Examples of Bakelite
It started with a cardboard box at a garage sale purchased for $1. In the box was a plastic jewelry set—a bracelet, ring and earrings—all in polka dots. That was the beginning of Maggie Turnipseed’s collecting Bakelite plastics. “There is something about the quality of the pieces. They are very smooth, and they come in a rainbow of colors,” said Turnipseed, a WorthPoint expert on a wide spectrum of collectibles and antiques from hatpins to Victorian jewelry to cast-iron doorstops.
“I wish I could collect just one thing, but I am always finding something new,” said Turnipseed, who is an antique dealer and an accredited appraiser of antiques and residential contents with the International Society of Appraisers. Her specialties are decorative arts, Victoriana, Victorian and Edwardian jewelry, American art pottery and Mexican sterling.
Bakelite wasn’t in her résumé, but Turnipseed applied her tried-and-true technique to the new collectible. “That’s how I usually start. I buy something that catches my eye, and then I try to learn everything I can about it,” she said. “The learning is the most fun.” For Maggie’s blog on Bakelite, click here.
It all began in the 1970s when as a college student Turnipseed became fascinated with hatpins. The pins at 9 to 18 inches (big enough to secure a large hat in thickly piled hair) were stylish and often decorated with gemstones and porcelain. “They were part of an elegant age, although they were really made to hold on a hat,” Turnipseed said.
Collecting something as small and obscure as a hatpin in the days before the Internet was a challenge, but over the years, Turnipseed continued gathering them, and today some hatpins sell for thousands of dollars. For more information on them, visit the American Hatpin Society.
From hatpins, Turnipseed moved on to chatelaines, purses worn on the waist that are the forerunner of the lady’s handbag; tussie-mussies, cone-shaped, flower holders carried by Victorian ladies; tea balls, the delicate, little metal-and-silver infusers for brewing tea; and Victorian jewelry.
“If there is a theme here, they are all very feminine items from the Victorian and Art Nouveaux eras,” Turnipseed said. They can also be described as the art and artifact of a genteel lifestyle now long gone.
The tussie-mussie, or nosegay, for example, had both practical and romantic applications. In the more odiferous Victorian Age, a time of soot, open sewers and carriage-horse droppings, the nosegay, held in hand by a finger ring, could provide a scented burst of relief. The flowers were also signs and symbols—the Langue of Flowers it was called. Pansies signified loving thoughts, mint warm feelings, ivy friendship. “Just think of putting the wrong flower in your tussie-mussie and sending the wrong message!” Turnipseed said. Click here to learn more about tussie-mussies.
Among Turnipseed’s newest collections is Victorian jewelry, which just like the Bakelite, began with acquiring a few random pieces that caught her eye. “It is the story of my life. I go to an antique show and get distracted. I should wear blinders,” she said.
Again, as she did with Bakelite, Turnipseed embarked on the study of Victorian jewelry, collecting books and price guides. “You just read and read,” she said. “The Internet has also made a big different because now you can see pictures of so many items.”
At the moment, Victorian jewelry and Victoriana are a buyer’s market. “Victoriana just is not ‘it’ right now,” Turnipseed said. It is a cautionary tale of the fickle nature of the collectibles market. “Art Deco and midcentury are hotter because that is what the young are collecting, if they are collecting at all.”
So Victoriana may be in that soft spot between really old and rare and really trendy and really a good buy. “I am hanging on to my collection,” Turnipseed said. “One day the market will turn. I’m betting on it.”
WorthPoint—Get the Most from Your Antiques & Collectibles