Invented in 1907 by Leo Hendrik Baekeland, Bakelite was something of a wonder plastic. Heat resistant, easy to carve and cheap to produce, it was dubbed the ‘material of a thousand uses’ and, by the 1930s, was being pressed into service to make everything from radios and clocks to jewellery and even, as seen here, animal-shaped napkin rings.
Bright red is the most desirable colour and those on wheels (napkin ring-racing, anyone?) are rarer than other types.
‘All sorts of animals were made,’ says dealer Sue Poultney of Scarab Antiques. ‘I’ve seen angel fish, squirrels, ducks, a sit-up-and-beg Scottie dog and even a very unusual rocking horse on rockers.’ Sadly though, considering her evocative trading name, she’s never seen a beetle.
Napkin rings without wheels, £42 each; with wheels, £69 each, all Scarab Antiques.