This is an old post from back-in-the day when eBay had blogs. Glad I saved it, apparently I had a lot to say on it!
Developed between 1907-1909 by Dr. Baekeland, Bakelite become popular in the 1920’s to make everything imaginable! It was even considered during WWII to be used for the penny as the copper casings were needed for bullets but steel was used instead and then recycled shell casings.
Bakelite became very popular for kitchen items, radios, Fender guitars, jewelry, pocketbook handles,anything you would find in and even outside your household! Bakelite has become a highly sought after collectible and due to this, is getting harder to find but you still can find it if you know what you are looking for!
Bakelite can be found in a variety of forms and colors. The most common colors are butterscotch and pea green and tend to cost the least. You should be able to find plain bangles at reasonable prices but expect to pay more (or make more) on highly detailed and carved pieces of jewelry. Look for the swirled or “end of day pieces”. To avoid wasting the plastic, at the end of the day, if small batches remained, they were mixed together for a unique look.
Watch out for “fake” vintage Bakelite items! These are items are often marriages of several pieces of old stock Bakelite. Some have even gone so far as to carve plain bangles to resemble older pieces. Granted they are actual Bakelite but these are not original designs. One item that is very often used to create new Bakelite designs are Mah Jong tiles – a lot of crafters collect these and make stunning bracelets and necklaces from them. Also, unused cubes of Bakelite can be purchased and those that are savvy with jewelry making have been making new Bakelite pieces from Old Stock.
Then there is the actual “Fakelite”, a product made to pass the 409/Simichrome tests! If there are carvings, look for a chalky appearance in the carvings. It appears to be dust but does not come off when washed. The other test is the familiar clunking sound when two pieces of Bakelite are gently tapped against each other.
So you found an item that you think might be Bakelite but you don’t know 100% for sure. There are several ways to test Bakelite and only you can determine which way works best for you. Also, you need to check with a dealer before running these tests. Most will have such items handy to stand behind their product. On eBay, watch for many items which are listed as Bakelite under plastic with a ? mark, these items usually are not such, it is keyword spamming. Most Bakelite sellers on eBay will back-up the claim in their listing that the item tested positive.
Simichrome or 409: apply a small amount of either to a soft white cloth (tissue, cotton swab). Touch a small area of the piece (the inside of a bangle, back of a brooch) with the cloth/swab. If the piece is vintage Bakelite, the white area of the cloth/swab will become yellow. This may not work on some black pieces and lacquered items. (if it is not real Bakelite, Simichrome will take the paint right off an item so be careful.)
Some people like the sniff test – either place the item in hot water or rub with your thumb to get some heat. If it smells like camphor or tobacco, it is Bakelite.
Sight, feel and the clunking sound – find a reputable Bakelite dealer and let them educate you! Touch the items, examine them, become familiar with the plastics look and feel. This costs nothing, most dealers love to share their knowledge so don’t be shy.
Want to know more? Check out The Bakelite Jewelry Book by Corrine Davidov or the more recent Bakelite Bangle by Karima Parry.