Merry Martha Sleeper Jewelry & Fashions

At first I was going to post this photo of Clara Bow posing by a Christmas tree because of the fabulous decorations and stuffed toys; but once I saw this photo of Martha Sleeper I was equally smitten!

Martha Sleeper was a silent film star in the 1920s and, in the 1940s, a Broadway actress. But collectors may know her best as a jewelry designer.

Her whimsical designs in Bakelite, wood and metal were mass-produced by the New England Novelty Company. (Decades later, in the 1970s, Andy Warhol would find and adore her creations, amassing one the largest collections and resurrecting the demand for vintage Bakelite jewelry in general.)

These are snippets on Sleeper’s jewelery from a beauty and fashion column published in the Mansfield News Journal on April 17, 1940:

An ad for Martha Sleeper’s jewelry found in the Racine Journal Times November 10, 1939 — only $1!

Another ad, with an image, of Sleeper jewelry designs; The Salt Lake Tribune, October 10, 1941:

In 1949, Sleeper and her husband sailed on a 40-foot schooner from from New York for a vacation in the Virgin Islands, but when she reached Puerto Rico she fell in love with the island — and stayed. By 1950, Sleeper had given up making jewlery (“too tedious”) for making fashions and had opened “Martha Sleeper Creates,” a boutique at 101 Fortaleza St. in Old San Juan.

The shop began “with two dozen hand-made skirts and three dozen blouses  and filled up the gaps in the place with plants. People thought I had a florist shop and for the first year, I couldn’t sell anything but greens .” (Quotes from Cumberland Evening Times, May 27, 1955; below.)

By 1955, her fashions, and accessories such as purses etc., were exported to other islands and the mainland.  Below is an article from Billings Gazette, July 1, 1964, on Martha Sleeper’s lace fashions:

By 1964, Sleeper is said to have also opened a shop in Palm Beach, Florida.

Image Credits:

Vintage Martha Sleeper birds on twig pin from Decotini.

Vintage Martha Sleeper matchsticks necklace and bracelet set via ModBag.

Pair of vintage Bakelite cat pins by Martha Sleeper via halsll.

Black Martha Sleeper Creates label via Vintage Fashion Guild Forums.

White Martha Sleeper Creates For You label from Bonnie & Clyde’s Treasure Trove Vintage.

Published by

Deanna

Deanna is the founder of Inherited Values, among other sites. She is also an antique dealer.

14 thoughts on “Merry Martha Sleeper Jewelry & Fashions”

  1. I lived 28 years in puerto Rico and I remember my Mom going to San Juan to Martha Sleepers to get her wrap blouses-she had one in every color! i wish I had saved them!! I remember her shop as being colorful and bright ! memories-!! is there anywhere you know of that miht still have some of her clothes? Thanks so much !!

  2. I have been working on a biography of Martha Sleeper for awhile and would appreciate any input anyone might have regarding her various careers in film, on stage, as a jewelry designer and as a clothing designer. I presently have her own scrapbook and some of her archives as well as several examples of her costume jewelry and some dresses from her shop in San Juan. I am certainly interested in any recollections anyone might have regarding Martha and her work. She was a multi-talented woman and her story deserves to be told. Please feel free to contact me – your assistance is appreciated and I thank you…

  3. I also remember Martha Sleeper’s boutique in Old San Juan, living in the area through my teen years. My mother owned and wore several of her originals that reminded me of mumus with brilliant oranges and blues. They were called something specific but I no longer recall what!

  4. THIS EMAIL IS FOR BOB DUNCAN. I have been a friend of Martha Sleeper and Cree Stelling, Martha’s third husband since the late 50’s. I can give you a lot of history about them. Please if you would like to call me since there is a lot to say that email might take so long. Here is my cell # 843-812-8010.

  5. My mother worked Howard Cree & Martha Stelling for many years. I assisted occasionally. Lovely people.

  6. I believe I have a pin made by Martha Sleeper. If I send you a photo could you confirm whether it is a Martha Sleeper pin. Also, could you tell me what it would be worth?

    Thanks for your time!

    Diane

  7. Martha Stelling was a very dear friend of mine for several years in
    Beaufort South Carolina. I remember her charm and kindness. We
    had a beautiful friendship. So many fond memories on Lucy Creek.
    Cree and Martha will forever be in my thoughts and my heart. I will
    never forget our time together..Thank for letting me share.
    Rick Smith Denver Colorado.

  8. This is so interesting. I am a puerto rican art curator and historian. It called my attention to see one of our vintage “carteles” (posters) announcing a play in Teatro Tapia (San Juan) featuring Martha Sleeper. I did some quick research and was amazed at the interesting life and work of this creative and talented artist. And for her love for Puerto Rico. I wish i could post the photo of the poster here.Thanks for the information.

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