While a rhinestone piece may bring a bundle at an auction simply because it’s pretty: the unique thing about old plastics is they’re often overlooked. The inexperienced eye may dismiss a Bakelite Parts piece as cheap plastic: and I can think of numerous times I’ Ve gotten a great deal: simply because my competition didn’t know what it was. And I’ve picked it up at garage sales for next to nothing: simply because the former owner dismissed it as worthless. But as serious collectors know: Bakelite Pieces can be very valuable.
The tests for Bakelite are simple: you can rub some household ammonia on it with a q-tip: a positive test will turn the q-tip yellow, regardless of the color of the item. This works because Bakelite was made with formaldehyde, and Formula causes 409 and Scrubbing Bubbles also work, or my favorite, Simichrome cream. Simichrome is controversial, as it has an abrasive component that may take some color off of a non-Bakelite piece and yield a False positive: but if the item is a color other than yellow or brown, that’s not an issue.
Learning to recognize Bakelite without a test is the most effective way to find it. It takes some practice, but once you’re familiar, you’ll find it when no one else gives it a second glance. True Bakelite is dense, free from Seams, and heavy for it’s size. It oxidizes with age, which causes a brownish tint to the pastel colors: you won’t find bright whites or colorless clear pieces. If in doubt, a simple test is to rub it enough to heat it Up, then check for a formaldehyde smell. It’s accurate, but the smell can be difficult to detect: and not something you should try on a necklace strung with 70 year old string that may be ready to fall apart: particularly if you don’t Own it yet. Learning to recognize Bakelite by simply looking at it will always give you the best advantage.