If your recollections of Bakelite are confined to dark brown light switches and other such boring everyday household items from the past you need a visit to the Bakelite Museum, Williton in Somerset. Patrick Cook, artist, collector and author bought a Bakelite radio in 1968 and the rest, as they say, is history. For now he is the curator of the world’s greatest collection of vintage plastics.
Bakelite was developed by Belgian born chemist Leo Baekeland in New York in 1907, and because of its extraordinary resistance to electricity, heat and chemical action was used primarily for non-conducting parts of radios, electrical devices such as bases and sockets for light fittings and in the automobile industry. A myriad of applications followed including cameras, solid body electric guitars, telephones and casings for various appliances. The introduction of ‘colour’ into the process took Bakelite into the home and kitchen for a whole range of functional and decorative items from the everyday to the personal.
Housed in a former 17th century mill the collection spans the history of plastics from 1850 t0 1950 with hundreds of exhibits, appliances and gadgets from the reality of everyday domestic life. I will guarantee that at some point you will say, ‘I remember that.’
Colourful jelly moulds from the 1940s and 50s, art deco style jugs from the 20s, radios and early televisions, telephones, children’s toys, the list is endless. There really is something for everyone.
And when you have looked round pop into the 1930s Tea Rooms and the Shop where you will be probably be served by Patrick himself.
A truly interesting place to visit, and did you know Bakelite is still made today!
Words and photographs Copyright © 2012 by Antony J Waller