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RADIO PLASTICS EXPLAINED

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

Terms used to categorize and describe plastic radio cabinets are loosely tossed around.
Frequent questions about terms used in radio descriptions prompted 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.
Many radios were made with other tradename plastics that few have heard of
and get labeled with these more popular trade names.

bakelite, plaskon, catalin, beetle, poly, paint text collage

These are 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 phenolic casting process, most commonly browns and black,
and sometimes in dark maroons and greens (see the voltmeter at the bottom of this page).
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.

The Bakelite Corporation itself referred to all its plastics as "Bakelite", which included
their entire catalog of ureas, phenolics, cast resinoids, vinyls and more.
And other plastics manufacturers labeled their phenolic plastics
with different names, such as "Durez" and "Insurok", all labeled "bakelite" by radio collectors today.
These phenolics seems to be the most durable of plastics used; sturdier,
with no shrinking and they could withstand heat better than other materials.
Lengthy UV exposure does cause the surface to become dull and pourous,
and unfortunately the original glossy sheen cannot be fully restored in these cases.


Bakelite radios group Remler Radio 26 Czech Tesla 308U British Ekco AD75 Pilot 203 Western Royal W5D14 Jewel Airline 14BR-525A Goodyear 602B



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 dramatic marbling of colors.
A rare Kadette "Clockette" version had a transparent blue-tinged catalin cabinet.
Catalin's unique qualities have made these radios the most sought after and valuable in plastic radio collecting.
Some examples command prices in the thousands, driven higher by certain designs and the rarer blue, red and green cabinets.

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 labeled as "catalin" by radio collectors.
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
contributing to the scarcity of undamaged examples.
See the catalin radios and clocks page.

Catalin radios group

Catalin collection



PLASKON


Plaskon is 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.

Plaskon radios group


BEETLE

Beetle is a term used by collectors for plaskon cabinets that are mottled or marbled
with green, browns, blues, oranges and blacks usually with a white cabinet base.
West coast radio makers' beetle radios were predominantly streaked with yellows and reds,
as found with Gilfillan, Packard Bell and the Remler Norco 158 seen in the gallery.
The marbling makes each example unique.
These cabinets were commonly listed as the "onyx" option in early radio advertisements.
"Beetle" and "Beetleware" plastics are actually trade names used by the American Cyanamid Co., NY, NY for urea formaldehyde moldings.
Beetleware is said to have originated in Great Britain, where colorful speckled "Beetleware" dishware is often found,
perhaps the origination of the term now used to describe these radios.
Early plastic ads are confusing showing the same clock in both Plaskon and Beetle ads as seen below,
and with Beetle ads showing solid colors which would be described as "plaskon" in radio collecting.
Beetle and Plaskon are only two tradenames of the many urea molded plastics, just different manufacturers,
some adding colored speckling or marbling that are now described as "beetle".

Beetle radios commonly developed stress lines or cracks that tend to follow marbling lines,
or appear on the surface near the hot rectifier tube.
It is rare to find a beetle radio without any stress lines.
The 1931 Kadette model H is an very early example of a "beetle" radio cabinet.

Beetle 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, Styrenes were not widely used until the 1950s.
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.
These characteristics didn't dissuade it's use, likely because it was more cost effective and 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

Bakelite corp ad

Plastics category map


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.




Urea Plastics (plaskon, beetle)

Urea plastic diagram

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

Beetle plastic ad

Phenolics (bakelite)
Insurok plastic ad with Belmont 636

Insurok plastic ad with Belmont and Crosley radios

Durez plastic ad


Cast Phenolics (catalin)
Catalin plastic ad



Opalon plastic ad

Opalon plastic ad

Fada L56 in Bakelite Corp ad advertisement

Catalin in Europe

From Grace's Guide (https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Catalin)

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain.
This web publication contains 148,272 pages of information and 233,809 images on early companies,
their products and the people who designed and built them.

"1937 To exploit the market in Europe and the Commonwealth, Catalin Ltd was set up in England,
not as a subsidiary of the American concern but autonomous - although using the latter's technology.
Dr Riesenfeld, who had acted as consultant in America and was one of the inventors of the process, became technical director.
(There were at this time two other companies producing cast phenolics:
Marblette in the USA and Raschig in Germany, with processes differing in some respects from that of Catalin.)
The British company was installed in the large building in Waltham Abbey, Essex,
that had housed the Nobel company in the First World War which made munitions.
The building provided ample space to accommodate a battery
of six nickel reaction vessels (called 'kettles' in the American style) and six large circulating hot-air ovens
for curing (i.e. hardening) the cast resins in their moulds, together with ancillary pumps,
boiler, workshops, laboratories and offices."




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












Plastics category map


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





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