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.
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.