Saturday, July 2, 2011

Bakelite in the Kitchen and Dining Room

Cute Scottie Dog napkin rings made from Bakelite.
Bakelite knife set in Bakelite stand (Photo from Bakelite in the Kitchen by Barbara E. Mauzy)
With summer picnics on the schedule, why not break out the colorful Bakelite tableware and serving pieces to brighten up the presentation. Back in its heyday, the 1950s, Bakelite knives and forks were popular giveaways at service stations and supermarkets. Alas, you had to buy the spoons and serving pieces.
Bakelite advertisement.
Bakelite is a thermosetting phenol formaldehyde resin developed by Leo Baekeland circa 1907. One of the first plastic made from synthetic components, Bakelite was used for its electrically non-conductive and heat-resistant properties in radios, telephones and electrical insulators, and also in such diverse products as kitchen utensils, jewelry and toys. Today Bakelite is primarily used for industrial components, although some consumer products are made in Asia and bright colorful jewelry and accessories are made from Bakelite by a handful of jewelry artists. (For a slightly longer history of Bakelite, click here.)
Bakelite colors change over time, as shown in this photo from Bakelite in the Kitchen.
One of the delightful things about Bakelite kitchenware is the bright colors. Early Bakelite was molded and came in black or brown. Period. But as the technology evolved, companies developed variants, such as Catalin in the 1930s, that not only changed the manufacturing process by allowing for casting as well as molding of items, but also introduced the array of colors we now expect. As with anything that is wildly successful, imitators abound. There are several ways to test for authentic Bakelite. When rubbed, Bakelite has a telltale odor. (This website has a nice tutorial on testing Bakelite.)
Set of knives and forks (photo from Bakelite in the Kitchen)
We have a nice selection of Bakelite tableware and serving pieces, as well as some jewelry. Here's a gallery of some of our in shop only offering. 
A pile of Bakelite handled tableware in a rainbow of colors.
An array of Bakelite knife handles.
More colorful Bakelite handles on spoons and forks.
There's a rainbow of color in this place setting.
Sets of knives and forks with bright red handles.
Set of six spoons with unusual shape and color.

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