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Subject: Early phenol-formaldehyde and urea-formaldehyde plastics

Early phenol-formaldehyde and urea-formaldehyde plastics

From: Suzanne Kitto <suzanne.kitto<-a>
Date: Wednesday, January 26, 2005
James Tapley <jthandbook [at] aol__com> writes

>I have acquired a badly damaged (cracks, losses) art deco Reliure
>Jotau industrial molded "Bakelite" bookbinding. While these bindings
>are always referred to as made of Bakelite I believe, based on the
>unpainted but rather colorful plastic, that they are perhaps made of
>a urea-formaldehyde  plastic. Can anyone suggest a relatively simple
>and non-destructive test for distinguishing between urea- and
>phenol-formaldehyde plastics? ...

An easy way to check the difference is to place a hot needle
somewhere discreet on the piece.  If a white halo is seen around the
needle point on the plastic then you will have Urea-formaldehyde. It
should also give a fishy smell.  Phenol Formaldehyde will have a
medical smell. Even by rubbing a warm hand on it you can often smell

An extremely knowledgeable person who may be able to help you
further is Thea Van Oosten.  She is a senior researcher at the
Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage and specialises in
plastic recognition.

Suzanne Kitto
Senior Conservator
Conservation Dept.
Royal Armouries
Armouries Drive
Leeds LS10 1LT

                  Conservation DistList Instance 18:36
                 Distributed: Sunday, January 30, 2005
                       Message Id: cdl-18-36-020
Received on Wednesday, 26 January, 2005

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