Thursday, December 10, 2009

Shopping for Bakelite

Bakelite bangles galore from Gaslight and Shadows Antiques

In an effort to make my blog a little more vintage focused I’m starting this series where I’ll provide tips for finding the very coolest vintage stuff. To get the ball rolling, I’m focusing on Bakelite because I just think it’s darn cool.

Dandy Bakelite silverware from Eddie Ross's blog

What is Bakelite? Bakelite was essentially the first kind of plastic ever made and because of it’s strength, it was widely used to make lots of stuff like purse handles, kitchen doodads, radios and of course my favorite jewelry! Although Bakelite is still produced in limited quantities today, the majority of Bakelite products you’ll find these days are vintage. Bakelite also comes in a range of colors and opacities. Part of the reason that I love it so much is because of the dark shades of yellows, greens and reds that are perfect for fall and winter weather.

Vintage Bakelite pin from Decatique Studios

Where to find it: eBay is a great place to find loads of vintage Bakelite pieces. Those crafty Etsy members have also used repurposed Bakelite to make some really unique accessories. Though many vintage sellers don’t have the most sophisticated websites (which makes sense I suppose) but if you can navigate through the sites, there are some great things to be found. and Citrus Avenue Collectibles have huge selections!

Custom Bakelite cufflinks from 19 Moons

Is it real? As a collectors item, Bakelite tends to be on the expensive side so there are several tests you can do to determine if that goodie that you’re pining for is real or an imposter. The first and easiest trick is to rub the piece with your fingers to warm it up. If it’s real, the heat will cause a chemicaley formaldehyde smell. You can also run it under hot water and wait for that same smell. Another way to test the authenticity of Bakelite is to knock two pieces together. If they’re both real, you’ll hear a deeper clunk sound as opposed to a lighter clink sound that comes from other plastics. If you’re hardcore enough about your Bakelite, you can also try the test that many experts use which is taking a cotton swab soaked in 409 and rubbing it on the piece in question. If the swab turns yellow, that means it’s real, if not, you may have a faker.

Bakelite ring by Petit Oiseau

Happy shopping!