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As you know, I am a huge fan of the Nashville Flea Market and my main reason is this: going to the flea market is an education – a REAL education.   Where else can you learn how to care for your grandmother’s fine silver, why the Fugitive Movement began in Nashville and tips on making pickled deviled eggs?   I defy anyone to match or even come close to the various eclectic offerings in the boundaries of our beloved fairgrounds.  It’s like taking a quick trip to the Smithsonian without the airfare.

I credit the Nashville Flea Market with my introduction to Bakelite jewelry, as I just happened upon a wonderful seller at the flea.  What appeals to me most about Bakelite jewelry are the colors with their boldness and concentrated hues and the quirky and imaginative designs.  Oh,  just as an aside, I lust for anything opaque.  Bakelite jewelry reflects the Art Deco movement with its strong geometry and angles. The intricate carved bangles, rings and necklaces place this unusual jewelry squarely in US History.

Clutch bag with a Bakelite clasp.  My total find from the flea market this month.

Here’s a bit more info if you want to buy a piece of Bakelite jewelry:

Bakelite was invented in the early 1900’s, but became popular as jewelry during The Depression. Bakelite offered the glamorous public affordable and stylish baubles since it was crafted from – you got it – plastic.   Yes, the fantastic plastic we call Bakelite, is back on trend in a big way.  Searches online quickly produce bracelets at $5,000 and up!

Tons of colors abound with butterscotch and pea green being the most common and least expensive. With the prices skyrocketing, Bakelite is the aristocrat of all plastic jewelry.  Intricate and heavily carved bangle bracelets and pins are the most valuable.  Buyer beware: there is lots of imitation Bakelite out there, especially at the flea market.

Here is how you tell the real booty from the Bakelite:

  • The real deal will have a familiar clunking when two pieces are tapped together.  Fakes do not.
  • There are usually no seams in the real stuff.
  • The true litmus test:  rub some 409 or simichrome polish on a Q-tip and then brush the inside of the piece and a yellow tint should appear on the cotton. However, apparently counterfeiters are starting to figure that one out too, so it’s not foolproof.
  • If you dip your Bakelite in water and rub, there is a camphor smell.  The smell apparently the best way to tell the real from the fake.
pretty cute, huh?
This is a zipper pull for all your stylish cardigans
This gambler’s delight is available from Plum Charm Bracelets

There is a lot of Bakelite on display at Wonders on Woodland. Bring your Q-tips, your 409, and your wallet as you will find that perfect piece.

Finally, here’s my best pearl of advice for lovers of Bakelite:  buy from a reputable dealer and wear your piece of American history proudly.

If you are intrigued by this little post about Bakelite, you may want to delve further with perhaps one of the TEN books I was able to find at Davis Kidd all about Bakelite!  Uh huh, T-E-N books.  I know you want one…..


The Nashville Flea Market is third weekend of the month.

Plum Charm Bracelets
Wonders on Woodland store in East Nashville

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About the Author
Elizabeth Fox