Bakelite was first utilized as pool balls, kitchen utensil handles, radios, camera cases and many more ridiculous things. I once saw a Bakelite hanger. And baby mobile. In 1927 the patent for Bakelite expired and was purchased by The Catalin Corporation. This is when the real fun began (at least for fashion reasons). Catalin is every so slightly different than Bakelite as it is made from either phenol, melamine, or urea formaldehyde. This means there's usually no fillers, and is a little less durable than the original Bakelite formula. Though most of the jewelry we find today referred to as Bakelite is actually Catalin. There are other makers of the plastic, but all the information I find is conflicting, so if you're interested you can research the subject on your own.
In the 1930s the depression hit in the U.S. and Bakelite had perfect timing. It was easy to make, cheap, and colorful. Not only made in bangle form, but also carved necklaces, brooches, shoe clips, every novelty design to lift the spirits and freshen up a frock. In the 1940s we entered the war, and metal was scarce. Bakelite saves the day again! It had quite a good run. It's popularity dwindled through the 50s and 60s, and is now desired by jewelry collectors and vintage wearers.
It used to be very easy to find at estate sales and thrift stores. Since it's plastic I'd find bangles tossed in a box of costume jewelry for 50 cents a piece. Now it's near impossible, and even if you do find it, it's value is well known, and it's price marked up.
"But Solanah, how on earth can you tell the difference between Bakelite and normal plastic?"
my dears (ew, I promise I'll never say that again), it's all about the smell. You remember what it's made of right?
That's alright. I'll wait while you go back and read it....
...Yes, ok then.
So if you rub the surface of a Bakelite item with your thumb until it feels hot, it should smell like formaldehyde.
I have just turned you into that crazy person at thrift stores smelling jewelry. You're welcome.
If you missed cadaver day in science class and don't know what formaldehyde smells like, just sniff for a chemical scent.
There are other tests as well, but I've never had to use any other method, so I'm not about to tell you to buy a bunch of extra stuff if I've never tried them.
So there you go. Bakelite. Or Catalin. Or Phenol Formaldehyde resin. Whatever you call it, I love it. Next up, how to "polish" it.
........Bakelite and Catalin.....
........History of Bakelite.......