop.com?
The internet and the opportunities it offers could not be ignored. I had dabbled a bit with Ebay but it wasn’t personal enough. I really wanted to have an online shop which was professional and looked good and was easy to customise with my logo and established image. It had to be simple in all respects so that a computer novice like me could use it with ease. I wanted to be in complete control of things but needed to know that I could rely on professional advice and back up when it came to the technical stuff. I talked to other people to find out what they were doing. I got quotes from several local experts who offered to set up and run my on line business for me. I couldn’t afford to use any of them, they were far too expensive. Then a fellow antique dealer recommended ekmPowershop.com. She was using the ekmPowershop.com for her business and her site looked perfect, and was very user-friendly. I played around with the ekmPowershop.com tutorial and liked what I could do. I looked into the costs and liked them even more! I had already purchased my domain name and it was simplicity itself to start my ekmPowershop.com online store.
· Do you have any “top tips” for using ekmPowershop, and ecommerce in general?
One of the best things that I have done is to have my SEO HealthCheck. Once you are running an online business you are bombarded with SEO companies offering to get you to the top of Google at great cost. The ekmHealthCheck taught me about the jargon and how to use Meta tags and titles etc. and to improve my descriptions – all of which have helped improve my website’s position, which in turn helps more customers to find me. Another top tip is to keep adding new and interesting content to your shop and to contribute to forums and link to other businesses that you like and trust.
· How has your experience with ekmPowershop.com been?
From day one ekmPowershop.com has consistently delivered a top quality service at a reasonable cost. It’s like getting Champagne but paying for sparkling wine – great value! I love the fact that ekmPowershop.com has a UK based call centre, meaning help is a simple phone call away. ekmPowershop.com’s team are experts and at the same time are extremely helpful and patient. Any issues that I have had have been promptly dealt with and my queries have been answered in full. There are no problems with billing and payment, ekmPowershop.com can be trusted. You don’t have to commit to a lengthy contract either. I like the way things have developed too. ekmPowershop.com doesn’t just create a service and leave it at that. There are improvements made, new features introduced and great feedback about what ekmPowershop.com are doing next. The tutorials are always easy to follow as well. I also feel confident that ekmPowershop.com will keep up to date with the latest developments meaning that my web shop can keep up with the latest advances too.
· How successful has your online shop been?
I have been delighted with the success of my online shop. It has given me exposure to a global market and has resulted in customers and enquiries from the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Russia, Japan, Europe and tiny little places I had hardly heard of before like the Faroe Islands! I also have customers visiting my units in the antiques centre and people offering to sell me interesting items because they have discovered me online. I don’t measure success in purely monetary terms as I am very proud of what I have achieved. Three years ago I was a beginner when it came to all things computer related and a technophobe too. Now I am running my own online business with confidence!
· Would you recommend ekmPowershop.com to others?
I would have no hesitation in recommending ekmPowershop.com.
· Do you have any other comments you feel might be useful?
To all the small businessmen and women out there who are thinking about getting on line with their own web shops then I would offer this advice: you should just ‘Go for It’ it will be easy with ekmPowershop.com.
From The Bead Society of Great Britain Journal 113 - Autumn 2013
Purrfect Plastic Pins from Paris
Caroline Henney of www.bagthejewels.co.uk takes a look at the whimsical work of jewellery designer Lea Stein
I love your brooch, where did you get it? I know I will get this response and be asked this question whenever I wear my Lea Stein pins. If you are not familiar with the work of this Parisian jewellery designer this may seem an odd boast. Those who own any of the fantastic plastic jewellery designed by Lea Stein will certainly have had a similar experience. What is it that makes Lea Stein’s work so appealing? I believe it is a magical combination of several ‘ingredients’. These brooches have great charm. The bright, vibrant colours are eye-catching and the shapes are simple, yet striking. The pieces are three dimensional and well made. With the brooches, the size varies with each design, but in general they tend to be large so are sure to be noticed! As a collector, seller and wearer of vintage costume jewellery I can also confirm that every brooch is so easy to wear. The back pins are placed in a sensible way and at different angles so that the brooch is well supported and sits on the garment without flopping forward. The brooches are also light, making them perfect to wear on summer linens or scarves but they are bold enough to sit on the chunkiest of winter coats making them suitable for every season.
