Friday, August 15, 2014

Plastic by any other name would smell as sweet

I've been buying lots of vintage bangle bracelets lately to sell in my Etsy shop and wanted to find out more about what they are made of. They are plastic, but many Etsy shops have similar ones listed as Lucite.

from Enclyclopedia Brittanica: "Lucite, also called Plexiglas, British Perspex, is a trademark name of polymethyl methacrylate, a synthetic organic compound of high molecular weight made by the combination of many simple molecules of the ester methyl methacrylate (monomer) into long chains (polymer); this process (polymerization) may be effected by light or heat, although chemical catalysts are usually employed in manufacture of the commercial product."

Okay, so that is great for scientists, but how about the rest of us . . . I asked a veteran plastic seller on Etsy, Age Of Plastic https://www.etsy.com/shop/AgeofPlastic, for some advice. Here is her response:

"Lucite can be molded or carved. It can also have seams, although I don't know how common that is (I think I've owned one Lucite bangle with a seam). On your better Lucite pieces, even if they were molded, they will have been polished to remove any sign of mold marks. Generally speaking, collectors and sellers consider the presence/absence of mold marks and seams to be an indicator of quality, and occasionally to exclude a plastic when identifying. In some types of pieces, like Japanese celluloid floral bangles, seams are expected because of how they were constructed and have no bearing on their value."

 I also found out that although clear in its original state, Lucite can be tinted virtually any color, in ranges from transparent to opaque, with a few interesting variations along the way.

 Now, how can you tell what the plastic is? The best test is to run the piece under hot tap water, or wear the bangle while you relax in the hot tub or shower. If it smells a little like your old high school chemistry lab (formaldehyde), it's Bakelite. If it smells like Vicks Vapo-rub (camphor), it's Celluloid. If it smells like burnt milk, it's Galalith (1920's). If it smells clean, or like nothing at all, it's Lucite or acrylic.