Astor 'Mickey Mouse' brown Bakelite mantel radio, circa 1937, 15.5 cm high, 23 cm wide, 13 cm deep
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- Circa - A Latin term meaning 'about', often used in the antique trade to give an approximate date for the piece, usually considered to be five years on either side of the circa year. Thus, circa 1900 means the piece was made about 1900, probably between 1895 and 1905. The expression is sometimes abbreviated to c.1900.
- Bakelite - Bakelite was the first completely synthetic man-made substance. Bakelite was invented in 1909 by an independent New York chemist Leo H. Baekeland. It was called the "material of a thousand uses" and used to make everything from car parts to jewellery.
Although nearly all plastic from this period is known as ?Bakelite', it is important to remember that this is an umbrella term that covers many different early plastics such as Lucite and cellulose acetate, and includes Bakelite.
We often think of the colour of Bakelite items as dark brown, but it was manufactured in various colours including yellow, butterscotch, red, green and brown.
Bakelite could also be transparent, or marbleised by mixing two colours. Plastics were cheap to produce and could be moulded or carved in a huge variety of ways.
Bakelite is most commonly associated with radio cases of the 1930s, telephones and kitchen utensils, but it was also used extensively in jewellery manufacture.
Early designs from the 1920s were plainer and simpler than later examples. Geometric and floral patterns typical of Art Deco styling were popular.
During its heyday in the 1930s, Bakelite jewellery was stocked by the most prestigious stores, such as Saks, Harrods and Macy?s, who dedicated a shop window display to it in 1935.
Coco Chanel featured Bakelite items in her accessories collection and the material was praised frequently in Vogue magazine.
Manufacture of some consumer Items were suspended in 1942 in order to concentrate manufacturing on the war effort.
Small items made of Bakelite are now valuable collectables. Andy Warhol was an avid collector, and when he died in 1987, his pieces sold for record prices at Sotheby's.
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