Bakelite Testing

Weekly Tips from Antique Raiders Park Slope:DSC_0572
This week – Bakelite Testing:

Before any of the following tests are performed you should make sure that the item has two things. NO MOLD MARKS AND NO SEAMS! Bakelite was carved not molded; Hard Plastic jewelry is molded or seamed together. For example, a bangle that has a ridged seam in the middle of the inside of the bangle is not Bakelite, no matter the color, sound, or what the seller says.

Bakelite has special sound characteristics and color frequencies. Bakelite will not make a dead or a high sound when it is hit against another piece of Bakelite. Instead it will make a “clang” that lasts. Just like antique wood Bakelite has a special color. It takes looking at a lot of positively Bakelite items to get a spectrum down.
#1 The Nose Test:

Sounds weird huh? The nose test is the test you want to perform when you come across a piece at a yard sale, auction, estate sale, etc. What you want to do is take the piece and rub it with your hand on the outside of the piece. After you have created some heat with the friction of your hand smell the place you have been rubbing. If there is a slight smell of Formaldehyde then there’s a good chance the piece you are holding is Bakelite.
#2 The Warm Water Test:
Run the piece under warm or hot water for about 5-10 seconds then hold the item up to your nose and take a big sniff. If you smell Formaldehyde you probably have Bakelite, go to test #3 to make sure.
#3 The Formula 409 Test:
Yes the household cleaner is good for things other than cleaning your sinks. Your Bakelite should already be clean because you ran it under warm water but if not, clean it with a cool cloth then dry it. 409 is a fantastic and cheap way to get closer to seeing if you have Bakelite. Take a Q-tip and dip one side of it in Formula 409, find a spot on the piece that isn’t directly on the front and rub the q-tip on it. Remove the q-tip and look at the color. No matter what color the item you are testing is, if the item is indeed Bakelite the q-tip head will be yellow, or nicotine yellow. Any other color or colorless and the item is not Bakelite. If shades of yellow choose a new spot or go to #4 the semi chrome test. PLEASE REMEMBER TO CLEAN THE ITEM AFTER YOU PERFORM THE 409 TEST! 409 CAN SOMETIMES LEAVE NASTY SMUDGES ON A BEAUTIFUL PIECE.
#4 The Semi Chrome Test:
Semi chrome is a great test to use. You can buy it on eBay or at hardware stores but it is pricey in comparison to the 409 test. Semi chrome metal polish is a great polisher for Bakelite and other vintage plastics so if you are really thinking about going into collecting or selling or both…get a tube. Instructions for this test are rub on some of the semi chrome polish then take a cloth and buff the polish into the item, if when you’re done, your cloth is yellow then you have a positive match.
Here are some thoughts to leave you with and one test to NEVER EVER DO.


Bakelite is an evolving material, color changes as time goes by, Bakelite items that have been reworked or refurbished will eventually respond to all the tests I have listed above. There is a reason why Bakelite has been around for as long as it has. Ask a seller questions about their “Bakelite” a real and honest seller will gladly answer your questions and provide you with the details on the way they have tested their Bakelite. Never buy a piece that has had the hot pin test. It leaves a disfiguring hole in the item and decreases its value both monetarily and visually.

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