Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cheap Bastid's Cheap Utensils--Ode to Bakelite

I didn’t know Bakelite from an Easy Bake Oven when I first met my wife Carolyn. But, she has long had a passion for this early plastic, especially when it comes to jewelry. Over the past several years our knowledge has dramatically increased and we’ve accumulated quite a collection.

Carolyn’s passion is for the “prettys”. She loves Bakelite jewelry and has an online store ( where she sells vintage costume and Bakelite jewelry.

Bakelite was invented more than a century ago by Leo Baekeland. It was arguably the first of the modern plastics. It was used for all kinds of industrial applications and eventually for both home products and inexpensive jewelry. The jewelry and home products part of it was a way to make inexpensive consumer goods. Today, some Bakelite jewelry pieces sell in the five figure range and it’s not uncommon to find simple bangle bracelets for over $100.

Bakelite jewelry was often sold at the classic “Five and Dime” stores especially in the 20’s and 30’s. It was cheap stuff that has ended up in estate sales and flea markets until it started to become increasingly rare and fashion recognized the value and beauty of “art deco” types of jewelry. And interestingly, the use of Bakelite for jewelry and other consumer goods by and large disappeared at the outset of World War II when production was converted to wartime purposes.

(I use the salt & pepper shakers daily along with the sugar jar but the anodized grease tin with Bakelite handle is just for decoration)

But that’s Carolyn’s interest. I got involved in researching and buying jewelry with my wife and then discovered the many different kitchen utensil items that had been made from this “magic plastic”. And, like the jewelry, most of it is around 70-80 years old.

Recently, I photographed my “collection” of Bakelite utensils and kitchen gadgets. I use all of it. If I can’t use it, I won’t buy it (that’s the Cheap Bastid Way!). And I thought I’d give you a little bit of a “guided tour” today.

I guess my cooking’s as old fashioned as my utensils. Take a look.

A simple ladle and serving spoon

Here’s a bullet handled spatula and frosting knife and then a spatula and potato masher

Bakelite handled Handmixer, and yes I use it!

Serving Utensils

These are all items which were originally sold inexpensively to housewives as single pieces or sets. Most of it I bought on eBay, carefully monitoring auctions and making sure to get good, serviceable pieces inxpensively (just like the original owners did). We’ve been to antique shows and antique stores and have been amazed at the prices being charged for identical items.

But, I’m the Cheap Bastid and I’m buying them for their original purpose—to be used for everyday cooking. There’s a lot of utensils I’ve passed on buying because, while collectible, it just wouldn’t be used that much. And, when I’m mixing a cake batter or mashing potatoes, I take added pleasure in knowing that someone else 60 or 70 years ago did the same thing with this mixer or masher or bowl. I think that’s kind of cool.

Yeah, this pizza cutter gets used often and it’s about the most rare piece I have.

Notice the handles. They are Bakelite swirled and carved to resemble bone

These are cool but carving sets generally aren’t a very high quality blade. These sets were made to be affordable so the stainless blades don’t have much heft and don’t hold an edge very well.

These are my wife’s soupspoons and I wouldn’t dare use them! She uses them.

Really simple, “industrial” type design which was probably really cheap. We like it and use it.

We use these knives whenever we have steak and the corncob holders all summer long when we do corn on the cob.

And, we also enjoy old-style TexasWare. The platter is used all the time (it’s been featured many times in Cheap Bastid food photos). The bowls are Texasware and are very collectible—but I use them all the time too (if I couldn’t use them, I wouldn’t have them) and the trays are our favorite and most used “plates”.

So, that’s a quick tour through Cheap Bastid’s kitchen drawers and cupboards. If you’re interested in more information on Bakelite kitchenware check out the book “Bakelite in the Kitchen” by Barbara Mauzy which is available on Amazon. A quick “collector’s view of these items suggests that the “retail” value is somewhere around $1000-$1200. I spent maybe $300 for all of it.
And that’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Good! Eat Cheap! Be Grateful!

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