Collections Week: Bakelite Jewellery

I find myself with so much vintage stuff that I have amassed mini collections of stuff without even trying. So I thought I’d talk about some of my sets this week.

At one point, I was an active collector of Bakelite. Mostly plastic handled flatware. If you don’t know, Bakelite is a trade name of polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride — one of the first thermal plastics. Bakelite was used for lots of things: making radios; mah jong tiles; insulators for electrical components. In the ’20s until the ’40s it was also used to make brightly coloured jewellery.

In the ’90s, collecting vintage Bakelite jewellery became insanely popular. Like, tulip speculation popular. A single carved bangle could commandeer $600. “Fakelite” pieces flooded the market. But the bubble burst and prices plummeted. It’s still pricey (mostly because sellers are trying to recover a fraction of the price that they paid for it), but it’s not quite as popular.

I tell this story mostly as a cautionary tale about collecting in general. I like to hunt for the vintage beauties, but I try to buy only things that I love, I don’t generally buy things as an investment. And yes, sometimes I fall out of love with things too. Which is why I have my Thrift Club rule: Never pay more than $36 for one item. I have broken this rule and been sorry and I have occasionally been sorry when I didn’t break this rule. But I haven’t been financially wiped out because I spent hundreds of thousand of dollars on Bakelite jewellery.

Anyway, I do like Bakelite jewellery’s colourful chunkiness. I don’t go out of my way to collect it, but if I come across some for cheap, I’ll pick it up quick smart. The most spectacular piece I own is the handcarved and painted Prystal tiger brooch pictured above, which I got for $5 at the Mennonite Central Committee store in K-W. Pictured below are various spacer bangles, a ring and a crescent-shaped brooch, which all total probably cost $20.