Bakelite (Bay-ka-lite) was created as a replacement for Shellac. It is an early form of plastic. It was created by Dr. Leo Baekeland. He started the Bakelite Company in 1910. Bakelite was fashionable during the Depression. It was in its glory days in the 1930’s and 40’s. Bakelite was first used on pool balls, insulators, buttons, and many other items.
Bakelite comes in over 100 individual solid colors and in three forms; transparent, translucent or opaque.
There is also "Marbled Bakelite"-
which is a combination of two or more solid colors in a swirled pattern,
"Apple Juice Bakelite"-
which is simply clear Bakelite that has oxidized, and
which is Bakelite with flecks of metallic materials the size of either confetti or fine glitter throughout.
Bakelite is most commonly found in the Apple Juice color.
There is also a color alternately called “Jazz” or “Variegated”, it is what was left over at the end of the day all muddled together, hence the more common name “End of Day”. Bakelite is easily carved by hand and machine.
Remember our blog post about using your five senses
to identify real vs. fake vintage items?
Here’s how you can use a few of those senses to identify Bakelite;
Rub a piece between your thumb and your hand, until it gets warm, and then smell it.
Bakelite should smell like burnt hair or formaldehyde. Immersing the item in hot water should have the same effect of bringing out the smell. Also, Bakelite should be slightly heavy.
When hitting two pieces together there should be a “clunk” sound. If you hit Bakelite and say, rubber, together it will sound differently. Make sure both items are either in your hands or both sitting on the same surface. Don’t place one on the counter and one in your hand, or it won’t work (Ask me how I know this). ;)
Take a q-tip and dip into “Formula 409” or “Scrubbing Bubbles” bathroom cleaner and rub the Bakelite, it should turn yellow. Bakelite colors will change with age. A turquoise will become green. Black Bakelite is harder to test.
Older pieces of Bakelite will have minor scratching and wear.
When I started this post, I only knew of one item in our store that was Bakelite. Before the blog was completed we have found at least four more items made from Bakelite.
The hunt for the Bakelite,
the testing of the items, and
the correlation of the information
made for an enjoyable afternoon.
Teaching is the best form of learning.
Go for a hunt and see if you can find some
interesting way Bakelite was used!