How to Tell if Your Vintage Buttons are Genuine Bakelite

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Are you a button hoarder? Or did you inherit Grandma's button box? It's easy to get hooked on the diverse colors, patterns and styles of vintage buttons. Some are highly collectible and sought after. One example is buttons made from Bakelite, an early plastic. How can you know if Grandma's button stash contains beautiful Bakelite? There are several ways.

Look your buttons over. If you see a seam in a button it is most likely not Bakelite, because genuine Bakelite was cast, not molded.

Rub the button under hot water. Genuine Bakelite smells like formaldehyde when heated up.

Put some Formula 409 on a cotton swab and rub the back of the button. If the Q-tip turns yellow, the button is Bakelite. Wipe the button clean.

Buy some Simichrome polish. This polish is pink. Again, put it on a cotton swab and rub it on the button. The pink will turn yellow if the button is genuine Bakelite.

Things You'll Need

  • Formula 409 cleaner
  • Simichrome polish
  • Cotton swabs


  • You may have heard of the "hot needle test," which involves applying high heat to pieces. While it's true that genuine Bakelite doesn't melt, heat can leave burn marks even on Bakelite pieces—and if your button isn't Bakelite, a hot needle will ruin it.

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