Bakelite (pronounced bakerlite) is a heat resistant resin made, in basic terms, by mixing phenol with formaldehyde. Originally used for insulation in electrics its chemical name is polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride and it was invented or discovered by a Belgian chemist called Dr Leo Baekeland back in the early 1900s.
Over the years since then it has been used for a whole range of items from telephones, jewellery, door handles, light switches, radios, kitchenware – just about anything that could be made out of a mould.
Bakelite has a unique sound. If you tap two pieces of Bakelite together you get a kind of deep, heavy clunk, rather than the slightly faint jingly clink you get with modern plastics. It’s more solid construction also makes it feel heavier than other plastics. You can test for Bakelite with metal polish. If you rub a small area with the polish using a cloth, Bakelite will leave a yellow mark on the cloth.
Here is a Bakelite thimble. It is chunky, a bit heavier than my other plastic thimbles and has a slightly brown marbled effect colouring. Having said that, it's not really easy to tell for sure if it's authentic Bakelite. There are no dates on this thimble so I have no idea how old it is. It could be Fakelite.
Fakelite, as the name suggests is “fake” Bakelite. Fakelite is made in a similar way to Bakelite but is a modern equivalent sometimes used to deceive buyers into believing they are buying a piece of vintage Bakelite.
I’m not a Bakelite expert so I can’t tell the difference. I’m not too bothered anyway. I don’t collect Bakelite or Fakelite - I collect thimbles and in that respect at least this one is definitely the genuine article.
Bye for Now