Friday, January 29, 2016

Mississippi Mud

Finally, here's a color of Bakelite that's not named after a food. This one's called Mississippi mud. It's chocolate Bakelite, but with swirls of black that are visible on this button amid the carved tufts of wheat. An ode to America's Cotton States in the Deep South, when I look at this button I feel like I'm having a vision of a prairie vista. Makes me wanna jump in the Mississippi. Yee-Haw!

-Sherbert McGee  

Thursday, January 28, 2016


Good Day Sunshine! These twin sisters are too light to be butterscotch, but they're too dark to be creamed corn. All is well. They are known as custard, a textbook shade of yellow that's probably the happiest color in all of Bakelite world. Off the record (and if my hunch is correct), I believe these buttons are among my oldest (circa 1919). Bright as they are, this pair exudes a discreet seniority. 

-Sherbert McGee

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Iced Tea

There are two reasons why this button merits special attention:
#1. The shape: Technically, this oddity verges on toggle-territory with its elongated width. And what of those blunt points? It reminds me of a signpost, but does this button want you to go east or west? When my friend, Doreen, contacted me after she found this button, she wasn't kidding when she said it was a real space alien
#2. The color: Since purchasing this button from Doreen, I've heard other collectors refer to this misty bronze tone as iced tea. It's a little darker than what's typically known as apple juice, but it's much lighter than root beer. To me, it's an eerie mass with a syrupy glow. At the end of the day, this Bakelite button is an X-File.

Visit Doreen's online store

-Sherbert McGee

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Creamed Spinach

This week I'm showcasing Bakelite buttons in colors that aren't easy to come by. This highly collectible green variation is called creamed spinach. Why not creamed asparagus or creamed brussels sprout? I have no clue. What I do know is that this verdant damsel is marbleized with squiggly veins that curl and meander like yellow smoke. This is a large button that measures two inches across, practically a vegetarian's dinner! A button high in folic acid and dietary fibers. 

-Sherbert McGee   

Monday, January 25, 2016


The darkest shade of brown Bakelite is known by collectors as espresso, a rich and earthy color that sometimes has the appearance of stained wood. Often, I can't tell if a Bakelite button is black or espresso until I take it outside and let the sun be the judge. This carved button, with a flattering patina that's collected nicely in the etched-away petals, is an espresso megastar with a texture akin to a Hawaiian tiki statue. I'm not a coffee drinker, but I'll make an exception for this toasty beverage.

-Sherbert McGee 

Friday, January 22, 2016

2-Tone: Jazz Fest

Hiya, hepcats! In the 1920's there was a "Harlem Renaissance" in which the African American art scene exploded into major significance. The acclaimed poet, Langston Hughes, wrote that during this time in history "the negro was in vogue." Influential musicians such as Duke Ellington and saucy, era-defining performers like Josephine Baker became black icons of the century. These 2-tone buttons might not stem directly from the vest of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, but for me they smack of the jazz movement with their keen edges and high spirits. Good ol' Bakelite: don't say it isn't hip.  

-Sherbert McGee 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

2-Tone: Layers

Somehow I felt like this 2-tone button needed a "background" to enrich the scene. That being the case, I rolled out my favorite black necktie and made it part of today's photo. The button is layered with hefty rings of chocolate over an apple juice base. A victory of style. When it comes to vintage plastic, this classy hotshot is a Bakelite bull's-eye.

-Sherbert McGee      

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

2-Tone: Half-and-Half

Chunky doesn't even begin to describe it. This thunderous button is one of my Bakelite leviathans. Seriously, I have throw pillows that aren't this big. And look at the glass-like quality of this massive gob of 1930's plastic. Half of it is dark moss (not unlike the reptilian hide of Godzilla). The other half is golden butterscotch. 2-tone Bakelite never looked so grand.

-Sherbert McGee

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

2-Tone: Stripes

Funny thing about this 2-tone button: it's kattywampus. Notice how the perimeter is kind of wobbly as opposed to being a perfectly formed circle. The creamed corn stripes are a bit wonky too. That's what I love about this Bakelite misfit. It's a little bit askew as if it's just beginning to melt. If we made Bakelite buttons in our kitchens, I'll bet this is how they would turn out. 

-Sherbert McGee   

Monday, January 18, 2016

2-Tone: Dots

Today begins a whole week of 2-tone buttons and I'm kicking things off with this butterscotch trio. Each is embedded with a creamed corn "dot" and fringed with some carved notches for a floral result. Here's a confession about these buttons. When I bought them, they were beyond filthy and so badly blackened with the fungus of time that I reckoned they might be irreparable. So what'd I do? I spent hours polishing these relics while watching Titanic and all the Godfather movies back to back. If that didn't work, I was going to boil these brats in vinegar. Luckily, the vigorous polishing did work and that's how I redeemed this set of Bakelite buttons...straight out of olden-day sleaze.

-Sherbert McGee   

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Into the Woods

A timber-tinged button that flaunts fables and folklore and all the grim enchantments of a German fairy tale, this heavily carved moss beauty has a forested feel with a branched mug and scads of character. It's a Bakelite button that evokes a musical set in a treacherous pinewood with wolves, witches and secret hiding places. Take it away, Mr. Sondheim!...

