Vintage Bakelite and Catalin Radios

When many people think of plastic Art Deco radios, the word Bakelite immediately comes to mind. That’s understandable enough, since Bakelite was the first molded plastic used in radios, and it’s the oldest of the most common early-20th-century industrial plastics, the others being Catalin, Plaskon, and Beetle.

One of the limitations of Bakelite for 1930s designers was its dark color. Bakelite radios from that period are invariably brown or black, the product of their carbon-based ingredients, phenol and formaldehyde, being mixed into a resin, cooled and crushed, and then heated again under intense pressure, a process called thermosetting. Marbling and other surface variations could be produced by adding fillers to the recipe, from rags to sawdust, but the earliest Bakelite radios were somewhat somber in appearance.

The look of plastic radios changed dramatically, however, when Plaskon was introduced in 1933. Originally developed by the Toledo Scale Company as a replacement material for its heavy porcelain and iron scales, Plaskon allowed radios to be white or beige.

While some Plaskon radios were also made in colors such as red, the plastic most associated with brilliant hues was Catalin, which could be dyed in a variety of colors. Catalin radios were cast rather than molded, which meant their edges and seams had to be finished by hand. Initially used in costume jewelery (many so-called "Bakelite bangles" are really made of Catalin), by 1937 Catalin was favored by radio manufacturers such as Emerson and Fada to create colorful cabinets, behind which hid their radio’s wiring, speaker, and tubes.

Because Catalin was cast as a solid resin with no reinforcement, cracks were common, making surviving pieces highly collectible. Also, many of the originally vibrant colors have faded, due to the lack of UV light protection in the resin.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Deco Radios

Deco Radios

Tune in to Steve Davis' collection of 1930s and 40s Art Deco style radios, featuring stunningly crisp high resoluti… [read review or visit site]

Jim's Antique Radio Museum

Jim's Antique Radio Museum

Jim Tripp's showcase of radios from the 1920s to late 1950s, organized by style and theme (wood, console, plastic, … [read review or visit site]

The Radio Attic's Archives

The Radio Attic's Archives

This photo gallery of over 7800 vintage radios, categorized by manufacturer and model number, is a group effort wit… [read review or visit site]

AntiqueRadios.com

AntiqueRadios.com

Alan Voorhees' reference resource for vintage radio collectors includes a photo gallery, article library, PDF archi… [read review or visit site]

Radiomuseum.org

Radiomuseum.org

This vast archive and community of radio collectors features over 120,000 radio model listings and 350,000 photos a… [read review or visit site]

Phil's Old Radios

Phil's Old Radios

This extensive collection of antique radios includes beautiful photos and detailed historical descriptions. The sit… [read review or visit site]

Radiophile.com

Radiophile.com

John Pelham's collection of wood and plastic radios from the 1930's and 40's. What sets this site apart is the deta… [read review or visit site]

Radio-Guy

Radio-Guy

Steve Erenberg's extremely wacky and well-done collection of vintage mad-scientist devices and contraptions. Writte… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Bth Horn Speaker Bakelite & Aluminium 1925 Radio PhonographAddison Radio Model A2a Tube Catalin Color Restored Art Deco Retro Rare Vintage French Sonora Sonorette Mottled Red Bakelite Valve RadioPhilco Radio Stunning Bakelite Transitone M-46-250 Restored Original 5 Tube!Antique Vintage Radio Horn Speaker Tube Bakelite Bell Wooden Mantle Valve Radio Art Deco Empire State Bakelite Awa Astor Airzone Restored Near Mint Antique Zenith H615 Vintage Bakelite Tube Radio Works PerfectAntique Vintage Radio Horn Speaker Tube Small Size Bakelite BellAntique Zenith Curved Bakelite RadioSentinel Wavy Grill Model 284 Catalin Bakelite Radio - No ReserveVintage Streamlined 1940s Fada Old Swirled Catalin Color Bakelite Tube RadioZenith Consoltone Bakelite Race Track Am Radio Works Perfectly!Beautiful Art Deco Arvin Bakelite Tube Radio Model 544Vintage Bakelite Wards Airline Radio Vintage Digital Numechron Mid Century Old Antique Post Ww2 Bakelite ClockAntique Brown Bakelite Zenith Wavemagnet Art Deco Table Radio Tube Ldr 74Vintage 50s Mid Century Atomic General Electric Retro Old Antique Bakelite RadioVintage 1932 Kadette Historical Art Deco Old Bakelite Radio , Very Rare Model !!Vintage Rca Bakelite Fm Tube Radio Model 68r1 WorkingVintage Old Early 1951 Zenith " Owl Eye Rare Color Antique Bakelite Clock RadioVintage 1940s Old Rare Sonora " Large Dial " Machine Age Art Deco Bakelite RadioVintage 1950's Zenith Tube Radio Model S-17787 Bakelite. Works Sounds Great.Philco Tranistone Catalin Paint Red/yellow SwirlVintage 1940s Old Atomic Retro Crosley Jet Age Jetson Mid Century Bakelite RadioLot Of Bakelite And Plastic Radio KnobsVintage Rare Catalin Art Deco Very Old Barometer Made By Taylor Instruments Co 1950s Owl Eye Bakelite Zenith Telechron Clock Radio Model L515y Works Vintage Bakelite Hallicrafters Set Of 2 Knobs 15-a-047Vintage Zenith Mod. 6d510 Long Distance Bakelite Tube RadioVintage Zenith H723z2 Bakelite RadioSet Of 1930s Bakelite Knob F/ Old 30s Radio Tube Receiver Philco? Audio AmpEmerson Model 646 Series B - Dark Red Bakelite Case - Ca 1950Emerson Bakelite Radio Model 507 (1947)Vintage Wood Philco Tube Intercom With Bakelite KnobsTesla Rondo - Vintage Retro Bakelite Portable Radio Transistor CzechoslovakiaOld Vintage Wards Model 15br-1547a Airline Radio ~ Am Bakelite RadioVintage Original Bakelite Radio Hazeltine 320 Serial No. 710581 1930-40's Works Old Emerson Bakelite Tube Radio ~ Nice!Emerson 520 Catalin Tube Radio Electronically RestoredAntique Coronado Vintage Tube Radio Art Deco Rare Brown Bakelite NiceVintage/antique Bakelite Firestone Air Chief Receiver Tube Radio 4 - A - 25Vintage Old Rca Victor Radio Police Band Wood Tube Bakelite Am Vintage Bakelite Coronado Am Tube Radio 43-8352-powers On/light WorksVintage Rca Victor Tube Clock Radio BakeliteAntique Emerson Bakelite Tube Radio Model 520 Back - Vintage Vtg Lot Of 4 Bakelite Knobs Black Daka Set Screw Gumdrop Art Deco Steam Punk ArtVintage Admiral Tube Radio 7t10m-n Chassis Bakelite Table Top Am Radio Vtg Lot Of 6 Bakelite Knob Dial Pointer Black Daka Set Screw Steam Punk Art1946 Tele-tone Model 109 Table Radio Dark Brown Bakelite Nos Lot Of Vintage Daka - Ware 1/'4" Shaft 1" Bakelite Knobs + Small Nos Knobs