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Warmanís Depression Glass Handbook
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This is an easy-to-use reference featuring a one-of-a-kind thumbnail pattern guide for quick identification and discovery of Depression glass, with 170 patterns, detailed pattern drawings, values, and a shape guide.

                                   
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Fun with Plastics
by Bob Brooke

 


Plastics has been around since just after the end of the Civil War, believe it or not. They're  so much a part of life today that most people canít even imagine them existing during the Victorian Age. For the first time, man was able to replicate materials found in nature, such as ivory and tortoiseshell.

The most common plastics are either thermoplastic or thermoset. Essentially, a thermoplastic substance can he molded into shape by heat and pressure, and once cooled to room temperature, it will harden and retain its shape until exposure to heat makes it pliable once again. Some of the most valuable and collectible pieces, made from thermoplastic, require careful preservation because they arenít indestructible. They can chip, crack or break if handled improperly and they often discolor with age.

Celluloid
Nitrocellulose celluloid was the first man-made thermoplastic material that gained world-wide success. John W. Hyatt of Albany, New York, developed it in 1869, in an effort to win a cash prize for creating a substitute material for ivory in billiard balls. Celluloid's greatest virtue was its ability to be molded into articles that imitated the expensive and scarce substances found in nature, such as coral and amber.

By the turn of the 20th century, celluloid had made its appearance in nearly every American home. It could be found in washable cuffs and collars, dresser sets, jewelry, fancy hair combs, decorative boxes and albums, advertising premiums, and even in the production of toys and movie film, even though it was dangerously inflammable.

Learn more about Celluloid.

Bakelite
Molded Phenolic Resin, or Bakelite as itís commonly known, was the world's first synthetic thermoset plastic, developed in Yonkers, New York., between 1907 and 1909 by Belgian-born scientist Len Baekeland. Initially, he was trying to create a varnish for bowling alleys by combining phenol and formaldehyde, but instead he ended up with a translucent amber resin that permanently set into a solid. The inventor devised a fabricating technique that involved grinding the hardened resin and combining it with dense fillers like slate dust or asbestos, then compression molding the substance.



Manufacturers called it Bakelite and fabricated the material into a wide variety of articles that required heat resistance and durability. Westinghouse was the first to use Bakelite in its electrical components and shortly there after others began producing car distributors, knobs and dials of the unique substance. Other practical applications soon followed, and by the late 1920s. radio and clock case manufacturers were using the strong, dark plastic to mold them.

Early Bakelite objects were generally very dark because makers needed to add dense filters to each batch. The most common colors were black, brown, maroon, dark green, and butterscotch. In 1927, Bakelite Corporationís patents expired and other manufacturers like Durez and American Phenolics began production of compression molded thermosets. But Bakelite also found its way into flatware handles and pieces of Art Deco jewelry.

Beetle
In 1924, a group of scientists from British Cyanide began to experiment with thiourea formaldehyde and after several years developed a thermoset material they called Beetle. The production technique involved saturating cellulose fiber with a chemical solution, then grinding it into molding powder. In 1928, they introduced their new plastic, which they hailed as "the great white hope," because it was just as strong as Bakelite but could be produced in pure white, as well as a rainbow of colors. The Beall Shop was opened in London for the express purpose of selling plastic goods made exclusively of this material.

The following year, 1929, American Cyanamid Company purchased patent rights and began to manufacture Beetleware. Others soon joined the bandwagon with names like Bandalasta. Linga Longa and Plaskon. Most of the items fabricated were picnic sets, cups and howls, clock and radio cases. But consumers soon discovered that the "Great White Hope" wasnít as durable as it was once thought to be since the cellulose used in the molding powder had a tendency to absorb moisture which resulted in cracking and chipping.

Catalin
In 1927 after Bakelite's patents had expired, the America Catalia Corporation was founded. This aggressive company manufactured a purified form of phenolic resin that did away with the dense fillers so essential to the molding of Bakelite. Their production methods also offered a variety of translucent, opaque, mottled and variegated decorative effects.

The success of Catalin prompted other plastics manufacturers to venture into the area of cast phenolics. Bakelite Corporation recognized its competition and began to fabricate cast phenolics as did Fiberloid of Springfield, Massachusetts., and the Marblette Corporation of Long Island City. New York . Each company made a fair amount of buttons, jewelry, toy parts, gaming pieces, umbrella handles, and trinket boxes, but the biggest money maker was in radio cabinets, of which Catalin had become the leader.

Acrylic
Commonly called Plexiglas or Lucite, acrylic is a synthetic thermoplastic resin developed in 1931 by Rohm and Haas in Germany. It resists shattering and is crystal clear. Its first successful application was in the manufacture of airplane cockpit shields under the trade name Perspex. Manufacturers recycled scrap acrylic into dentures beginning around 1935. In 1936, Dupont introduced its brand of acrylic under the trade name Lucite. The beauty and durability of translucent acrylic resin made it a fine choice for molding vanity wares, jewelry, household accessories, small novelty items and even postwar mid-century modern furniture.

Acrylic production boomed after World War II when designers began to recognize its durability. Makers fabricated it into stylish compacts, whimsical jewelry, and trendy purses. Elegant Lucite vanity sets replaced old-fashioned celluloid on ladiesí dressing tables, and novelty items began to appear in kitchens. One of the most recognizable of these are the watermelon tumblers from H.J. Stotter. And vintage fashion accessories are at the forefront of acrylic collectibles.

WATCH A VIDEO:  Wonderful World of Tupperware

Modem poly plastics
During the years between World War I and World War 11, technology advanced at an incredible rate. The invention of rayon, polyester and nylon literally changed the way mankind looked at fashion. Viscous nylon, commonly known as vinyl, found its way into the upholstery realm as well as in toy manufacture. Polyethylene made its debut as Tupperware and became as common in the kitchen as designer Russel Wright's colorful Melmac dinnerware. By 1950 plastics had infiltrated nearly every area of American life.

Today baby boomers of the postwar era are reclaiming their childhood memories by collecting all manner of plastic items made during the 1950s through the 1970s. From hard vinyl Barbie and GI Joe dolls to polystyrene Plasticville model railroad buildings, Aurora and Revel model kits and Renwal dollhouse furniture, Bolero Thermoware, Stotter vinyl placemats, and Rubbermaid products, to name a few. Some plastic collectibles are commanding phenomenal selling prices. Fortunately for beginning collectors, there were hundreds of thousands of plastic novelties and toys produced during this time.

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How to Recognize and Refinish Antiques for Pleasure and Profit

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