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BAKELITE or FAKELITE

By Judith Coebly, Plank Road #236
Do you have Bakelite or Fakelite jewelry? To find what you have, or about to buy, you need to understand how Bakelite was made. Original Bakelite was a trade name for a type of plastic made from phenol and formaldehyde. Most of the pieces were assembled by hand from shapes made by the resin. Today, any phenol resin is called Bakelite.

So how can you tell if your beautiful pin is a pricey piece of genuine Bakelite or a fake called plastic? Here are some simple things you may study and a few tests you may perform to help determine what you have:

  • Authentic Bakelite oxidizes over time and will change in surface color. Look at the exposed surface of your pin – the color in Bakelite pieces will be darker than in the protected areas - the surface color of plastics doesn’t change.
  • Over the years, Bakelite develops a patina – plastic just gets dirty.
  • Vintage Bakelite jewelry has applied fasteners, not molded like plastic. You will see tiny screws, pins or nails but not glue. Vintage Bakelite does not have glued backs. Plastic does. But be careful: reworked Bakelite pieces might be made into newer jewelry and the backs might be glued – still Bakelite-not plastic. You will have to use further visual or chemical tests to make that determination.
  • Bakelite does not have mold seams – If you see seams it is plastic.
  • Since original Bakelite pieces were hand worked they will have tool marks in concealed areas – plastic will be smoother.
  • Old Bakelite pieces will not warp or change shape with heat or cold – plastic pieces will.
  • Most true Bakelite will leave an ivory or pale yellow color on a cotton swab with a bit of some cleaning products (409, Scrubbing Bubbles, Polychrome polish). The color of the Bakelite will not come off. If these tests are applied to plastic, the swab will take on the color of the plastic. Once again beware: highly polished Bakelite and red and black Bakelite may result in confusing results.
  • Hot water over the surface of your jewelry will result in a phenol or camphor odor. Plastics do not emit an odor.
  • A phenol odor will also result after rubbing the surface of your piece of real Bakelite jewelry.
  • Some sources recommend heating a pin and applying it to the surface. The pin will not penetrate the Bakelite surface but it will on plastic. Beware: this test could deteriorate or harm the surface if it is plastic.
  • Bakelite is heavier than a Lucite or celluloid (plastic) piece about the same size.
  • Bakelite will make a clunk sound if you hit 2 pieces together - plastic won’t.

ALWAYS ASK THE SELLER’S PERMISSION TO APPLY ANY OF THESE TESTS.

WHY PAY FOR BAKELITE IF YOU ARE ONLY GETTING PLASTIC – BE An INFORMED QUESTER!!!

Source material available upon request.