June Newsletter
Monday, 26 May 2014 21:05

Showcase on Bakelite

Most people are familiar with the word Bakelite. There are collectors of Bakelite radios, toys, kitchen items, and jewelry. Its inventor called it "the matter with 1000 uses" and it is said to be the substance that revolutionized the world. Bakelite is also know as polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride. Quite simply it is an early plastic developed in New York in 1907 by a Belgian-born chemist named Leo Baekeland. Said to be the first synthetic plastic, it was used for industrial purposes due to its strength and resistance to heat and electricity, especially in making auto and electrical parts. It was patented in 1909 and is still used today for such purposes. 

It was even considered in 1943 for the making of the US penny coin. The use and production increased in the making of a variety of products including telephones, buttons, poker chips, billiard balls, and jewelry. It was especially popular in the making of jewelry beginning in the 1920s as an affordable option in the Depression. Even Coco Chanel used it in jewelry and accessories. During World War II metals went largely to the war effort so it became popular for jewelry. It largely fell out of fashion later in the 40s as other plastics, like Lucite, were developed.

Bakelite jewelry remains popular today for its retro appeal. Today the vintage pieces are much sought after by collectors. But be careful of fakes, called Fakelite. They can look like authentic Bakelite but are not. How can you tell the difference? Good question. Real Bakelite is molded, not poured. There are no seams. All hardware is attached with screws or rivets. They are not glued on. The easiest test is to rub your thumb over the surface, creating some friction and heat. Then smell your thumb. It will have a chemical smell, like formaldehyde. If so, it is real. There is also the “409” test or the Simichrome Metal Polish test. Dip a cotton swab in either chemical and rub a very small area in the back of the piece. If a yellow smear is produced on the cloth you have authentic Bakelite. Then immediately wash off the chemical. Keep in mind that none of these tests are 100% accurate. It is better to trust a reputable dealer until you gain through experience a recognition of the real thing.

At Showcase Antiques Gallery in Wiscasset, there is a nice selection of Bakelite jewelry for sale. Two dealers in the Gallery who focus on Bakelite are “Sparky” Lindsey and Susan Sorrentino. 

Photos by Showcase Antiques Gallery

Sparky, on the left, an Army veteran originally from Vinemont, Alabama, has been a collector for 30 years and a dealer for 15. She is the manager of Avalon Antiques, where she also deals in Fiesta, vintage clothing, and jewelry. Susan Sorrentino, on the right, with her husband, Charlie, trade as S.B. Adams Antiques and have been dealers for 20 years. They are from Marblehead, Massachusetts, and Westport Island, Maine, and specialize in Bakelite as well as copper, brass, and antique guns and militaria, in an eclectic mix, and do shows in MA, NH, ME, and RI.

Next month the subject will be Militaria. Stay tuned…


Showcase on Game Pieces

An item that may be of interest to the young or the young-at-heart collector is game pieces. These are the moveable parts called “movers” or “tokens,” made of many different substances, including wood, plastic, or metal. They identify or represent the players of the game, usually involving a rivalry or competition.

The most popular board game is said to be Monopoly. Board games have been in existence in most cultures throughout history. More traditional games in our society are checkers and chess. More modern games include Monopoly and Candyland. The games may involve skill and thought or may be decided by luck with the roll of the dice or a spin of a wheel. Some game pieces do not represent individual players or participants. Those in the game Clue represent the weapons involved in a murder.

You can find interesting examples from games in the past, like airplanes, battleships, race horses, boats, etc. Some of the most commonly collected game pieces are those from Monopoly, such as the pewter Scottie dog, the shoe, thimble, race car, and top hat. Retired pieces include the rocking horse, iron, lantern, and cannon. There are now hundreds of different Monopoly editions, many with their own unique game pieces. Popular examples include the 1999 Coca-Cola Edition, the US Space Progress Edition, the Pirates of the Caribbean Collectors Edition,  and the 2013 Wizard of Oz Edition, for which the pieces include total, the Witch’s Hat, the Lion’s Medal, the Tin Man’s Heart, the Scarecrow Diploma, and, of course, Dorothy’s Slippers. There is a deluxe edition with gold-toned game pieces. The company Hasbro has had promotional campaigns which allow the public to vote on new pieces to replace discontinued ones, the cat being the most recent example.














Besides Monopoly, other more recent games include game pieces too, like The Dungeons and Dragons Quest Game and the very popular Disney and Harry Potter “Scene It” games.  So have fun searching for the old examples and the new ones, creating your own collection.