Books on Bakelite

Just as every black pot is not a Maria Martinez, nor every plush toy a Ty, not every plastic bangle is Bakelite. But, if you don’t recognize it, it is not for lack of information, however repetitive.

Schiffer Ltd. currently has five books in publication, including a little general paperback, Plastic Jewelry (Schiffer, 1997), and a non-jewelry book, Bakelite in the Kitchen (Schiffer, 1998), which, as its title implies, illustrates flatware, napkin rings, utensils, and those mysterious “miscellaneous” pieces.

If you were to buy only one book, and wanted to concentrate on jewelry, The Bakelite Collection (Schiffer, 1997) is this book editor’s first choice. Author Matthew Burkholz has been dealing in Bakelite before Bakelite was cool to deal in, and he has drawn on major collections to present a fairly comprehensive pictorial survey of the famous bracelets, earrings, pins, and lots of novelty pieces.

You could toss an earring in the air and call for clip side up or down in order to select from The Best of Bakelite (And Other Plastic) Jewelry (Schiffer, 1995) and Bakelite Jewelry, Good Better & Best (Schiffer, 1997). To begin with, you’ve basically already seen the “best” in the Burkholz book. The addition of Celluloid and Lucite pieces in Best do add to the book, but that’s probably why these subjects were included, to make what could have been a small paperback into a $40 hardcover. Good, Better & Best does help the collector and dealer in working with identification and rating quality, but one begins to see geometric designs in his sleep after looking through another 427 color photos. (All of the Schiffer books show pieces in a variety of styles and decoration, including molded, painted, carved, and imbedded items.)

A new publisher enters the field this fall. Bakelite Bangles (Krause Publications, 1999) is a book about bangle bracelets and nothing else. Three hundred of them are shown, along with a price guide and some information on judging quality. What turns me off here is the addition of “contemporary artistic works” in Bakelite, but on the other hand, it’s helpful in any field to know what’s going on today.

The Bakelite Jewelry Book (Abbeville Press, 1988) with it’s oversized photos and artsy layout (plus an eleven year old “value” guide) will probably not be your first choice for a reference book. But bear in mind, it’s the book that is in the bibliography of every other book published since, and, although it is still in print, we have a sneaking suspicion a first edition, first printing will be on the collectable book list for the next wave of Bakelite collectors.

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