Incolay Boxes, Incolay Trinket Box

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 1970’s they had expanded and included jewelry boxes and a few music boxes to the Incolay line. Mr. Bright passed away 10 years after the company started. The company was sold at this point. 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 business was sold around 1976 after the passing of Mr. Bright production continued but the quality of the 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 were not used, they are heavy brass  with screws. The lid sits nice and even on the base due to 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, not by Incolay Studios. One last point to bring up is that Incolay Studios made only 3 hexagon boxes; a bear on lid, a doll on lid and a rocking horse on the lid. These boxes are also hinged.

Pieces made after Mrs. Bright sold the business are not as detailed and the hinges were glued on instead of held in place with a hinge. The product line was expanded to include small cameo brooches and similar items.

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, repairs, excessive dust or stains can bring it to a nice decorative item for the trash bin.

Written by Michelle Staley

Michelle Staley has over 35 years of experience as an antique collector, picker and dealer. She has done hundreds of insurance and IRS appraisals in addition to just satisfying another collector or dealer’s curiosity concerning what an item is, does or its worth. Other experience includes her work as a forensics consultant and in archeological identification and dating.

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  1. Patricia E Sechan

    I have some Incolay boxes where the hinge glue has dried out and the tops are off. Any idea what type of glue I can use to repair them ?

    • Michelle Staley

      Clean off the old glue, I use a razor blade and just a tiny bit of fingernail polish remover. BE CAREFUL. You don’t want to scratch the box or cut a finger off. Don’t let the polish remover get anywhere other than the area you are working on. I just use plain old Elmer’s glue. Do one side at a time, put some glue on the flat part of the hinge, wipe off any that gets on the working part of the hinge. You will need to apply pressure to the area until the glue dries and I use wax paper and a heavy glass. Good luck.

      • Actually Michelle there’s more you got wrong. Incolay started in 1967 and they made cufflinks. In 1972 they began to make boxes. And not just a few. They made 100’s. And I think you should have made a note that you got your info from my guide on eBay. Fake vs real incolay. Tina

        • Michelle Staley

          Tina, Thank you for taking the time to contact me. It has been a while since you submitted your comment and even longer since I posted the appraisal. I have tried to find the exact book where I got some of my information but have not been successful. I do know that it was from an early price guide, such as Warmans, back when price guides offered a lot of information and not just values. Most of the information was learned over the years spent as a dealer and appraiser. I can assure you that I did not use your information. I always ask prior to using information from an online source and I credit that source. I generally don’t use the Internet for information, it is easier for me to use reference books I own and can trust.

  2. I believe I have found an Incolay box. It’s rectangular in shape but no hinge and no felt. The lid sits over top of the base with an overhang. It’s blue in color with two unicorns on the lid. The label says Design Gifts International made in the USA. Is it worth anything?

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