Antiques Dealer Turns 13 Tons of Bakelite Turns into Thriving Business

A selection of the unique handmade Bakelite jewelry for sale at Karen Kronimus’ booth at the West Palm Beach Antiques Festival.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – You’re bound to meet all kinds of people when attending an antique show, and the stories about how they came to become dealers is as varies as where they acquired their merchandise. One vender with an interesting story who will be attending the West Palm Beach Antiques Festival on Aug. 6-7 at the South Florida fairgrounds is Karen Kronimus.

Kronimus has been around the antiques business most of her life. As a child and teenager she attended shows and auctions with her mother who was a dealer, becoming what she calls an original American Picker, going to rural auctions and first scouting out the outbuildings for hidden treasures for her mother.

As a newlywed, she did antiques shows on her own on the weekends and held a variety of regular jobs during the week, including working in a hardware store and on a thoroughbred horse breeding farm.

But it was a break she stumbled upon 15 years ago that got her business going full throttle. She had the opportunity to acquire the entire leftover stock of a Bakelite factory that was going out of business. Not really knowing what to do with it but not wanting to miss a chance, she acquired 13 tons of Bakelite stock in the form of raw bars and unfinished inventory like dice without the pips and incomplete sets of dominoes and lots of domino blanks.

With her father as an accomplice, she set out to drill correct patterns in the faces of the blank dice and insert colorful beads. She also drilled and painted blank dominoes to complete unfinished sets. On the first weekend she set up at a show to sell her Bakelite inventions, she sold $11,000 worth of dice, dominoes and poker chips. Those items are now part of the inventory she displays at West Palm Beach, along with Bakelite bracelets and other jewelry she and her father make. All of the jewelry is signed by Karen or her father, so as not confuse any of her work with original Bakelite object.

But there is a lot more to Karen’s booth than just Bakelite. She also is a serious postcard collector and dealer with more than 20 boxes of postcards in her booth at any festival. She also has 24 showcases of costume jewelry and a staggering array of buttons, as well as tables with shelves to display glassware and silver. She estimates she displays more than 10,000 individual items in her booth.

And you can’t miss her. Hers is one of the first tables you see when entering the festival. She feels like she has two chances at customers— coming and going. Often, she makes a sale to a customer on the way out when they didn’t find what they wanted inside. Her best-selling items in general are her costume jewelry because she believes people are afraid to wear their real gems in public. She is happy to buy or trade with a customer and is happy to give an informal opinion of the authenticity and value of a customer’s items.

The next West Palm Beach Antiques Festival is slated for Aug. 6-7 (with two more shows scheduled for Sept. 3-4 and Oct. 1-2. The popular “Early Buyers Admission” ($10 and is good for both days of the show) feature begins at 9 a.m. on Saturday before the regular opening time of 10 a.m. Adult daily admission $7, seniors $6. Anyone 16 or younger is admitted free. There is no charge for parking at the fairgrounds.

The West Palm Beach Antiques Festival is held at the South Florida Fairgrounds located off Southern Boulevard in West Palm Beach, Fla., 1.5 miles west of the Florida Turnpike and 1 mile east of 441/SR7. For more information call 941.697.7475, e-mail to info@wpbaf.com or visit the West Palm Beach Antiques Festival website.

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  1. Lisa Mull says:

    Hi!
    Is there a website where I can shop for these wonderful goodies? Do you ever come out West for shows (Colorado)? If not, will you please?

    Thanks!

    Lisa