Quick facts about collecting Bakelite jewelry
- Bakelite was invented in the early 1900s, but making jewelry from this plastic became popular in the 1930s.
- Heavily carved bangles, bangles with polka dots or multiple colors laminated together, and usual figural pins are among the most expensive items sought by Bakelite collector's today.
- Butterscotch and pea green are the most common and, generally, the least expensive colors.
- Bakelite fakes are often found at flea markets these days. Review the tips below for recognizing Bakelite fakes and reproductions.
- Bakelite can be tested for authenticity by feel, sight, sound and smell. Scroll down for more information.
The Bakelite Market Today
Although the most desirable carved bangle bracelets and ultra-cool figural pins, including overdyed examples, are sold for far more than the average collector might want to spend, there are still selections available in all price ranges. Even plain pieces aren't dirt cheap these days, but they won't run anywhere near $100 to several thousands of dollars like the elaborately decorated items with intricate carvings, polka dots and fancy shapes fetch from avid collectors.
For the beginning collector, looking for plain bangles to wear in colorful stacks can be a good place to start. Bakelite dress clips sold singly or in pairs are also generally more affordable than pins, even when carved. Bakelite clip earrings are also reasonably priced, and they coordinate beautifully with bangles in similar colors.
Some collectors focus on "end of day" pieces. These Bakelite items incorporate more than one color swirled together. The plastic was actually made at the end of the day when small leftover batches were mixed together so they wouldn't go to waste.
Learning About Bakelite Reproductions and Fakes
Another benefit in buying more common pieces comes with their relative exemption from fakes. But it's important to remember that many illegitimate items are actually made from genuine Bakelite stock or old radio cases recycled from the '30s.
Using small Bakelite pieces to form larger pins shaped like jointed characters is a common motif for reproductions. Genuine vintage character pins are quite expensive, so it's important to examine these carefully for signs of newness. Carving plain bangles into desirable designs would be considered faking it unless those pieces are marked for what they are by the crafter.
Making these pieces isn't a problem, it's not marking them accordingly where things get sticky. Even when they're sold as "marriages" or reworked pieces, these items will be eventually end up fooling an unsuspecting collector if they aren't permanently marked.
There are a number of modern Bakelite artists who make wonderful jewelry out of old Bakelite stock. They clearly mark their pieces and sell them as newly crafted items made of old material. These pieces are already collectible in their own right. Before you think about carving old Bakelite yourself, be aware that it produces dangerous dust when manipulated. It's better to leave this to professionals.
But there is also material made to look like Bakelite being imported and sold as the genuine article. Many collectors refer to this as "fakelite." These problematic items often show up at flea markets and in online auctions fairly frequently.
“Fakelite” can be distinguished by:
- Looking for a chalky appearance in the ridges of carving. This looks like dust but will not wash away.
- The absence of the familiar clunking sound two pieces of genuine Bakelite make when tapped together gently.
Learning to Identify Old Bakelite
To protect yourself while learning to distinguish old from new, be sure you're comfortable with the dealer or individual selling a costly piece. Take some time to ask questions about the origin of the item.
Also, protect your investment by learning the feel, smell, sound and look of Bakelite. Read Ways to Test Bakelite for Authenticity to learn six simple tests you can use to identify this type of plastic.