Bakelite is a combination of phenolic resin with formaldehyde and was the first thermosetting plastic. It was cast - not moulded - so never has a mould mark. Customers ask me how to tell an article is bakelite. There are many things to look for. Weight - it is heavier than other plastics. Patina - it is very highly polished. Design and colour - this comes with experience! The clink it makes when knocked against another piece of bakelite. The fittings - hinges, screws, rivets and pins - should be period. Also the smell! Sometimes just rubbing the piece will produce the bakelite smell. Otherwise hot water helps. Celluloid smells like camphor, galalith smells like burnt milk and bakelite smells horrible! It is often possible to test with a car metal cleaner. Most people use Simichrome cream - which can be bought on Ebay. Autosol will also work and can be bought in a car accessories shop. When rubbed on a piece of bakelite the cream should turn yellow. (Simichrome is pink and Autosol is white). For some reason this does not always work. Beware the modern copies - in modern plastic, and the reworked bakelite pieces. This is fine if you like the piece and are told - when buying - what it is. It is not good if you pay the price for an old, difficult to find, piece of bakelite and it turns out to be something else! (With reference to The Bakelite Jewelry Book by Corinne Davidov and Ginny Redington Dawes - Abbeville Press.)

Copyright © 2010 Gillian Horsup

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