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A note on terms used to describe plastics used in radio cabinet construction

(Bakelite Radios, Catalin Radios, Plaskon Radios, Beetle Radios)

I've come to realize that terms used to categorize and describe plastic cabinets are very loosely tossed around.
Frequent questions have been asked about the terms used in my radio descriptions, prompting some research...
It turns out most of the terms used, such as Plaskon, Bakelite, Catalin and Beetle
are not types of plastics at all, but tradenames.

Although many radios were made with these particular tradename plastics,
other radios were made with tradename plastics that few have heard of,
which end up in the same, perhaps more popular, tradename category.
Similar types of plastics are being generalized into a tradename category - confusing to say the least!

- - - - - -

These seem to be the 6 most widely used categories that radio collectors use to describe plastic radio cabinets.
Without getting too technical, here are descriptions on how to tell the difference with examples of each:

BAKELITE


The term, "bakelite" is used differently in radio collecting as opposed to jewelry collecting.
The "bakelite" term in radio collecting is generally reserved for cabinets
made by the high pressure casting process, and most commonly browns and black.
Bakelite jewelry collectors use the term, "bakelite" for material that radio collectors call "catalin".
And although bakelite radio cabinets can have a nice gloss and sheen,
the surface does not have the translucency and luster of a catalin radio cabinet.
Bakelite radios seem to be the most durable of plastics used;
sturdier, with no shrinking and they could withstand heat better than other materials.
Bakelite cabinets can suffer from too much UV exposure which causes the surface to become dull and pourous.
Unfortunately the original gloss cannot be fully restored in some cases.
The Bakelite Corporation itself made many different plastics, including urea molding,
polystyrenes, poured resin ("catalin") moldings and others.
In the 1945 Plastics Catalog, they referred to all their plastics as "Bakelite".


Bakelite radios group



CATALIN

Catalin radio cabinets have the unmistakable, unique characteristics of poured resin.
The glass-like surface is translucent giving depth and luster. Every color in the spectrum was available
and catalin radio cabinets can be found from solid colors to extreme, swirled marbling of the colors.
Some Kadette "Clockette" radios were transparent colors made from catalin.
Catalin's unique qualities have made these radios the most sought after and valuable.
The Catalin Corporation bought the cast phenolic resin patent in 1927 when the Bakelite Corporation allowed it to expire.
Many other companies began using the process paying the Catalin Corp. a royalty for a license to do so.
These companies individually named the material, all which are now included in the "catalin" category.
Some names included, "Catalin" (Catalin Corp.), "Bakelite Cast Resin" (Bakelite Corp.),
"Fiberlon" (Fiberloid Corp), "Marblette" (Marblette Corp.) and "Opalon" (Monsanto).
Unfortunate characteristics of catalin are shrinkage and color fading from UV light.
Shrinkage around tight fitting chassis and glass dials caused the cabinets or the dial glass to crack.

Catalin radios group



BEETLE

A term used by collectors for radios with white cabinets mottled or marbled with green, browns, blues, oranges and blacks.
These cabinets were originally often listed as the "onyx" option in early radio advertisements.
"Beetle" and "Beetleware" plastics are actually trade names used by the American Cyanide Co., NY, NY for urea formaldehyde moldings.
Beetle radios commonly, to some degree, develop stress lines or cracks that tend to follow marbling lines.
It is rare to find a beetle radio without any lines.
The 1931 Kadette model H is an very early example of a "beetle" radio cabinet.
I'm still trying to find out the origin of this label because Beetle plastics advertisements show solid colors, not marbled.
In radio collecting terms this would be put in the "Plaskon" category.
Beetleware is said to have originated in Great Britain, where colorful speckled "Beetleware" dishware is often found.

Beetle radios group



PLASKON


A term generally used for urea molded, white and light pastel colored radio cabinets of the 30s & 40s.
The name, "Plaskon" is actually a trade name used for urea molded plastics made by the Libby-Owens-Ford Glass Co., Toledo, OH.
Many other plastic manufacturers also made urea molded cabinets, that all get funneled into this tradename labeled category.
Stress line cracks are a typical unfortunate characteristic of plaskon radios, and it is rare to find one without any.

Bakelite radios group



PAINTED


Some radio manufacturers offered painted radio cabinets as an option.
Generally painted finishes are over black or brown bakelite cabinets.

Painted radios group



POLYSTYRENE

Although first developed in the late '30s, Polystyrene was not widely used until the '50s.
Polystyrene radios were made in many colors, sometimes marbled.
The plastic is fragile and surfaces are easily cracked and susceptable to scratching and heat damage.
This didn't dissuade it's use, probably because it was more cost effective and possibly ignored for planned obsolescence.

Polystyrene radios group


A more technical descriptive breakdown of Bakelite, Catalin, Plaskon, Urea and Beetle
can be found in Steve Davis' excellent article about "Pre-War Plastics".




Bakelite corp ad


Below is a cover story article about collecting radios from the Monitoring Times 2011 July issue.
Click here to read the Monitoring Times radio collecting interview that the following article was compiled from
or click the image below to read the article from the magazine page full-size JPGs.






