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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

The Susan Kelner Freeman Collection of Bakelite Jewelry for Bonhams Auction

Collectors with a fondness for the stylish, fun and whimsical Bakelite jewelry of the 1930s are eagerly awaiting Bonhams New York’s December 16th sale of the Susan Kelner Freeman collection of the Bakelite jewelry.

Discovered in the early 1900s, bakelite was the first completely synthetic plastic thatcould be produced in almost any color and molded to any shape- leading to a revolution in jewelry making. From the 20s-40s it was the most attainable accessory for many women. Due to its accessible price point, it was particularly popular during the Great Depression as it gave women an inexpensive way to the augment their wardrobes.

In great contrast to bleak images of the Depression era, much of the Bakelite jewelry was produced for consumers of modest means and was brightly colored and molded in fanciful, over-the-top designs often with movable parts. However, manufacturers also produced heavily carved faux coral, ivory, amber, and tortoiseshell pieces for the rich as well.

The December auction will feature nearly 300 lots from the New York collection of Susan Kelner Freeman, who thoughtfully selected the collection over the span of 40 years. With estimates ranging from $100 to $3,000 this no reserve sale is an extraordinary opportunity for collectors.

Exceptionally attractive to Bakelite aficionados will be the large selection of reverse painted bangles included in the collection. A prime example of this technique is a clear bangle depicting marine life (pictured, right). Estimated at $400/600, the piece is decorated with delicate gold fish surrounding waving underwater vegetation, giving the appearance that the wearer is sporting a miniature aquarium.

Another striking example of Bakelite style is a chic ‘berry’ cluster necklace (pictured at top). Made up of several, brightly colored ‘berries’ throughout the necklace and terminating in a riotous cluster at the center, the cheerful piece is estimated at $200/400.

Considered quintessentially “Bakelite”, are those pieces created in themes such as sports, patriotic, or even smoking. Representative of these styles are a necklace resembling a full collar made up of matchsticks, with colorful tips attributed to Martha Sleeper (est. $2,000/3,000) [pictured, left]; a patriotic bracelet featuring dangling stars and stripes (est. $600/800); and tennis player brooch (est. $200/300).

Also not to be overlooked is the large group of brooches being offered. Depicting everything from soldiers to polar bears, some great examples include a hand-painted cowboy twirling a lasso (est. $300/500); the “MacArthur Heart” brooch (est. $300/500); and a penguin with a swinging arm (pictured, right), which carries an estimate of $300/500.

The sale will be on view at the Los Angeles galleries from December 4-6. It will be on view at the New York galleries from December 12th until the sale, which will take place on December 16th at the Madison Avenue galleries at 1PM EST. The illustrated auction catalog for the sale will be online at in the weeks preceding the preview and auction. For more information about the department, please visit