Bakelite was an early plastic resin, developed by Leo Baekeland in 1907. Originally used for industrial purposes thanks to its ability to withstand heat, molded Bakelite and its cast cousin, Catalin, made the jump to costume jewelry in the 1920s and had their heyday in the 1930s and ’40s.
Costume-jewelry manufacturers were attracted to Bakelite for numerous reasons. First, it was hard enough to cut and polish, which made it a terrific choice for everything from brooches to beads to bracelets, its most popular application. Techniques ranged from scratching the surface lightly in repeated or decorative patterns to outright carving. Some carved pieces have deep valleys and furrows; others sport patterns that suggest the outside of a pineapple or the facets of a jewel.
Equally appealing was Bakelite’s range of colors, which were given names like Creamed Corn, Butterscotch, Egg Yolk, and Salmon. Some types of Bakelite were marbled—Mississippi Mud, Creamed Spinach, and Chocolate Sundae capture the character of these mixed hues beautifully. Less common was translucent Bakelite in Root Beer, Lime Jell-O, and Cherry Juice.
While some Bakelite costume jewelry was fashioned from solid blocks of a single color, many more began as laminated pieces, in which horizontal or zigzag layers of complementary colors were combined. Sometimes pieces were laminated to create polka dots; other times polka dots were hand painted on an object’s surface, and in the 1950s polka dots and gumdrop shapes were injected into Bakelite during the manufacturing process itself.
Of the brooches and pins, one of the most popular treatments during the Art Deco 1930s was to combine Ebony Bakelite—an imitation of the jet pieces from the Victorian era—with rhinestones or inlaid silver. Egyptian motifs were in vogue, as were pins in the shapes of animals (cats, camels, dogs, birds) and plants, especially flowers and clusters of dangling cherries. Especially collectible are the World War II era MacArthur Hearts, which consisted of a 3-by-3-inch key-shaped pin, from which dangled a puffy red heart with a keyhole in its center—it was sold with a card that read "He holds the key to my heart."
The most famous use of Bakelite in jewelry was as bracelets. Many of these were formed of large, block- or medallion-shaped beads that were strung together on strips of elastic. Other Bakelite bracelets were hinged, carved into the shapes of serpents, or left open at the back so they could be easily slipped onto a wrist. Some bracelets incorporated chrome accents into their designs, others combined Bakelite with Czech glass.
But the most collectible types of Bakelite bangles are the so-called Philadelphia bracelets, which take their name from a Philadelphia auction in 1985 that featured two of these remarkable pieces. Philadelphia bracelets are always laminated in colors that include green, red, and yellow. The best pieces are hinged, and feature either multicolor laminated wedges or individually colored slices that have been glued onto the bracelet body, which is usually a rich shade of Butterscotch.
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Antiques expert: It pays to knowJournal and Courier, October 17th
It will feature glassware, furniture, lighting, jewelry, toys, advertising and more from the 1800s until the 1950s -- encompassing styles such as art deco, arts and crafts and Victorian. Wanat will exhibit Depression era glassware, Victorian furniture...Read more
Gerry Frank's picks: Sausages and schoolhousesThe Oregonian - OregonLive.com, October 16th
Interesting glassware, pottery, porcelain, jewelry, linens, toys, household items, sports gear and memorabilia are displayed in every nook and cranny. If you'd like an explanation of merchandise such as Vaseline or Depression glass, Bakelite, match...Read more
Washington-area obituaries of noteWashington Post, October 15th
She co-authored two books, “The Bakelite Jewelry Book “(1988) and “Victorian Jewelry: Unexplored Treasures” (1991), and was a fashion writer and illustrator at the New Zealand-based fashion magazine Lucire from 2000 to 2008. In a review of the “The ...Read more
Treemont Retirement Community to welcome Antique Pickers BazaarChron.com, October 13th
The answer may become evident as they discover that Grandma's pottery vase, that favorite doll or other vintage toy, and odd pieces of costume jewelry have become collector's items. Who knew that a Trifari pin from the 1950s would be valuable, or that...Read more
Antiques showroom opens in downtown SeymourCT Post, October 3rd
Sometimes people need something like this to encourage them." One of the major attractions at the store is the 1930s Bakelite jewelry, which sells for anywhere from $100 to $500. "It's like the high end in plastic jewelry," Manillo said. "It's...Read more
Pioneering shutterbug Ari Seth Cohen hits Dallas in hot pursuit of Advanced StyleCultureMap Dallas, October 2nd
It can be the most over-the-top eccentric woman with wrists full of Bakelite bracelets, a beautiful hat and feature boa, or the most elegantly dressed woman on Madison Avenue. More than anything it's an attitude to aging. “You can tell by the way...Read more
Catalin Bullet radios are choice collectiblesPress of Atlantic City, September 19th
Question: Some years ago, you answered a question about a small Bakelite radio and I hope you can tell me something about mine. It is a rectangular tabletop model with one rounded end and measures 10 1/2 inches wide, 6 inches high and 5 3/4 inches ...Read more
Merging travel soccer clubs pondering new name, colorsJournal and Courier, September 18th
Sister and brother Ashleigh and Tyler Brubaker play for TIPPCO and GLRSA United. Ashleigh wears TIPPCO's home uniform, and Tyler sports GLRSA's road maroon. (Photo: Joe Gerrety/For the Journal & Courier ). 32 CONNECT 93 ...Read more