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Vintage Bakelite

Posted on 16 July 2015



Bakelite, or polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, is an early plastic. It is a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin, formed from an elimination reaction of phenol with formaldehyde. Bakelite is a trade name taken from its Swedish inventor, Leo Baekeland, who invented Bakelite in 1907.

Bakelite jewelry became especially popular in the 1930's and 1940's, after a wider assortment of colors were introduced.
Prystal is completely transparent non-marbled bakelite, produced in several colors, including green, red, pink, teal, purple and amber. The amber prystal is often called apple juice. Apple juice should be amber-clear, with no marbling. Root beer or tortoise can have marbling. Catalin objects include most brightly colored Bakelite jewelry.



There are many imitation pieces being sold as Bakelite. To determine if you have genuine Bakelite the two best tests are:

The Hot Water Test
  • Run the piece under hot tap water, or wear the bangle while you relax in the hot tub or shower.
  • If it smells a little like formaldehyde, it's Bakelite.
  • If it smells like camphor, it's Celluloid.
  • If it smells clean, or like nothing at all, it's Lucite or acrylic.
The Simichrome Test
  • Put a very small amount of Simichrome on with a cotton swab. Rub a tiny (1/4") spot on an unobtrusive place of the jewelry. Simichrome paste is pink, if it is genuine bakelite the cotton swab will turn yellow.


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