Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Celluloid Blossoms

This Valentine's Day, how about a basket of flowers? Celluloid flowers, that is. I picked up this brooch at an estate sale recently, and in researching it, I have been enjoying serious eye candy.

See at Wire 9 Vintage
 Celluloid, like Bakelite and Lucite, is a plastic that can be turned into incredible, jewel-like objets d'art. Unlike the other two well-known and collectible plastics, celluloid has been around for a very long time, first patented around 1870. Its creamy, slightly yellow appearance, its light weight, and its ability to be molded into intricate designs made it a perfect substitute for ivory. It would come to grace many boudoirs in the early 20th century in the form of vanity sets of brushes, mirrors, combs, hair catchers and manicure sets. I'm lucky enough to have my great aunts mirror with her initials (maiden name, of course!) on the back. I use this mirror daily, and this certainly is on my "what if there was a fire" lists of things to grab on the way out the door (after the kids!).

Probably from around 1915, and in use everyday!
 I suspect most of us into vintage *anything* has a similar mirror. If you don't, and you want one, these are quite common, and usually affordable. Of course, condition can be tricky, not only with celluloid, which can be treated shamefully through the decades, but with mirrors that can crack, completely break, or their silver can deteriorate.

Another celluloid treasure I have, also comes from Aunt Floy:

Isn't this a sweet little cameo, probably dirt cheap when it was made! But...check this out. I never thought to look around for information on this little beauty, since it's just been part of my life since I was about 16 or so. But in looking at it again for this post, I did a little search for "celluloid cameo pendant" and found some lovely ones, but none like mine...until this one, which I must say puts mine to shame (ooo...I thought I needed to clean it!), but does tell me, perhaps, that there used to be a fantastic chain with it!

Find this sweetie here: cameo. From about 1920.
Isn't that gorgeous?! But that little flower brooch up there also has another interesting aspect to it: It was made in Occupied Japan, which means it dates to a long time after celluloid actually had gone out of fashion. But a lot of sweet celluloid jewelry and toys was produced in those years, from 1945 to 1952.

This is what it looks like on a vintage-inspired jacket, pink, of course, for Valentine's Day:

Because celluloid is not the sturdiest of materials (but its delicacy is such a big part of its beauty...), extreme care must be taken in cleaning these pieces.While they are probably a lot tougher than they look for everyday handling (I can't tell you how many times I've dropped my precious mirror over the years!), chemically, they can be delicate. It's made of nitrated cellulose pulp (from cotton or even paper by-products) and camphor(from the Cinnomomum Camphora tree, hence that special odor it has, even when warmed up with a little rubbing). Both of these are soluble in a variety of liquids, including alcohol, acetone, naptha, turpentine, and mineral spirits (think nail polish remover and hairspray, among other things!). But it's so beautiful, it's worth a bit of care, I think. For more information about the care of celluloid, and for some serious eye candy, check out Celluloid Collectors Reference and Value Guide, available here. Obviously, the values might be outdated a bit, but there is a ton of great information.

P.S. I apologize for the wonkiness of the blog. I'm undergoing a slow and annoying redesign. I hope to "look right" again very soon!

1 comment:

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