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What is Bakelite? | Mario Rivoli

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What is Bakelite?

Bakelite is the first totally man made plastic.

Invented by Leo Baekeland around 1909, it had a reign of over half a century until 1952 when goverment laws and regulations, changes in taste, expense in manufacturing all added to the decline in Bakelite production.

The more things companies could do with Bakelite the better; heavily carved, polka dots, lamination, clear colors, end of day’s array of colors, figural representation of everyday life and sports. All in infinite variety created a world of whimsey, wonder, humor – a world which excited collecting to this day.

Bakelite burst into vivid color in the late 20’s, and by the 30’s and 40’s was the rage especially during the war years. When cheap whimpsy could be purchased for less than a dollar. Bracelets were $7.20 a dozen to retail stores. The 50’s with new techniques and combo add-ons, the introduction of designer dots (Belle Kogen), metal parts, all sorts of inclusions made for a revitalized life of Bakelite. Bake captured the imaginations of jewelry greats like Coco Channel, Mariam Haskell and Trifari all incorporated Bakelite into their lines.

It’s an elusive and secretive substance, its allure still attracts collectors, invites new plastic artists to rework that magical concoction. Some great pieces command hefty prices. Yes! Bakelite is an exceptional collectible.

“I have Bakelite envy” – Jeanette Kahn