Into the woods,
It's time to go.
I hate to leave,
I have to, though.
Into the woods-
It's time, and so
I must begin my journey.

Visit Doreen's online store

-Sherbert McGee   

Friday, January 15, 2016

Daybreak Jellyfish

Here we have another apple juice button that almost seems to mutate in natural light. As soon as I brought this see-through doozy outside this morning, it went from a simple flower construction to a vivid, mysterious sea-creature that appears to be drinking daylight right out of the sun! That's what you get with translucent Bakelite. If I didn't know any better, I might think this button was trying to be a solar panel. She's a strange fish, this one.

-Sherbert McGee

Thursday, January 14, 2016

8 Little Chickadees

Like blossomy egg yolks, I look at these buttons and see a tiny flock of Bakelite nestlings. These buttons come from an antique shop in Leavenworth, Kansas. I passed on them during my first visit last year and then wished I'd snatched them up. Six months later, by some miracle, they were still up for grabs. So I bagged these birdies, lickety-split! These are some all-American buttons, straight out of the Midwest, like rustic survivors from the Dust Bowl era of the early 1930's.  

-Sherbert McGee  

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Toggle Tuesday: Bang! Bang!

Is it just me, or do so many of my Bakelite buttons look like stylized ammunition? Case in point: these toggles. To me they look like a couple of attractive bullets (.45 caliber, to be exact). For that reason, I call these "bullet buttons" even though they might just as easily be stubby torpedoes or even A-bombs. 

Here's a theory: Bakelite was made during the interwar years (the years between WWI and WWII), so maybe the general shapes of combat somehow extended into the realm of 1920's and 30's fashion? I'm no scholar on the history of design, but that's something I wonder about every time I see an incendiary device in the form of a Bakelite button.    

-Sherbert McGee

Monday, January 11, 2016


Highly collectible, these Bakelite "smile buttons" are on every antique hunter's wish-list. Notice the different placement of the grooved lines on these Art Deco characters and how the lines have an effect on the buttons' facial impression. What are these buttons so cheery about? Maybe these wisecrackers need to quiet down. In mid-laugh, they look like a daffy twosome on their way to the psychiatric hospital.

-Sherbert McGee   

Friday, January 8, 2016

Cherry Bombs!

Major Art Deco here, these lustrous red bombshells are some of my best-loved Bakelite. For a long time I only had three of these and then I found the fourth at an antique shop in Buffalo, New York. Something about these buttons makes me think of the old Fritz Lang movie, Metropolis. In my book, these are the epitome of 1920's smarts & style. They look quite a bit like toy tops with nifty stairways forming their pointy zeniths. Really, I can't get enough of these hot little rockets. Somebody slap me before I go out in search for a fifth.

-Sherbert McGee      

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Undiscovered Workings of Whistle Buttons

These double-cut rootbeer buttons are both sitting face down for this photo since I consider the undersides to be more interesting than the tops. My friend, Doreen, explained to me that these are called "whistle buttons" although we aren't sure how or why they got that name. Apparently, whistle buttons are most commonly made of porcelain. These, of course, are Bakelite. This morning I tried blowing through one of them, but instead of a whistle all I produced was a flatulent racket--and my dogs looked at me like I was out of my gourd.

Visit Doreen's online store

-Sherbert McGee   

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Byzantine Pizza

Architecturally, this button looks Islamic to me with its arabesque makeup of shallowly carved lines and circles. For all I know, it could be emblematic of an Eastern religion. Then again, it reminds me of a stylized pizza divvied up into eight slices. One thing is certain: this black button is solid Bakelite and fancy enough to be a doorknob on the Turkish Ministry of Culture.

-Sherbert McGee

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


In 1922 the tomb of King Tut was discovered and suddenly this legendary unearthing sparked a global fascination in all things Egyptian: Pyramids, Louts flowers, Scarab beetles and Hieroglyphics! The pervasive "Egyptomania" of the times gave off a luxuriant vibe that became popular across the USA. Style-wise, the newly emerging Art Deco era of the twenties began putting Egyptian devices all over furniture, jewelry, book bindings, cinema facades and clothing. I don't know if this Bakelite button was fashioned on account of the 1920's Egyptian craze, but I can't hold it without thinking of a pharaoh's hubris.

-Sherbert McGee    

Monday, January 4, 2016


Indoors it's more of a brown button. Bring it outside and it takes on a reddish tinge. When I was a kid I had a pair of penny-loafers that were just the same: Burgundy. It's an indecisive color that can be a little maddening when you're trying to decide if it's a true red that leans to brown or a shade of brown with reddish leanings. Like all the buttons on this blog, this is a tried and true Bakelite button.

-Sherbert McGee     

Friday, January 1, 2016

A Confetti Ice Cube

A party in a button. A frozen thrill. A snapshot of the Roaring 20's. A window looking into the heydays of speakeasies and supper clubs. A petrified celebration. A paralyzed minute. A slab of champagne. When I look at this Bakelite square I see one of Jay Gatsby's infamous soirées. A fossilized eruption. A preserved hubbub. A time capsule of heady excess. A flapper's objectified hiccup. A solidified laugh. A downpour of halted glitter. A leftover dream. It's all here in this old keepsake. Happy New Year!

-Sherbert McGee