Discover Vintage America - APRIL 2017
Yearly reflections, advice and a contest!
Q: I found this pretty oval box with fighting unicorns on the lid at a thrift store. It has a hinged lid, velvet lining inside and the bottom has a foil label that says "Incolay" and the same word is also on the back underneath the hinge of the box. I think that this is some type of soapstone or maybe porcelain but it is difficult to tell. I did not pay much for it but knowing a value would be great. Thank you, L.S.
A: Real Incolay products are getting hard to find so kudos on finding one. There are a great many knockoffs to be had and unlike most items it is very easy to tell the difference when it comes to Incolay.
Incolay (an acronym of "in layers of color") is made-up of a variety of crushed minerals and the end result is a marble looking substance. The founders, E.M. Bright and his wife, developed the process to create inexpensive cameo-style jewelry beginning in 1966 in their California home. By the early 1970s, they had expanded and included jewelry boxes and a few music boxes to the Incolay line. I have seen decorative plates issued by Bradford Exchange, aka Bradex, but I believe that these were made after the original owners sold the business.
It is difficult to find any historic information on the company but the Brights sold the business at some point and production continued. In my humble opinion the quality of subsequent wares was not up to par with the Bright's creations.
As mentioned above it is very easy to tell real Incolay from the knockoffs. Foil labels can come off but true Incolay has the name clearly marked on the back underneath the hinge. All Incolay boxes are lined inside with velvet and have hinged lids. Cheap hinges are not used; they are all heavy brass and they are glued into place, but on the bigger boxes screws were used to hold the hinge in place. The lid sits nice and even on the base, and because of the manufacturing process the lids do not warp over time.
Real Incolay is heavy; it may look lightweight until you go to pick it up.
Incolay is an American made product and if the label says otherwise, it is not true Incolay. A metal rim around the edges of the lid or box indicates that is was not made by Incolay Studios. One last point: Incolay Studios made only three designs for hexagon boxes; a bear on lid, a doll on lid and a rocking horse on the lid. These boxes are also hinged.
The value on Incolay Studio pieces is still affordable with most items selling in the $20-$40 range. Large boxes fetch around $60 and pieces with the original booklet can add $25 to the price. Now there are a few large music boxes that can bring several hundred dollars. Condition is everything with Incolay wares; so repairs, excessive dust or stains can take a nice decorative item to the trash bin.
Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.
Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to www.michelleknowsantiques.com for a one-on-one appraisal.