Bakelite was the first plastic made from synthetic components. Developed in 1909, it played an important part in design and fashion, initially developed for the radio industry because of its non-conductive properties and heat resistance. In 1911 Thomas Edison chose it to make gramophone records.

As radiograms moved from old wooden veneer cabinets, the modern home embraced the fashion of bakelite and by 1920, fashionable radios were coming out in bakelite. Whilst many are probably familiar with the most common, chocolate brown bakelite, some amazing colours were produced and with incredible marbled effects.

The retro appeal of old Bakelite products has made it quite collectible in recent years. The appeal of bakelite was used also for jewelry, toys, and kitchen products. So while there is a wide variety to collect there is nothing better than the sound of an old bakelite radio.

Bakelite over the years can become brittle and often sun bleached. However, it can be brought back to its original sheen with a bit of effort. I have found that brasso is a terrific cleaner of bakelite, although badly faded pieces may need a more abrasive cleaner initially.

Leave the polish to ‘cloud over’ on the surface of the bakelite for a few minutes, then proceed to buff up with a new cloth to hopefully reveal a sparkling finish. You may need to repeat this procedure several times to remove the layers of grime.

When buffing up, do not be alarmed if a brownish/yellow residue appears on your cloth, this is perfectly normal, caused by the polish reacting with the phenol within bakelite. No damage occurs.

With a store full of retro items, you’re bound to find some bakelite gems when hunting through the Antique Emporium. If there’s a specific item you’re looking for, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Happy Treasure Hunting,

John Cole.