Original or Reproduction
When Bakelite is heated it has a very strong odor which comes from the carbolic acid in the composition. On some pieces you can release the smell simply by rubbing them hard with your thumb and creating heat. Others will need very hot water to release the odor. On some the odor is so faint you may not detect it.
When you tap two Bakelite pieces together they will make a deep clunking sound, rather than the higher pitched clack of acrylic or Lucite plastics.
- Hot Pin Test
Bakelite is a thermoset plastic so it cannot be remolded with heat. To test if a piece is bakelite get a very very hot pin from an open flame source, then touch the pin to the item. If it is Bakelite it will not penetrate. It may give off the acid smell and it may leave a purple burn mark. If the pin penetrates or melts the plastic then it is not genuine Bakelite.
- Formula 409
This product works very well to test whether an item is Bakelite. Make sure the item is clean, wet the end of a Q-tip with Formula 409 then touch it to the piece. If the Q-tip turns yellow then the piece is genuine. If you believe a piece is Bakelite but it doesn't pass the 409 test, don't count it out. Sometimes polished Bakelite will not react or pass the test.
Although these tests are foolproof, they will determine if a piece is genuine Bakelite.Stopped Production
Bakelite has always been known as "the material with 1000 uses," and it surely did earn this name. It is now treasured for its unique, irreproducible beauty. When the Bakelite patent expired in 1927, it was acquired by the Catalin Corporation that same year. They began mass production under the name "Catalin". The Catalin Corporation was responsible for nearly 70% of all phenolic resins that exist today.
In 1942 Bakelite-Catalin stopped sales of their colorful costume jewelry in order to concentrate on the nation's wartime needs. The company produced thousands of products that found their way into the military. By the end of the World War II, new technologies for molded plastics had been developed. These new products consisted of plastics such as Lucite, Fiberglass, Vinyl, and Acrylic - all which were molded. Thus, Bakelite and Catalin became obsolete, except in the hearts of collectors who still pursue it today.