How to Tell Bakelite

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Bakelite was an inexpensive and very useful plastic invented by Leo Hendrik Baekeland in 1907. It was the first useful lightweight plastic that could be molded and formed for any number of uses. Bakelite products were a boon during the gloom of the Great Depression, and everything from kitchen gear to radios to toys to whimsical jewelry was made out of it. The original Bakelite items are very collectible and unfortunately, there are many look-alike products that get taken for Bakelite, but are just cheap imitations.

Things You'll Need

  • Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner
  • Cotton swab
  • Familiarize yourself with as much of the Bakelite markings and the placement of those markings as possible before going out to look for Bakelite items.

  • Hold the piece in question in your left hand and with your right hand, take your thumb and rub it over the piece. Remove your hand from the piece, and smell your thumb. It should smell faintly of formaldehyde or carbolic acid. Learn to recognize this smell if you want to collect Bakelite

  • Fill a receptacle with hot water, and immerse the piece into the water (do not do this with pieces that have rhinestones). Once you do this, you should again get the faint smell of formaldehyde or carbolic acid.

  • Put some Scrubbing Bubbles bathroom cleaner on the end of a cotton swab. Touch it to an inconspicuous place on the piece. Look at the end of the swab. Real Bakelite should make it turn yellow.

  • Purchase books that discuss in detail the distinguishing marks and colors of real Bakelite. Bakelite is expensive to collect, so the more knowledge you acquire the less you will be taken in by unscrupulous dealers.

Tips & Warnings

  • Take a Bakelite collector's guide with you when looking for Bakelite products.
  • Never take someone's word for authenticity of Bakelite. Check it out before paying for it.

References

  • Photo Credit Iconographic/Photodisc/Getty Images
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