Testing Bakelite

by Mara Nesbitt-Aldrich.

Testing Bakelite - which of these beads are the real thing?

Testing Bakelite – which of these beads are the real thing?

Testing Bakelite by heating it to check for a smell is no longer considered an adequate test alone.

What is Bakelite?

It’s an early form of plastic, developed at the beginning of the 1900’s.

It was used in all sorts of products – from industrial items to housewares, from game pieces to jewelry.

Nowadays authentic vintage Bakelite items are valued for their retro style.

Currently the definitive method of testing Bakelite is to put some Formula 409 on the end of a Q-tip and apply a small amount on an inconspicuous portion of the bead in question.

If it’s genuine, the Q-tip will show a yellow, brown or orange tint. Plastic will show no color.

I learned this when I wanted to check some beads I had received from a friend.

I had made them into a necklace, earrings and bracelet and was wearing the necklace when someone asked me if they were Bakelite.

I researched the method of testing and found the Formula 409 method.

I was pleasantly surprised to note that several (but not all) of the beads were Bakelite.

In the necklace, the two sparkly blue beads between the red ones are genuine Bakelite:


The large center bead, however, is not:


Mara Nesbitt-Aldrich
Pastiche Custom Jewelry


Great way to tell if it’s the real deal
by: Rena

Thanks so much for sharing your research, Mara.

The heat testing method always sounded to me like it could easily damage or devalue the piece – using hot water or poking a hot pin into a vintage item doesn’t seem like a good idea! :o)

The 409 method sounds safer.

Very interesting to hear of your own experience with testing Bakelite beads from your jewelry set. Thanks for sharing the photos also!

Thank you!
by: Mara


Thank you so much for making me part of your website. The page looks GREAT and I’ll be telling my Facebook friends about it.

I hope my tip on testing bakelite will help others.


good advice
by: Perry

Good clear advice. Will give it a try.
Thank you for doing the research.

bakelite test
by: Kim H.

This is wonderful information. I will so use it in the future. Thanks!

by: Tricia – Bead Booty

Thanks for sharing. I’ve always wondered how to tell the difference. Love your necklace!

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