One of my old friends Victoria, has a house full of Bakelite collectibles. Visiting her is like stepping back in time and touring the coolest Retro Museum.. I never knew about Bakelite until I met her in the 1980's. Another friend and I were talking tonight on the phone and collectibles came up in the conversation...thus here is a story on the awesome Retro plastic...Bakelite XRK
Bakelite or polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, is an early plastic. It is a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin, formed from an elimination reaction of phenol with formaldehyde. It was developed by Belgian-born chemist Leo Baekeland in New York in 1907.
One of the first plastics made from synthetic components, Bakelite was used for its electrical nonconductivity and heat-resistant properties in electrical insulators, radio and telephone casings, and such diverse products as kitchenware, jewelry, pipe stems, and children's toys.
Bakelite was designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark in 1993 by the American Chemical Society in recognition of its significance as the world's first synthetic plastic. The "retro" appeal of old Bakelite products have made them collectible. Bakelite was found to be easily molded and cast. Once it was cast, it could not be melted.
Shortly after bakelite jewelry caught on, the Great Depression of the '30s occurred. Money was scarce; women were looking for an inexpensive way to refurbish their old wardrobe and give it a new look; bakelite was the answer. One could find this unique jewelry in almost any color: red, green, and butterscotch being the most common. Bakelite jewelry added a cheery note to a bleak time in our history.
Bakelite was not only bought by people with little money, it was also accepted by the very rich. Manufacturers produced bright, massive, heavily carved pieces. Designer pieces, produced on a very limited basis, sold in departments stores in the '30s for around $10, a hefty price in those days. These pieces, understandably scarce today, were often decorated with metal, rhinestones, or additional plastic ornaments.
There seems to be no limit to the shapes found in Bakelite. Miniature fruit is quite common: pears, oranges, cherries, carrots, bananas, etc. Among the animals that are found, horses and dogs are most common.
Bakelite was used to imitate tortoiseshell, amber, and even gemstones. It was dyed to imitate coral and looked so believable that it often has to be tested to tell the difference. (Coral test: place a drop of lemon juice on the jewelry and if it bubbles and is effervescent it is coral; if not, it might be bakelite among other things.)
Bakelite was originally used for industrial purposes, until jewelry makers found that its light weight made Bakelite a perfect choice for designing and manufacturing inexpensive bracelets, rings, pins and other jewelry.
Bakelite jewelry became especially popular in the 1930's and 1940's, after a wider assortment of colors was introduced. The new batch of Bakelite colors captured the imagination of more and more jewelry companies. Coco Chanel was one famous designer who offered Bakelite jewelry and accessories.
How much is your Bakelite worth? It depends on the piece, and the demand for specific collectibles is an everchanging thing. Search for Bakelite on ebay to get an idea of current pricing. Read the descriptions carefully--some are fakes. Don't be afraid to ask the seller for verification that the piece is truly Bakelite, and always check a seller's feedback rating before you bid.