Not all plastic is plastic - if you know what I mean. (Now that IS a bit of Norfolk!)
We normally think of plastic as a cheap substitute for more traditional materials such as metal, glass, wood or stone. In some cases the plastic as a raw material is more costly.
Just for the record, materials with plasticity have been around since the Romans and Babylonians used a bitumen mortar to make roads in 600 BC. Other natural plastic materials include amber, horn, tortoiseshell, and rubber. These items could all be moulded and shaped and have plastic properties. It was when British inventor Alexander Parkes from Birmingham (1813-1890) produced a new product in 1862 called Parkesine the public realised a great potential in this material. Afterwards, it became better known as Celluloid.
This new material could be shaped, moulded, or formed into any shape or design, just like horn or tortoiseshell but at a fraction of the cost and some items could be manufactured time after time without having to source scarce raw materials.
This was the foundation stone of the modern plastics industry way back in the 1860's. Hundreds of variations and formulas from just as many manufacturers who have entered the market since then, names such as Xylonite, Ivoride, Vinyl, Melamine, Nylon, Acrylic, Polythene and Polypropylene. It was left to Mr Leo Bakeland to invent the first, fully synthetic plastic material in 1907. He called his material "Bakelite", probably the most remembered trade name in the world of plastics. Now it has become an almost generic term covering all manner of articles, many not constructed from Bakelite at all.
Leo Bakeland's invention was soon to be found in most homes in one form or another: telephones, radios, cigarette boxes, cruets, plates, egg cups, toilet seats and even water bottles. The cases for early television sets were also made from Bakelite. This material was king. Other quality plastics joined the scene, including the upmarket Bandalasta, with a wide range of coloured objects, very decorative and somewhat brighter than the rather dour Bakelite.
Today, these early everyday items are sought by collectors and are often quite fun to search out. They need not be expensive unless you are looking for something really obscure, like a 1930's green telephone or a pink cased early radio. Many a bargain can be bought for under £5.
Look out for small, simple objects such as mustard pots, salt cellars, ash trays, serviette rings; patent devices such as cheese graters, boiled egg cutters, egg weighing machines. These can be found at auctions, jumble sales, car boots, and the like.
For more adventurous items, you might have to visit specialist dealers. Remember, the choice in the early days of Bakelite was brown or brown and, therefore, this colour is usually the cheapest unless it is an unusual object. Bright colours tend to be the more expensive.
Look for the moulded trademark on the bottom of the items as this adds to the authenticity and genuineness.
© Mike Hicks