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The Jewel of Plastics

Published

The Jewel of Plastics

Aug. 5-28

Despite the hardships of the early 20th century, there were strong efforts to smile. A shining light was the invention of Bakelite, advertised as the material of a thousand uses. Its successor, Catalin, brightened lives with its array of jewel colors. Radios, dominoes, purse handles, dishes, telephones, eyeglass frames — an endless list — were made of Bakelite Catalin. Coco Chanel featured Bakelite items in her 1920s accessories collection, and the great couturier Elsa Schiaparelli loved to add wry elements to her elegant and expensive garments by including buttons in the forms of lipsticks, dice, and calling cards. Women donned stacks of Bakelite Catalin bracelets, elaborately carved, hinged, and with distinctive designs, covering both arms from wrist to elbow. Whether toasters or brooches, vanity mirrors or hat pins, if molded of Bakelite, the items were available at the local five and dime store for ridiculously low prices. Jewelers occasionally combined diamonds and seashells with Bakelite, and women proudly used their kitchen Bakelite Catalin ware. The jewelry has a long and rich history and is now highly collectible. What cost 29 cents then costs hundreds, even thousands, of dollars now. Avid collectors include Whoopi Goldberg, Lily Tomlin, and Barbra Streisand. Andy Warhol was also a passionate collector. The show, on view at the Women’s Museum of California, will put a smile on your face. 619.233.7963, womensmuseumca.org   DARLENE G. DAVIES

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