Colorful and collectable, bakelite en masse is auctioned at Bonhams in Los Angeles


Every now and then a little auction comes along that sums up what’s going on culturally and stylistically. This is the case with Bonhams” Bakelite: Mario Rivoli’s Lifetime Collection which will go under the hammer on January 12, 2022 in Los Angeles. It’s daring, colorful and striking. It’s upbeat and playful. It’s vintage, something that novice and newbie collectors are increasingly interested in because of their durability and the different time periods they might be drawn to. Although we have a revival in the 60s and 70s in fashion and jewelry and Bakelite was patented in the 1900s and more popular in the 1920s to 1940s, the whimsical and vivid nature and materials made a back through those colorful decades. It was also at this time that the owner of the collection, Mario Rivoli, began his fascination with Bakelite in New York City and became a longtime collector.

“Designed with strong geometric Art Deco influences, this particular style first gained notoriety at the 1984 Art Deco Salon in Philadelphia, PA, when it was purchased for $ 250. At the time, this was an unprecedented price paid for Bakelite. Today, the “Philadelphia” bracelet remains one of the most sought-after bakelite jewelry. explains Bekka Saks, specialist at Bonhams.

Saks continues, “This collection is undeniably special both in size and comprehensiveness in covering the variety of styles of bracelets that have been made, such as ‘point’, ‘zigzag’ and ‘bow tie’. It’s as impressive as a collection of this size and quality [328 lots] could be created before the Internet was a buy option. If you think of all the real estate sales, trade shows, and other possible buying avenues the collector would have gone to for many decades, it’s amazing. It is clear that an artistic eye and a lot of time have been devoted to the conservation of this collection.

Mario Rivoli himself created sartorial art in the 1960s and 1970s. Saks continues: “Rivoli had an eye for intriguing design and his own work is featured in many distinguished private, corporate and public collections, including including those of Elton John, the late Leona Helmsley, the Whitney Museum of Art in New York, the Museum of International Folk Art and Kaiser Permamente in Denver. He has exhibited in galleries in Colorado, New York, Maine and California. In addition, he organized an exhibition of his various “Collections of 100 Things” at the Art Museum in Pueblo, Colorado. Mario’s work has been included in Julie Dale’s landmark book “Art To Wear” and in the 2020 exhibition “Off the Wall: American Art To Wear” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Bonhams catalog describes Bakelite as “recognized as the world’s first fully synthetic plastic. From the 1920s it became a popular material for jewelry, and designers such as Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli used it for jewelry and for specially designed dress buttons. Since the 1920s-1940s, Bakelite has been an exceptionally popular way to stylishly accessorize any wardrobe, home, or lifestyle.

There are some designers who continue to work with Bakelite today, but very few. Vintage Bakelite has steadily appreciated over time and the rarest pieces have become rare and more difficult to find. This collection includes everything from jewelry to napkin rings and salt shakers, from geometric Art Deco patterns to more ironic fruits and vegetables, in a range of unique and vivid hues.

Sak explains, “The hard plastic material of Bakelite allowed it to be cut, polished and shaped, making it ideal for whimsical fruit designs like this. Red is one of the most sought-after bakelite colors, and the classic cherry pattern is one of the most popular shapes of bakelite, forming a perfect pair in this eccentric ball. Its unique and flamboyant style would be a great addition for new and experienced Bakelite collectors.

She continues: “Also known as the ‘Material of 1000 Uses’, Bakelite was not only used to produce sartorial art. In fact, various household items were also made from bakelite, including these ergonomic salt and pepper shakers. The fact that they are designed not only to fit together, but also to mix and match between sets makes them an even more coveted collector’s item.