Australian bakelite bits ‘n’ pieces

Australian bakelite: Nally, 40s Nally bakelite pieces c.1940s

These are the odds and ends of my Nally bakelite collection. Nally first started bakelite production in 1923 and was one of the first in Australia to do so. The factory was in Glebe, in inner-city Sydney – where I once lived as a student, when it was grittier with light industry, warehouses and terraced housing.

I became interested in bakelite when I started making my own resin jewellery. Bakelite was the first stable plastic compound ‘discovered’ by one Dr. Baekeland in the 1907. It was – like many discoveries – a complete accident- he was trying to find a synthetic alternative to shellac. A million and one things went on to be produced in bakelite…see quite a bit of evidence in previous posts on this blog… … …

Anyhoo- in researching resin I looked at early polymer precedents and then became fixated on bakelite. Australia was just coming of age in the 20s and bakelite was taken up with great fervor- it was the modern, new era- cheaply produced alternative to timber, iron, steel and ceramic- you name it.

This set comprises:    4 end-of-day egg cups
blue nested salt and pepper shaker, with cream screw ends
green lidded ‘cloves’ canister.

I’ve teamed the Nally bits ‘n’ pieces with an old battered red aluminium canister lid, much splattered with paint. It’s had a hard life and has lost its companion piece and now must do duty as a background element. Still- that’s upcycling at its best!

This set is for sale: $AUD45

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Retro picnic teacups

Selex picnic teacupsSellex bakelite picnic teacups
made in Australia, c.1940s

I have quite a collection of Australian bakelite – and a representative sample has appeared on this blog – pieces ranging from kitchen canisters to picnic ware. There were ten companies producing bakelite domestic ware in Australia in the post-war period, and I have examples of them all!

The ten companies are: Nally Eon, Helix Sellex, Iplex, Nylex [names ending with ‘ex’ presumed particularly modern!] Bristilite and Tilly. Here we have a delightful pair of Sellex picnic cups.

The picnic set from which these teacups came was a ‘harlequin’ set- a range of four colours which could be mixed and matched. These cups and saucers show the four colours- and since they are in excellent condition- they should how vibrant the harlequin set was.

These teacups are for sale: $AUD50

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Marquis speckled bakelite [sold]

Marquis bakeliteMarquis speckled bakelite
made in Australia c.1940s

Speckled bakelite is different to end-of-day bakelite. If you’ve been paying attention, end-of-day bakelite was formed from all the left over bits of bakelite, whereas speckled bakelite was made by a different technique- specifically to match the speckled bakelite pieces coming out of America.

Speckled bakelite was pre-mixed; two colours were chosen [mostly a colour and contrasting white] to simulate a speckled egg [no less] – and also – functionally- to disguise discolouration in the coloured bakelite. Bakelite made in the 30s was known to break down when continuously exposed to sunlight or hot temperatures/liquids. It was thought that the speckled bakelite would last longer – and could be sold as an alternative to solid colour bakelite.

This Marquis plate and scoop have a lovely red/white speckled colouring, and are for sale: $AUD45

Bakelite planter [sold]

Sellex bakelite planterSellex bakelite planter
made in Sydney, Australia c.1940s

This is a rare, rare item – a bakelite planter [one puts one’s potted plant inside.] Rare because not many bakelite planters have survived to this day and age- this is the only one I’ve seen thus far. And rare because ‘end-of-day’ bakelite wasn’t normally used for items this large.

End-of-day bakelite, you’ll remember from avid reading of my previous posts, was produced at the end of the day [strangely enough] when all the left over bits of bakelite were thrown into the mix. Because bakelite is cast [rather than moulded] it allowed a variety of colours to be added together. As you can see from the planter, the left over colours were thoughtfully placed in the mix, creating quite lovely patterns.

With the planter, but not for sale [due to sentimental reasons] are a series of end-of-day ‘samples’. These samples  are drilled, suggesting they were hung together, to provide a guide to the end-of-day mixture of colours.

The green and white planter was made by Sellex, and it is embossed with ‘Sellex no 123 REGD’ on it’s underside. I know its provenance as one of my horticulture students gave it to me, knowing I love bakelite and plants. It’s in excellent condition, having never actually been used as a planter; and I am very reluctantly parting with it.

The bakelite planter is for sale: $AUD145

Blue bakelite collection

Blue bakelite collectionBlue bakelite collection
made in Australia, c.1940-1950s

Bakelite could be produced in almost any colour, but was most widely produced in white, brown, green and red. It is a relatively stable product, but can be damaged by sunlight and over time oxidisation can cause colours to deteriorate. Blue bakelite can become a muddy green colour, and for this reason, blue bakelite that has retained its original hue is both rarer [and more expensive in vintage terms] and more collectible.

