Along with the right barkcloth, great vintage buttons are one of the signature elements in my bag designs-and some of my favorite buttons are made of bakelite.
Bakelite (pronounced bay ka lite) was developed in 1907 by Belgian scientist Leo Baekeland. It was the first plastic made from synthetic compounds and was originally developed for industry, being extremely useful because of its non conductive and heat resistant properties.
It became clear however, that bakelite was perfect for other things including buttons because it was available in an array of colors and could be carved, molded, and laminated into many shapes. Some other popular uses for bakelite included telephones, jewelry, drawer pulls, radios and utensil handles, to name but a few.
Modern Materials for Modern Living. Bakelite Plastics, 1957
The buttons I’ve shown are coat buttons from the 1930's. During the Great Depression people had to make do with what they had, but for a few cents they could update the look of a garment such as a coat with new buttons. Their biggest challenge was just having to decide which of these beauties to choose!
As a side note, not only do I love finding and using great vintage items-but I love learning about these items too. From time to time I will do more of these features. Let me know what you think, and if you have something vintage to share, I’d love to read about it too!