How to Thrift Shop for Vintage Bakelite

Cynthia Shirk /

Shopping thrift shops, flea markets and property gross sales may be overwhelming. With the sheer quantity of stuff, how are you aware the place to start out? How do you notice gems amid all of the junk?

As an expert reseller who has been combing by way of thrift shops for the higher a part of 30 years, I may also help. If you’re prepared to chop your buying time in half, rating larger bargains or stroll away with brag-worthy finds you’ll be able to flip for money, learn on.

From hard-to-find home goods to resale money-makers, the whole lot featured in my “Thrift Shop Like a Pro” collection qualifies as a BOLO (“be on the lookout” for) merchandise. When you discover it, purchase it!

Read on to find out about this month’s featured discover.

Featured discover: Bakelite

Flatware with Bakelite handlesDavid PAPILLON /

This month’s featured discover isn’t a single merchandise, however a fabric used to make many objects — Bakelite. Invented in 1907 by chemist Leo Baekeland, Bakelite was the primary artificial plastic. Its growth paved the best way for the fashionable plastics business.

Because Bakelite was moldable, heat-resistant and comparatively light-weight, it was used to make a wide range of industrial and family merchandise.

First publicly introduced in 1909, its recognition coincided with the early Art Deco interval, and plenty of objects manufactured from Bakelite mirror the modern strains and stylistic cues of the time.

Today, Baekeland’s namesake product is prized by collectors and designers world wide. The most sought-after objects embody:

  • Costume jewellery
  • Drawer pulls and knobs
  • Game items
  • Kitchen utensil and flatware handles
  • Buttons
  • Clock and radio casements

Why purchase it?

vintage bakelite jewelryCynthia Shirk /

If you’re not an Art Deco fanatic or jewellery lover, there’s one other compelling cause to purchase Bakelite — resale worth.

Because it’s simply mistaken for contemporary plastic, Bakelite can nonetheless be discovered at thrift shops and yard gross sales throughout the nation.

Two years in the past, the supervisor of a thrift store pulled me apart and mentioned, “I held back some old bracelets for you; I’ll go get them.” She returned with a shoebox filled with jumbled bracelets. Several have been plastic, however a number of have been manufactured from Bakelite. The entire field value $5, and I couldn’t pay her quick sufficient. I resold three bangle bracelets for $110.

Though a lot of the jewellery is in personal arms, it’s not unusual to seek out Bakelite {hardware} connected to vintage furnishings. I’ll fortunately purchase a broken chest of drawers simply to salvage the Bakelite drawer pulls.

On Etsy, this set of six drawer pulls in Bakelite and brass is listed for $295. On eBay, this octagonal Bakelite bracelet offered for $231.68 and this apple-themed brooch introduced $390.

What to search for

Vintage Bakelite jewelryNimisid /

Distinguishing a bit of Bakelite from fashionable plastic takes follow. Without testing the merchandise (which we’ll discuss later) search for these options:

  • Weight: Bakelite is heavier and denser than fashionable plastic. When two items of Bakelite are tapped collectively, the sound is just like the clang of pottery.
  • Color: Part of Bakelite’s early recognition was the superb spectrum of colours it supplied. Look for butterscotch yellows, cherry reds, grassy greens and vivid citrus oranges. There’s additionally a sure depth and richness to the colours that’s troublesome to explain. Once you’ve seen a number of items up shut, you’ll know what I imply.
  • Marbling: Bakelite generally is a strong coloration or marbled. Marbled items function distinctive “swirls” of greens combined with gold, crimson with orange, or brown with amber. In jewellery, extra marbling means increased resale worth.

How to check for authenticity

Vintage bakelite radiojosefkubes /

Think you’ve discovered an genuine piece of Bakelite? The “sniff test” is a fast approach to discover out before you purchase. Using a bracelet for example, right here’s the way it works: First, rub a small space of the bracelet together with your thumb (rub lengthy sufficient to create a bit of warmth). Next, scent the merchandise. If the rubbed space provides off a definite chemical odor (assume formaldehyde), it’s seemingly Bakelite.

Still undecided? Try the “409 test” on a small spot at dwelling. It’s a extra definitive approach to decide if a bit is actual Bakelite.

Pro tip: Bakelite is sturdy, however abrasive cleansing merchandise can boring the end. To clear a complete Bakelite piece, a delicate fabric, heat water and delicate dish cleaning soap work greatest.

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