From the top left in the image, clockwise the blue bakelite items are:

a Marquis lidded butter dish
an Eon screw-top canister
nested Helix measuring cups [1/2 cup, 1/3 cup, 1/4 cup]
‘atomic’ salt and pepper shakers, made by ‘D’.

There is very little space on the base of the S and P shakers for the manufacturer’s cast name, so all we know of the maker is the initial ‘D’. At lot of S & P shakers made in the 50s had this ‘atomic’ shape. The swirling blue colours in the bakelite is typical of the period; because bakelite is cast [rather than moulded] it allowed a variety of colours to be mixed together.

Start your bakelite collection now! This set is for sale: $AUD115

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A stay in proceedings…

Reretro Blog bakelite piecesLovely followers, and new stumble-uponers:

My partner and I are taking a diversionary trip to Berlin and Barcelona for the next so many weeks. I am writing a paper on European gardens spaces, but will also have half an eye open for vintage and retro objects.

Please peruse my accumulated posts on collectible Australiana. Should you require something, just email me: and I will get back to you once the grand tour is over.

Thanks for all your fantastic comments and support thus far…I will be sure to include some evidence of the tour in subsequent posts.


Australiana kitchenalia

Bakelite canisters & kanga & roo salt and pepper setSellex nested bakelite canisters, made in Australia c. 1940s
Kanga and Roo salt & pepper shakers, made in Japan c.1960s

These Sellex bakelite canisters ‘Rice’ and ‘Coffee’ have been separated from their larger red-lidded set [flour, tea and sugar…] but Kanga and Roo are in their entirety; Roo being the pepper, and Kanga – the salt. I had already posted this kitschy set, but the kanga and roo were bought. Then another kanga and roo came into my life! and so I am able to once again offer it for sale.

I’m sure someone out there has the rest of the Sellex set – or at least wants to add to canisters already collected. The rice label is a little worn, but both bakelite canisters are in perfect nick [check the image.] The ceramic kanga and roo S& P shaker set is adorable and in perfect condition.

For sale: $AUD85

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Sellex bakelite picnic ware

Sellex picnic ware
made in Australia, 1940s

The strong colours of these bakelite pieces are quite mesmerising. I don’t think the plates and bowls have ever been used, as they are pristine, with no scratches and no diminishing of those superb colours. I have mentioned before that yellow bakelite is particularly prone to deterioration and ‘mudding’ of its colour, so this set is in particularly good condition. Ironically for picnic ware- I would suggest it’s never seen the light of day!

We can date the plates and bowls to Australia in the 40s due to the ‘rounded-square’ shape, and the edge fluting. And the plates’ markings, which have ‘Sellex Reg.’ in cast lettering on the underside. In a previous post I have discussed Sellex kitchen canisters – they are beautiful also.

This would make a great starter set for the bakelite collector or enthusiast.  For sale: $AUD80

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Bakelite domestica

Nally blue bakelite tray, made in Sydney, Australia  c.1940s
Dalson Products bakelite retractable washing lines, made in Melbourne, Australia c.1940s

And now for some more bakelite domestica!

This lovely speckled blue and white bakelite tray has distinctive art deco styling, with its embossed sunburst pattern. The speckled form of bakelite was often used with blue pieces- it has been noted previously [see ‘blue bakelite post, below] that blue bakelite is prone to break down to a murky brown colour. One solution was to mix the blue bakelite with another colour- usually a neutral colour- to help disguise any such deterioration.

The tray has performed well at many cocktail soirees, and I can attest to the understated glamour it brings to any occasion.

The three retractable washing lines are also very cute. They were made for the interior hanging of clothes. When I first spotted one, I assumed it was a plumb bob- albeit a retractable one. Being retractable meant that one could wash and hang clothes on a rainy day, or it was used when travelling. The winding mechanism is working well on all three – and I like that the manufacturer’s name is cast into the contrasting bakelite winding handle. One could certainly use them today – for retro travel in style!          For sale: $AUD85

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Green bakelite

Green bakelite pieces by Marquis and Duperite
made in Australia, c.1940-1950s

And so to the green bakelite. All the pieces in the image are made by Marquis, with the exception of the scoops which were made by Duperite. There were ten companies producing bakelite domestic ware in Australia in the post-war period, and I have examples of them all!

The ten companies [I know you want to know!] were: Nally [see picnic cups, in post below] Eon, Helix [see blue bakelite post below] Sellex, Iplex, Nylex [names ending with ‘ex’ particularly modern!] Tilly, Bristilite and Duperite [‘ite’ endings evoking bakelite.]

I particularly like the salt and pepper shakers – there are three sets in this collection, seen in the middle at the back of the image. The top and bottom of the shakers separate to reveal the two shakers; and you can see that the screw-on bases were often different coloured bakelite.

The green bakelite containers also have screw-on lids. They were originally used to contain spices or condiments, and have a somewhat ‘deco’-styling. These containers are particularly collectable – people like to collect them in every colour possible.      For sale: $AUD165

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