Lea Stein has been creating fabulous plastic jewellery for more than six decades and she still introduces new designs to her range. Whilst best known for her distinctive brooches and pins, she also made beads and other items particularly in the early years. Lea Stein was born in 1931 in France and worked in the fashion industry. It is said she actually worked for Coco Chanel before starting her own business in 1957. Initially she was in the textile business but it was the production of buttons for the couture dress makers of Paris that established Lea Stein as a jewellery designer. Her husband, Fernand Steinburger, whom she married in the 1950s, was a chemist and it is he who is credited with the handling of the special material used to make their products. Lea Stein’s jewellery is generally made of Rhodoid. This is an early form of plastic material originally created by Rhone-Poulenc in 1917 and the name ‘Rhodoid’ is actually a trade name of the British Company May and Baker. It is essentially a form of transparent cellulose acetate. Steinberger’s discovery was that you could build up extremely thin multi layers of Rhodoid and then apply heat and a ‘baking’ process to create a striking effect. This layered plastic could be sculpted and cut or used like a sandwich to encapsulate lace, fabric and even glitter and minute grounds of pearl shell. The material could also be printed so floral ‘Liberty print’ or other designs could be applied. So this plastic formed the basis of the beads, buttons, hair combs, small accessories such as mirrors, rings, bangles and the brooches for which Lea Stein has become internationally famous.
Many myths surround the work of Lea Stein; her jewellery is sometimes purported to be really old or even described as genuine Art Deco! It is easy to see why people make this mistake as the material used is an early form of plastic and designs are often in the Art Deco style, particularly the range of pierrot and flapper head brooches and a cubist design cat brooch. The Lea Stein story is one of success, failure and then a ‘phoenix-like’ rise from the ashes to re-establish the business which is now strong today. We have a so-called ‘vintage’ period which covers the work from the beginning, through the heady years with more than 50 staff employed in Paris during the 1970s, until closure. The ‘vintage’ period refers to items produced from the late 1950s until 1981 when the company experienced financial difficulties and was forced to shut down. The failure was blamed on competition from Asia with cheap and cheerful jewellery available for little cost. However, some old stock remained and a USA dealer bought up a lot of it and established a following for Lea’s work in the USA. It is rumoured that at this time Lea Stein herself created clip on earrings in the form of cats’ heads as she had many of the heads remaining and decided to put them to good use! Eventually, in the late 1980s, Lea Stein ‘set up shop’ again and has traded successfully ever since.
I am often asked how you date Lea Stein jewellery. Following on from button production in the late 1950s the earliest Lea Stein jewellery was made in the 1960s, the 1970s was the heyday for her bangles, bracelets and beads. The beads that Lea Stein produced are very wearable and striking. Her bead necklaces are no longer made and are keenly sought by collectors, fetching high prices. The common thing about them is the distinctive striped effect they have. The lightness of the celluloid acetate enables the beads to be of a good size. Many colours are used and the shapes vary from the usual round beads, flat button discs, squares, triangles, cylinders and other abstract shapes. The styles are typical of the era in which they were made - Pop Art 1960s and 1970s. The bead necklaces usually fasten with a metal cylinder twist clasp and metal spacer beads in silver and gold colours are sometimes used too. It is interesting that Lea Stein still uses little striped round beads as the eyes and other details on her brooches.
The iconic fox pin was introduced in 1968 and it still remains one of the most popular of all her designs. Some early work such as the Serigraphy pins (which show ladies or floral pictures that have the look of miniature paintings) and the bangles, beads and buttons are all unsigned and are not in current production so it is easy to know they have some age to them. In the 1970s Lea Stein bought the right to reproduce some cartoon animal characters from a popular French TV show – L’ile aux Enfants (Isle of Children) and these were produced until 1975. With brooches it is difficult to establish if they are ‘vintage’ period or current as most of the back pins have remained the same ‘v’ shape and are marked simply ‘Lea Stein Paris’. Provenance can help, if there is proof that something was purchased 20 or 30 or even 40 years ago you know it is vintage but designs that have been produced in the past are now back in production today to meet popular demand. The more layers there are to a piece, the longer it took to make it and many of the earlier pieces have lots of layers. Also the assembly of the brooches allowed every piece of material to be employed so the backs of the brooches often have a patchwork effect of different laminates. I have noticed that pieces made in the last few years often have a completely plain black or white back to them.
