A Vintage Education ~ How to Identify Bakelite

How To Identify Bakelite - A few simple tests you can perform at home AND even while out on the hunt for vintage!

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In the first half of the 20th century, Bakelite was used widely for game pieces, billiard balls, phones, jewelry, buttons and more. The later development of other plastics makes it sometimes hard to tell at first glance if an object is made from Bakelite or not.

However there are a few fairly simple ways of determining whether your chunky bangle bracelet, button collection or vintage flatware is made up of this gorgeous early plastic.


Identifying Out In The Field

You’re out on the vintage hunt and come across a…bangle bracelet, let’s say. Take a quick look at it and notice if there are any seams in the plastic. If there are, its not Bakelite. Quick elimination test.
Genuine Bakelite pieces were cast, not molded and seamed.

Next step. Try to rub the bracelet with your thumb until an area warms up. Then smell it. I really try to do this unobtrusively…for obvious reasons. If it smells chemical-like, like formaldehyde, most likely it’s Bakelite.

If the piece passes these two tests, and the price is right, bring the piece home for further testing.

Testing at Home

Now, you may have heard of the hot needle test for testing Bakelite. Please! For the love of all that’s vintage, please don’t do this! While it’s true that Bakelite won’t melt…you could still leave a burn mark. And your non-Bakelite pieces will now have a hole in them! They may still be collectible even if they’re not Bakelite. I have found so MANY buttons with melted ‘holes’ on the back of them. So sad.

My go-to testing agent for identifying Bakelite is a material called Simichrome polish. I’ve heard you can buy it at hardware stores, etc but I usually just buy it online. It’s a metal polish so BONUS!! I use it to polish my flatware as well. ­čÖé

Simichrome polish is pink.

Put a small amount on a Q-tip and rub it on the bracelet or whatever piece of suspected Bakelite you want to test.

Now look at your cotton swab tip. If the pink polish has turned yellow, the bracelet is Bakelite.

TIP: If you don’t have any Simichrome polish yet (I do recommend picking some up) then the plain Formula 409 works in the same way.
Sometimes the yellow result is very dark and other times it’s not. Sometimes the piece needs cleaning before you can test.

So that’s it! Once you have a few confirmed-by-Simichrome pieces you can examine them and the identifying will get a lot easier. At home you can run the piece under hot water (maybe not a Bakelite radio, lol) and release the ‘formaldehyde’ smell easier. Once you get familiar with the smell…you’ll spot it easier in the field. Bakelite pieces also have a certain feel and look. They also clunk a certain way when you tap them together. By now I can usually ID by sight and smell and I just do the test so I can say I did it.

Bakelite is a fun and highly collectible material. Enjoy the hunt!

Flower Frogs ~ Not Just for Florists Anymore ~ Part Two

As we saw in Part One of this brief collectible exploration, the styles of flower frogs are numerous and varied.
But what if you’re not into floral arranging? What if you want to showcase the flower frog, and not hide it inside a vase? What else can you do with them?
Here are a few ideas:

1. Business card holder. (see top image)
2. Related to #1, a photo or greeting card holder. Any kind of ephemera holder, actually. I used one to display a flashcard in an Etsy listing. Use them to hold table numbers at a wedding. A sweet botanical print would look lovely on display.

 Photo from HWIT BLOGG

3. Crafts holder. I’ve seen this for pencils, paintbrushes, scissors, crochet hooks…. Go even further past crafts. Think makeup brushes for your vanity.

4. Decorative / altered art use. If you’re more creative than I am, look what you can do! I love the vignette in a cloche look! I’ve also seen just stacks of flower frogs in a cloche. Like a mini sculpture.
5. Display your collection. Stack ’em on a mantle. Display in a wall hanging soda crate. Intersperse them on your bookshelves. 
Not enough room in this blog to go through all the options so check out my Flower Frog board on Pinterest for more ideas! 
Anything else you’ve used flower frogs for? Unique display ideas? Feel free to share!

Flower Frogs ~ Not Just for Florists Anymore

If you’ve visited an antique mall anytime in recent years, you’ve probably seen them. They may have been made out of graceful glass, industrial metal or pretty pottery. They could have been spiky or figural or full of holes.
We’re talking about a bit of an under the radar collectible…the flower frog.

 Photo by Shannon P (that’s me!)

