Monday, March 8, 2010

B is for Bakelite

Bakelite is an early form of plastic invented and manufactured by U.S. Chemist Leo Bakeland from 1907 through 1927. It consists of a phenolic resin made from carbolic acid and formaldehyde and as such it replaced the highly flammable Celluloid product which was popular at the time. The raw materials for Bakelite were ordered in blocks or cylinders and were individually crafted! From the late 1920's until the early 1940's everything from cutlery and serving handles to pins, rings, bangles, and buttons were crafted in Bakelite. As an opaque, plastic-like material, Bakelite was produced in a myriad of colors, with the most common being white, red, green and brown. The cool part is that with age and oxidation a patina develops resulting in a completely different hue from the original color. White turns to butterscotch or yellow, pink to orange, and light blue to dark green. An amber color occasionally found is called 'apple juice'. Here are some tips for identifying and testing authentic Bakelite versus plastic:
  1. A 'clink' sound when two bracelets tap together
  2. A dense weight to the piece
  3. Formaldehyde scent when rubbed
  4. Scratches and chips are common
  5. Formula 409 or Scrubbing Bubbles applied to a cloth and rubbed on Bakelite will turn cloth yellow
The labor intensive process of making Bakelite led to its downfall and after WWII mass production of plastics became the economical and modern way. As such, Bakelite presents itself as something very cool and artistic to live with. Prices fluctuate widely depending on the rarity of a particular object produced. I recently came across a Bakelite Orange Random Dot Bangle bracelet listing for $5,800.00! Happy Hunting! - and a grateful Thank you to Patty Hughes for sharing her lovely collection.

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