Bakelite vs. Lucite Posted on 21 Jan 18:34 , 0 comments
Bakelite was created by a chemist from Belgium in 1907 for use in electronics. It started being used in jewelry as well as brush handles, grooming kits, purse handles, combs, and other products in the 1920s and thereafter. It is made with formaldehyde and a resin. The formaldehyde is what helps identify Bakelite from plastic and lucite. There are several tests you can use besides just looking at the piece. There should be no seams for one and weight can play into it as can the sound made when you lightly bump two pieces together or just bobble it on a surface.
Original 409 Test
You wet one end of a swat with 409 and rub the inside of the piece or underside of the piece and with the dry end remove the 409 from the piece but rubbing with a little force. Bakelite will show a light yellow to amber residue. You do have to be careful you are not picking up dirt, etc. In addition, if the piece was lacquered or treated you could get a false positive and if the piece is black or very dark you may get a false negative.
Simichrome Polish is a non-abrasive cream that is easiest to get on line. To test bakelite, you put a small amount on the piece with a soft cloth and rub the spot a little forcefully. The Simichrome by itself looks light pink but if it is Bakelite it will turn a yellow to amber color. The same pros and cons mentioned above can apply to this test as well.
This is a great test when you are out and about and spy a piece you may want to buy. You simply hold the piece and rub it with your thumb or palm of your hand rapidly back and forth until it feels a little warm to your hand - continue to rub it a few more times to be sure you have good friction going. Don't test it the minute you feel some warmth. Quickly smell the item and if you smell a chemical smell a bit on the nasty side - that is the smell the formaldehyde puts off and you have a winner. Again, treatments and lacquer can give false results.
Hot Water Test
Make water very warm and hold a corner of the piece in the hot water - not just warm but not boiling - and remove it and smell it quickly - you should get that same nasty smell as the friction test. The formaldehyde will reaction to the heat and be easier to smell.
Hot Pin/Scrubbing Bubbles Test
This is not recommended as it can harm the piece. If you have a nice lucite bangle bracelet that is vintage and you get a pin to sink in it, you just caused damage. The Scrubbing Bubbles can damage finish and surfaces too so I would avoid these.
There are always pieces that you just will not be able to tell but sometimes you can double up on tests when in doubt which will then give you the result you were looking for.
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