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Identification of Plastic Materials


 MY BAKELITE LECTURE/TALK is now available !!! Includes exhibits, slide show, handouts and much much more.. please contact me for full details, see below .. many people have already enjoyed the fun world of Bakelite... these include the Havering Antiques and Collectors Club, The Yorkshire Clarice Cliff Group and Ann Zierold Art Deco Fairs just to name a few !!!  BEING SO VERSATILE BAKELITE COVERS A WIDE SPECTRUM WHICH MIGHT BE JUST THE THING TO FILL ONE OF THE MEETING DATES IN YOUR CLUB'S CALENDAR OF EVENTS !!! just look at these two guys below ... full of the joys of visiting one of my lectures !!!..Jools

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Shown above is a mechanical wind up THORENS Shaver, 1958 and fully working. Moulded in Urea Formaldehyde and made in Switzerland... I've tried it, and yes it works ...but I still prefer a wet shave !!!

HERE ARE A FEW QUICK TIPS REGARDING BAKELITE IDENTIFICATION, particularly suitable to jewellery ( thanks are due to some of this information obtained from Gale's Bakelite Guide ):

* Bakelite as a material has substantial quality and weight, not normally found in today's plastics.

* Cast, liquid resin was used ( not moulded with phenolic powders ), mould lines or seams do not appear. Good example is Catalin.

* Bakelite was cast into tubes, rods and sheets, which were drilled, carved and sliced by skilled machinists.

* Catalin and Bakelite are very similar as they are both composed of phenol and formaldehyde. The main difference however is that Catalin was a poured liquid and Bakelite was moulded from a granular powder.

More Quick tips .......

HOT WATER TEST: Put the piece under hot tap water, if it smells fishy, carbolic.. it could well be BAKELITE....

Smells like mothballs/Vicks vapour rub ( camphor ) ?.. It's CELLULOID....

Smells like burnt milk ? It's CASEIN/GALALITH - A plastic derived from milk products...

If it smells clean, or like nothing at all It's LUCITE or ACRYLIC .....


Phenolic ( Bakelite ) will usually give off a distinct smell of carbolic acid when wet or warmed. Friction with your thumb on the dry item for 30 seconds or so can release this distinctive odour....


I have listed the Material/Popular Name/Colour/Clarity along with Characteristics/Form and Typical Examples :

MATERIAL: HARD RUBBER ( Vulcanite, Ebonite )
Typically Black, but also red and ripple mixtures.
Opaque Hard,gives off sulphurous smell if rubbed.
Turns brown when exposed to light.
Machine fabricated or moulded.
- Vesta boxes, combs, fountain pens and
jewellery. Pink vulcanite was used for


MATERIAL : SHELLAC ( Florence compound )
Dark brown, black or red ochre.
Hard and brittle, smells of sealing wax if melted.
Usually moulded.
Decorative picture frames, 78 rpm gramaphone records, boxes
and Union cases.


MATERIAL : CELLULOSE NITRATE ( Celluloid, Xylonite )
Any colour, including mottles, pearls and special effects.
Transparent, translucent or opaque.
Usually very thin sheet. Hollow mouldings may be filled with
plaster to add weight.
Thin covering on mirror backs and other dressing table items. Fountain pens.


MATERIAL : CASEIN ( Erinoid, Galalith )
Any colour, including mottles, pearls and special effects.
Usually opaque, but some translucency when used for mock
tortoiseshell and horn.
Hard. Sometimes smells of formaldehyde when placed in water.
Usually machined to shape, sometimes hot stamped into shallow shapes. Not moulded.
Coloured knitting needles, buttons and propelling pencils.


Usually brown, red, or green mottle, or plain black or brown
Hard and brittle. The surface is often discoloured brown and
will mark a tissue rubbed against it. May smell of carbolic when warmed.
Always moulded into shape.
Radio cabinets, ashtrays and electrical plugs and sockets.


Any colour is possible, but rarely in white or blue.
Often translucent and marbled, seldom transparent and sometimes opaque.
Hard. The surface is often discoloured brown and will mark a tissue rubbed against it. May smell of carbolic when warmed.
Usually cut sections of rod, tube etc. Often carved.
Animal napkin rings and carved bangles. Also Carvacraft deskware and some American radio cabinets.


MATERIAL : AMINO PLASTICS ( Beatl, Bandalasta, Linga - Longa, Beetleware and Melamine )
Any plain colour, but also marbled or speckled.
Never transparent, but can be translucent and sometimes marbled like alabaster. Beetleware may be translucent or opaque. Melamine is opaque.
Hard and brittle like Bakelite, but amino plastics do not discolour with age.
Always moulded to shape.
Bandalasta and Linga - Longa: colourful marbled picnic ware. Beetleware: pale coloured electrical plugs and sockets. Melamine tough colourful tableware.


Any colour, usually plain, but occasionally marbled.
Transparent,translucent or opaque.
Tough and slightly soft, may be flexible in thin sections. Often smells of vinegar, especially when warmed.
Normally moulded.
Films, some spectacle frames, Pedigree dolls and some toys.


MATERIAL : ACRYLIC RESIN ( Perspex, Plexiglas )
Any colour, but pastel colours were popular.
Transparent,translucent or opaque.
Hard, not brittle. Smooth glass like surface that is easily scratched.
Normally fabricated by hot - shaping from sheet, but can also be moulded.
Shallow dishes, lamps, clocks, and transparent brooches with carving on rear.


Any colour.
Transparent, translucent or opaque.
Soft and very flexible, though modern PVCs can be rigid and tough. Surface may feel tacky.
Leathercloth coatings or moulded.
Flexible squeaky toys, hollow balls, fashion belts and gramaphone records.


Any colour. Pearl was popular for a while, as were streaky colour effects.
Transparent, translucent or opaque.
Hard and brittle, but sometimes toughened. Very tinny metallic ring when tapped.
Usually moulded.
Toys, self assembly models and cheap give aways.


MATERIAL : POLYETHYLENE ( Polythene, Alkathene )
Any colour.
Generally translucent, but sometimes opaque.
Soft and flexible. Has greasy feel and can be scratched with fingernail.
Usually moulded.
Air tight food containers, toys and poppit bead necklaces.


Glossary..Plastics Production .. A to Z.