A 1930s accessory becomes a new millennium treasure
Bakelite, a durable phenolic resin (plastic), found its way into the
fashion world between 1933 and 1941 in the form of bracelets (especially
known for their great clinking noise), broaches, necklaces, earrings,
rings, cufflinks, and buttons. In this era between the Depression and
World War II, Bakelite accessories were an affordable way for women to brighten their wardrobes.
EASY TO MAKE
Cheap to produce, Bakelite accessories were sold in dime and lower-end
department stores for a few cents, with better pieces selling for several
dollars at finer stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, B. Altman and Bonwit
Teller. Some of these pieces are now worth upwards of $4,000.
Patented by Dr. Leo Hendrik Baekeland in 1907, Bakelite was originally
used for household and industrial products (such as electrical insulation,
telephones, and auto and radio parts), but its many unique qualities led
to a transition into decorative products. Durable, moisture resistant,
non-flammable, odorless, and tasteless, Bakelite could be sawed, sliced,
threaded, ground, drilled, sanded, carved, and polished as smooth as glass
(though less than half the weight of glass, and not as cold to the touch).
Red bangles like this one
are highly sought-after.
Much of what we know as Bakelite today was produced by the Catalin
Corporation. In the early '30s, Catalin expanded the limited range of
original colors to a potential 200 hues, including opaque, marbleized,
translucent, and transparent treatments. Other inventive commercial
manufacturers of jewelry and buttons bought rods, tubes, and sheets of
Bakelite and let their workers' creativity take over. Companies in
England, Italy, Japan, Germany, and Canada also produced Bakelite products
(though American collectors prefer American Bakelite).