Flower frogs come in all different styles and materials, which is very appealing to the collector! You could collect just the figural ceramic ones, the various metal industrial ones or all the different colored glass frogs.
Doing research on this topic, let me tell you, the latent hoarder collector in me is very tempted. Look at some of these beauties!

(me again)

First off, a somewhat classic design is the spiky frog, which is popular in Japanese ikebana flower arranging. It’s called a Kenzan. This one is best for slender, flimsy stems.
Another fairly common style of flower frog is the clear glass variety.

These are great for tulips and other flowers with thick stems. These flower frogs can fit nicely into milk glass bowls and other containers. 
But it gets better!

They come in colored glass as well! The big glass makers all made them…Fostoria, Fenton, Viking. And it seems the color options are endless. Amber, carnival, peach luster, black, violet…

Or you could go mod…
There is quite the variety in metal as well, if your tastes run more toward the functional and industrial.
The cage design shown in the top picture of this post is somewhat easily found, sometimes they are painted green to help them blend in with the foliage.
Other options: 
This unusual wire style flower frog is great for thick stems or thin branches and would add a bit of texture to a garden industrial vignette.
Holy smokes! See what I mean? And I haven’t even touched on the figural ceramics! Here’s a taste, but try Googling that yourself too. You’ll see some amazing examples.
The list seems endless. 
But what if you’re not a florist? Can’t arrange a flower to save your life? 
Don’t worry! You could just collect flower frogs and display them or…
there are many other uses for flower frogs.
Which style is your favorite? Leave a comment below!
See “Flower Frogs ~ Not Just for Florists Anymore ~ Part Two” for display and repurposing ideas.

Also, Follow my board “Flower Frogs” on Pinterest for even more inspiration!

A Vintage Education ~ Dating Old Canning Jars

┬áVintage canning jars are one of those things that have kind of been in the background for me. I see canning jars fairly often at thrifts and yard sales and I normally pass right over them. Most are newer and clear glass. I’ve picked up a few in the past, just for my personal storage…I like those kinds with the glass lid and wire bail.
I found the one in the picture above at an estate sale and I knew the zinc lid was a good sign for age and I loved the aqua color.
I also recently came across this reference: HERE is the website I found it on. Lots of great information there!

So let’s take a look at my jar again using the above information.
Hmm…no underline…yes! My jar dates from 1923-1933!!
Wow! I love this!

The number on the bottom of mine is 2. I was all set to research that when I read this on the Minnetrista blog:
“These are called mold numbers. They identify the position that the mold in which the jar was made held on the glassmaking machine. Most machines would have from eight to ten molds, all making the same type of jar. The quality control people used the number on the bottom of the jar to identify which mold was producing bad jars. The number has nothing to do with when the jar was made.”
Well that sorts that out.
I found the next jar at that same estate sale. It’s by Kerr and it’s clear.

Not a whole lot of information to be found about Kerr, just some history. But my jar has seams…which indicates post 1915 when the jars were machine made. Also there’s a Patent Date of August 31st, 1915 on the bottom of the jar…so obviously after that. Some more research to be done! But that’s the fun part!!

Vintage canning jars are popular with collectors and DIY-ers. There is quite the selection on Etsy as well.

Retro Atomic Flatware – A Grocery Store Giveaway

I may have blogged about this before, (haven’t searched for it yet) but I thought I’d share again anyway. I just got through listing some of this flatware in The Retro Shop. I’ve sold similar pieces before so I was happy to come across some again.

The flatware is stainless and is simply marked “Stainless Japan”. The black part is synthetic. Some versions have 2 or 3 stars on them.

It was a bit hard to research it initially, most people just listed it with that information. Which is fine, because it worked. I was able to find other similar pieces even without knowing a manufacturer.

Then I delved a bit deeper and found a person who had posted on a forum that he was looking for more pieces. He had his mother’s set and wanted to add to it. She had gotten as a giveaway from a grocery store (Ralph’s, I think) in the 1960s in California.
Ah, interesting!

Then as I listed and sold those initial pieces I found, I discovered how popular they were. I had people So I’m sure there were several grocery store chains that participated. Lots of people wanted to add to their parent’s sets or re-create the set they remembered as a child.

Which is why selling retro flatware is so cool! I love these stories!
Anybody else remember flatware like this? Which grocery store gave it away?