Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bakelite – What is it and why is it Collectible?

(image courtesy of GasLightShadows.com)

Bakelite was invented in 1907 by Leo Hendrik Baekland. This unique thermosetting plastic was used in the 1930’s and 1940’s for a wide variety of products, ranging from utilitarian household items to costume jewelry. The cast resin material was heat resistant, and was originally used for electrical work and only available in a few select colors. 

By the 1930’s, however, these resins were being produced in a wide variety of colors. The versatile Bakelite material was inexpensive to produce, easily manipulated by artists and manufacturers, and easy to blend into most decorating schemes. Before long, Bakelite items were seen in every room of the house, serving every purpose imaginable. 

For the household, Bakelite clocks and telephones were popular, and were produced in a wide variety of modern colors and styles. The Bakelite telephones were especially popular in the UK, and were commonly seen in homes for quite some time. Kitchen utensils and cutlery featured Bakelite handles, napkin rings were made of brightly colored Bakelite, and napkin rings and other decorative table items were also made of this unique material. It was also used to produce personal items, such as razors with Bakelite handles, hatpins made of Bakelite, and mirrors and brushes with Bakelite handles. These items were functional, but also added a touch of beauty to the home.

During the Great Depression, Bakelite jewelry helped to brighten the lives of women who couldn’t afford precious metals. This inexpensive, colorful material became a popular fad, and items were created by the most known designers of the era and sold at popular retail stores such as Saks. The rings, necklaces, and Bakelite earrings were fun to wear and inexpensive to collect. Bakelite pins and brooches brightened up outfits everywhere - the resin could be carved into beautiful shapes and was easy to polish to a brilliant shine.

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