Catalin collection
More interesting reading on early plastics...
Bakelite: Mystery, History & Facts - by Brad Elfrink (archived) One of the best articles I've found - a must read!
Pre-War Plastics
Catalin Corner
Bakelite's 100 year Anniversary on NPR's "All Things Considered" July 13, 2007
Bakelite: A History of Bakelite Jewelry
San Diego Plastics, Inc. - History and info
Catalin Plastics


Plaskon plastic ad


Strangely, the clock in the Beetle ad below is the same as the clock in the Plaskon ad above(!)
Beetle plastic ad
Catalin plastic ad



This is an early article about plastics use in radio cabinets from Electronics magazine, November 1937:












Below is a list of plastics tradenames from 1939 and the types of plastic they actually are.
The list of tradenames is long, as new recipes were being introduced weekly,
so I have bold-faced the commonly heard-of tradenames and types.
The limits of the list are American, Synthetic and Commercial plastics.
And to make things more confusing, types of plastics can be further categorized into thermoset and non-thermosets, etc, etc -
but that's another story!
And many of these obviously had nothing to do with radio cabinet manufacturing,
but are included to show the extent of the plastics industry and why confusions exist.

TRADENAME TYPE MANUFACTURER
Aberol Phenolic Resinous Products & Chemical Co., Philadelphia, PA
Aceloid Cellulose Nitrate American Cellulose Co., Indianapolis, IN
Aceplus Cellulose Acetate American Cellulose Co., Indianapolis, IN
Acrolite Phenolic (molded) Continental - Diamond Fibre Co., Newark, DE
Acryloid Acrylate Resinous Products & Chemical Co., Philadelphia, PA
Acrysol Acrylate Resinous Products & Chemical Co., Philadelphia, PA
Agalyn Pyroxylin (dentures) J.D.Whyte Co., Pittsburgh, PA
Aico Cold Molded American Insulator Corp., New Freedom, PA
Akco Phenolic (coatings) American Cyanamide Co., New York, NY
Aladinite Casein (cast) Aladinite Corp., Orange, NJ
Alcolite Pyroxylin (dentures) Alcolite Inc., Philadelphia, PA
Aldenol Phenolic (dentures) E.K. Medical Gas Laboratories, Bloomfield, NJ
Aldur Urea (molded, cast) Luco Products Corp., Brooklyn, NY
Alphide Cold Molded Standard Plastics Corp., Jersey City, NJ
Alvar Vinyl (coatings) Shawinigan Products Corp., New York, NY
Amberlac Alkyd (synthetic resin) Resinous Products & Chemical Co., Philadelphia, PA
Amberlite Phenolic (synthetic resin) Resinous Products & Chemical Co., Philadelphia, PA
Amberol Phenolic Resinous Products & Chemical Co., Philadelphia, PA
Amerine Cold Molded (insulators) American Insulator Corp., New Freedom, PA
Ameroid Casein American Plastics Corp., New York, NY
Aqualite Phenolic (laminated) National Vulcanized Fibre Co., Wilmington, DE
Arcolite Phenolic (molding compound, coatings) Consolidated Molded Products Co., Scranton, PA
Artifex Phenolic Artifex Products Co., Camden, NJ
Bakelite Phenolic (molding compound) Bakelite Corp., New York, NY
Bakelite Polystyrene Polystyrene (resin) Bakelite Corp., New York, NY
Beckacite Phenolic (resin for coatings) Beck, Koller & Co. Inc., Detroit, MI
Beckamine Urea (synthetic resin) Beck, Koller & Co. Inc., Detroit, MI
Beckopol Phenolic Beck, Koller & Co. Inc., Detroit, MI
Beckosol Phenolic (synthetic resin) Beck, Koller & Co. Inc., Detroit, MI
Beetle Urea (molded, molding compound, laminated) American Cyanamid Co., New York, NY
Benalite Lignin (cured sheets) Masonite Corp., Laurel, MS
Benaloid Lignin (uncured sheets) Masonite Corp., Laurel, MS
Bonnyware Urea (molded) Reynolds Spring Co., Jackson, MI
Butacite Vinyl E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. Inc., Wilmington, DE
Butvar Vinyl (resin) Shawinigan Products, Inc., Indian Orchard, MA
C-E 950 Phenolic (dentures) Coe Laboratories, Inc., Chicago, IL
Campbellite Phenolic (laminated) Campbell Fibre Co., Stanton, DE
Catalin Phenolic (cast) Catalin Corp., New York, NY
Celastic Pyroxylin (box toes) Celastic Corp., Arlington, NJ
Cel-O-Glass Cellulose Acetate (coated screening) Acetol Products, Inc., New York, NY
Celoron Phenolic (molded, laminated) Continental - Diamond Fibre Co., Newark, DE
Cellulak Cellulose Acetate (sheets, rods, tubes) Irvington Varnish & Insulator Co., Irvington, NJ
Celluloid Pyroxylin (sheets, rods, tubes) Celluloid Corp., New York, NY


This listing excerpt shows the extent of the plastics industry already in 1939 and why catagorizing is difficult...






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