Within the brooch collection there is a huge portfolio of subjects. Some have been given names by the artist with Buba being the owl and Gomina one of the cats and Ric the terrier dog and so on. Lea Stein must love animals - big and small, domesticated and wild, as so many of them feature on her designs. There are various cats, dogs, bears (including the panda which was launched at the same time as Edinburgh Zoo’s pandas had famously bred for the first time) , foxes, rabbits, hedgehogs, elephants, tortoises, horses, lions, panthers, alligators, frogs, fish, birds, butterflies, ladybirds and bugs. Then there are trees, including Christmas trees, flowers, a vintage car, hats and canes, handbags, musical instruments, books, geometric and heart shapes and a fantasy dragon. Even stars of screen and stage such as Elvis Presley and John Travolta, Scarlet O’Hara and Joan Crawford have had the Lea Stein treatment and have been immortalised in plastic! My own favourite pieces, introduced a few years back, are the two whispering fairy design brooches. Each has a bobbed hairdo and one has the wings of a butterfly the other the wings of a dragonfly. Other styles and designs have come and gone and new designs are introduced, each one eagerly sought by enthusiastic collectors.
The value of Lea Stein jewellery remains strong and I would advise the best way to buy is to purchase something when you see it as very clever marketing and distribution from the factory means that the designs and colours are sold in limited amounts and the making process ensures the individuality of every piece.
I find Ebay a useful resource for research and information. It is simple and free to use for this purpose as is Etsy. Both have the advantage of showing you a lot of items with descriptions and photos. Auction sites can also give a fair idea of current prices and availability. The price paid will indicate the desirability of an item and confirm that it is rare; especially those listings that have lots of bids and many collectors engaging in an ‘Ebay bidding war’ to secure their favourites! In September 2013 I took a quick look on www.ebay.co.uk I used the search word ‘Lea Stein’ and checked everything. On the day of my research there were 290 items listed and on the same day 241 listings on Etsy. The lowest priced pieces were groups of 4 unmatched small buttons with a cost of £16.16 for the 4 buttons available from France. Three different rare Serigraphy pins were available from the USA with a ‘Buy It Now’ price of £77.57 plus £5.82 postage for each pin. One set of beads cropped up at £170, some bangles and bracelets again very rare were offered with the most desirable being over £300 and others around the £120 upwards for one bangle. There were all kinds of brooches and pins and prices varied with some over the £100 mark, a lot at £60 plus, some in the £40 plus bracket and the cheapest at the time that I looked were two brooches each at £28. This was not a final price however it was a mid-auction amount and as each brooch had over 10 bids with a couple of days to go until the end I am sure they would go on to reach around £40 plus which is good value for a Lea Stein brooch of any kind.
Reference books are useful to collectors as are articles published in magazines and information gleaned from TV shows. Lea Stein jewellery has featured on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow programme and has also cropped up on Flog It! If you take the magazine ‘Homes and Antiques’ you may have seen a 3 page article written by Judith Miller about collecting Lea Stein, it was in the August 2011 issue . Earlier in June 2010 ‘The Plastiquarian’ magazine which is the journal of the Plastics Historical Society featured her work too. (If anyone has an interest in early plastics joining the PHS would be a smart move, more details at www.plastiquarian.com). Whilst Lea Stein’s work is referred to and photographed in a few of the collectable costume jewellery reference books, to date there is only one book completely dedicated to Lea Stein and that is written by Judith Just. Published in November 2001 by USA’s Shiffer Books (ISBN 0-7643-1381-90 it is a hardback book with a paper jacket in A4 size and landscape format. Its 160 full-colour pages consist of photos of Lea Stein jewellery, a little information and some price guides based on the American collectors’ market at the time of publication. I would personally like more facts and I believe the dates attributed to the designs are somewhat misleading as many of designs are still in current product. On the upside you have at your fingertips you have a whole group of Lea Stein items in photographic form which you can use to help assess your own collection and to aid you in deciding what you might like to add to it. The author uses photos of her own collection and has borrowed items from other collectors and dealers so the reader can be inspired by the colours, types and variety of pieces included. In summary, it is a nice glossy collector’s book which will always look good on your coffee table and you can dip in and out of it at leisure! It is still readily available from Ebay or Amazon and do look at all the listings as on the day I checked you could secure a new copy for as little as £25 including post and packing but it was also listed at £50 plus!
Lea Stein’s designs are distinctive but just recently I have seen a lot of cheap copies of her cat, fox and terrier pin. These are a much smaller size and the quality and type of thick plastic used make them obvious fakes to the discerning eye. I always have a good selection of genuine Lea Stein brooches on my web shop and in my units so if you are seeking a brooch then do look at www.bagthejewels.co.uk or email and I will see if I can help.