Skip to main content
  1. Life
  2. Home & Living
  3. Hobbies

Bakelite, Lucite, and the allure of early plastics

See also

Sales of Bakelite bangles are brisk, and consumers are offered tips on how to identify the genuine article and what colors to look for when making a purchase. But there are other items made of early plastic that are fashionable to collectors. Radios, dresser sets, dice and poker chips have found their way into antique malls and internet auctions and frequently garner significant prices.

More Photos

The earliest plastic was called Parkesine, created in 1862 by Alexander Parkes. It was a moldable organic material made of cellulose. A few years later in 1868 John Wesley Hiatt invented celluloid, a substance first used as a substitute for ivory in billiard balls and subsequently as the basic material in motion picture film.

Bakelite arrived on the scene in Belgium in 1907. Leo Hendrik Baekeland is credited with creating this first fully synthetic resin. In 1927 a similar material was developed by the Catalin Company. Catalin was used in the production of many of the same types of products as Bakelite, but employed a broader range of brighter-colored dyes. Both Bakelite and Catalin are highly collectible today.

Shellac can also be considered a natural plastic, as it is made from the secretions of an insect native to India and Thailand. Up until the 1950s phonographic records were made from a brittle, breakable compound containing shellac. Thousands of the 78 rpm discs can be found in second hand stores, flea markets, and basements and attics all over the country. Only the rarest, however, are of much interest or value to collectors.

Another interesting polymer is Lucite, manufactured by DuPont and popular as a material in costume jewelry through the mid-century period. As a less-breakable substitute for glass (also known as acrylic glass), Lucite shares many of the same qualities as Plexiglas, invented in 1933 by the Rohm & Haas Company. In the 1960s and 1970s designers actually created furniture out of these materials.

Though today it is a ubiquitous substance polluting oceans and streams and piling up in massive landfills, plastic in its earlier forms is now prized for its solidity, texture, and color. The beautiful art-deco Bakelite/Catalin radios manufactured by the Crosley Company in Cincinnati helped usher in the age of radio and can add a pop of color and style to any contemporary home.

Comments

Advertisement

Life

  • Dead babies found
    Seven dead babies were found in Utah resident Megan Huntsman's old home
    Video
    Shocking Discovery
  • Kendall Jenner
    Get the Coachella looks: Kendall Jenner’s nose ring, green hair and edgy nails
    Camera
    Coachella Look
  • Dog's Easter basket
    How to fill your dog’s Easter basket with the perfect toys
    Easter Basket
  • Rabbit owners
    Bringing home the bunny: Important information for rabbit owners
    Camera
    7 Photos
  • Haunted island
    The world’s most haunted island may soon be the most haunted luxury resort
    Haunted Resort
  • Sunken ferry
    Search continues for missing passengers after a ferry sinks off the South Korean coast
    Video
    Sunken Ferry

User login

Log in
Sign in with your email and password. Or reset your password.
Write for us
Interested in becoming an Examiner and sharing your experience and passion? We're always looking for quality writers. Find out more about Examiner.com and apply today!