Eric Knowles Eric Knowles, Antiquarian


When a Bakelite toy car made in 1929 sells for £2000 you might find your attitude to this once ubiquitous material changing just a little. This early plastic was discovered in 1907 by a Belgian chemist working in New York called Leo Hendrik Baekeland and who gave his name to this versatile material. Today's collectors tend to regard Bakelite as a generic term for both this and the other related plastics discovered in the inter war years.

The big attraction for most collectors is the sheer variety available from cameras to cocktail shakers and tape measures to table tennis bats. In short there appears to be little in either domestic or decorative products which this wonder material failed to infitrate. The perfume house of 'Bourgois' commissioned a range of mottled blue bakelite presentation boxes offered to customers each Christmas. Produced by a maker called 'Prestware' the range included an Owl and a Grandfather clock priced today at £80 and the rarer Eiffel Tower at £250.

The celebrated jeweller and glass maker Rene Lalique experimented with designs for a square powder box moulded with cherries. Found in red and black and valued at £400-£500. The heat and electrical resistant properties of this early plastic was not lost on the industrial designers of the day. The US designer Walter Dorwin Teague was keen to introduce streamline elements and his rocket shape vacuum cleaner could be your for about £150 - minus suction.

Desk fans when found in working order are always popular, the most desirable at £200 is the EMI Bandelero complete with cloth safety blades. The 'picnic' appears to have enjoyed a particular popularity during the inter war years. Enter the bakelite Thermos Flask, prices start at £20 up to £80 for an Art Deco example. The telephone probably qualifies as the most ubiquitous of all Bakelite products with collectors on the lookout for the GPO 200 series brought out in 1927. Its Deco pyramid shape adds to its desirability and price is determined by the rarity of the colour with black £150, cream £350, red £800 and green £1200.

Camera manufacturers were also quick of the mark in recognising the potential of this malleable and sturdy substance. An important word of warning is that when dropped Bakelite often suffers hairline cracks which in most instances reduces the value by 75%. Cameras are prone to such defects but when in sound condition can still offer good value for money. Keep an eye out for the colourful 'Coronet Midget' the blue sells at £300.

Should your taste be more towards the decorative than the domestic then look no further than the mind bending range of Bakelite jewellery. Prices start from as little as £10 for a 'Scottie Dog' brooch to £1000 plus for an exotic carved necklace. The market is primarily US based and after witnessing big prices the market has softened recently which alongside a strong pound is good news for the Brits.

Should you decide to set about collecting Bakelite and early plastics it's important to remember that seasoned collectors look for good shapes and vibrant colours. However the materials low resistance to UV light can result in significant colour loss and fading given the passage of time. This is probably the most significant factor when assessing the value of radios especially those made in the USA.

Of all that is available for me it's these US radios that set the pulse racing the combination of primary colours and inventive 'Deco' forms are magical. The 'Fada Streamliner' is tempting even with a £1000 price tag but possibly upstaged by Noman Bel Geddes and his 'Patriot' range in red ,white and blue, price £1500. If you want to go British 'Ecko' called on the services of Wells Coates his AD 65 produced in chocolate brown from 1935 till 1945 is worth thinking about at £500.

For further information

Contact Internationally respected Bakelite and Plastics Expert - Gad Sassower.


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