Could this be bakelite?

I have this cocktail shaker which appears to be made of bakelite. It feels like bakelite but when I search online for similar examples they appear to be extremely rare. The mottled pattern is also something I haven’t seen before. I wonder if anyone knows what this material is and how it might be described. Thanks in advance!

Seems very unlikely. Pure white was rare to impossible, and by now would have yellowed considerably no matter how close to white to original was. The cap could be, it is close to the classic brown fibre-reinforced Bakelite colour.

Obvious questions.
Any maker’s markings?
How old is it?
Any mould lines?

The classic test for Bakelite is to run hot water over a small part and then smell it. Bakelite will have a very recognisable phenolic smell.

The marbled texture put me in mind more of a celluloid material. The colour too. But that yellows with age as well.

Good questions!

No makers markings at all. I’ve looked inside and out, underneath, etc. Nothing that I can see.

No idea of the age but the lines imply art deco. I have had it in my possession for over twenty years. It was given to me by a friend when he was cleaning out his art deco apartment back in the day. It has six delicate cups, extremely thin and made of the same material - again no sign of a manufacturer’s identity. No moulding marks anywhere. Completely smooth all the way around.

Interesting - I just put some hot water on the base and there was no smell. So maybe it is celluloid. It’s been kept in the dark pretty much since I got it (and potentially for many years before) so if yellowing is a function of light exposure that might explain why it doesn’t appear to have yellowed?

Heat a pin tip with a match and touch the item in a spot that won’t matter, such as the bottom. Plastic or most other materials will melt, Bakelite with do nothing. Use something to hold the pin, it will get hot.

The danger with the hot pin is that if it isn’t Bakelite there is a risk of ruining it. Especially if there is some chance it has collector’s value.

If it doesn’t have the phenolic smell it probably isn’t Bakelite. So the chance a hot pin will damage it is even greater.

There are a few other things that can be done to test its composition. A few more questions come to mind.

How heavy is it? More to the point - how dense does it feel?
What sort of sound does it make when struck?
Does the pattern go all the way through?

I think its porcelain.

Can the material be discovered by a density test? Weight of object coupled with water displacement? It’s early and just an idea I had.

You are correct. I was shown the hot pin test by an older guy in an antique store. I just looked up other testing methods and found one that causes no damage to the piece. It can be found here.

Is it at all possible that it is bone china or something of that nature?

I’m assuming you know it’s plastic since you’re asking… :slight_smile:

That said, it could be a variation of “Beetle” which was an early decorative plastic used in the late 1930’s and some in the 1940’s. Most examples I’ve seen were antique radio cabinets. The Beetle I’m familiar with usually looks like swirls of brown and patches of glitter mixed in with milky white plastic. I’ve never seen beetle as speckled blue like your picture.

Another early plastic is “Plaskon” although I’ve never seen a powdery color mix in Plaskon. Usually Plaskon items are a creamy pure white.

A third remote possibility is Catalin which was cast from phenol resin and hand polished. All the colored catalin I’ve seen was swirled although I guess a colored powder could be mixed in.

Value? Catalin $$$, Plaskon $$, Beetle $-$$

Catalin is the beautiful cousin of Bakelite. Based on the same resin.

You can do the research regarding determination.

It could also be melmac.

I was curious about it being melamine also. I did an image search and although there is a large variety of colours and prints there doesn’t seem to be any marbled melamine vases.

You could bring it to a pawn shop and ask if they recognize the material. Or an antique shop.

Heading off to work now - will post responses to questions later, in the meantime I found this -

Very similar design. I wonder if it could be urea formaldehyde?

Hmmm. Sounds romantic…

That seems like a good guess to me. My mom has a kitchen full of old melmac plates and bowls.

Whatever it’s made of, it’s awesome. I love old style cocktail shakers, and that one is really gorgeous.

I thought melmac was a distant planet where they ate cats…

“Bakelite and Catalin are both tradenames for early thermosetting plastics based on formaldehydes”

Fascinating. I had a look at the site I mentioned in a previous post - the Museum of Design in Plastics and it seems to me they’d be across all this so I have sent them an email with the image to see if they can progress things.

Re some of the prior points raised - yes, it’s in the nature of plastic and not china. It ‘thunks’ when percussed rather than ‘rings’. The material is however quite dense and the object itself is weightier than it may look.

I’ll pass on what the museum folks tell me when I hear back from them. Thanks for all your interest!

Another Q/data point:

Wall thickness?

Early plastics and resins were relatively weak - so walls were necessarily thick.

Just checked - the wall of the shaker appears to be a uniform 5mm thick (a little more than 3/16 of an inch). The matching cups have walls that are considerably more slender.