Say Hello To Our New Bakelite Flatware

February 4, 2013 | By | COMMENTS

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I’m 33 years-old, soon to be 34 (get your gifts ready, we’re talking 2/18), but no moment has made me feel older than the moment I found myself, on a Friday night, spending hours on E-Bay looking at flatware. “How did this happen?” I asked myself when I realized what I was doing. “I used to be a vital young person with my whole future ahead of me and now I’m comparing forks and knives on a computer screen when I could be out there shimmying to the sounds of hip young musicians like The Jonas Brothers!” After I calmed myself, though, I accepted my new role as senior citizen. In fact, sometimes I feel like my whole life has been barreling towards this moment. I grew up loving “The Golden Girls.” I had more fun eating bagels with my grandmother, as a teenager, than going to concerts with my high school friends. Maybe searching for flatware on E-Bay on a Friday night has always been my destiny.

It was also a rite-of-passage: everyone who moves from their 20s into their 30s must upgrade their flatware from Ikea (which we’d been using up until this point) to something nicer. Usually that happens when you get married and you can register for a fancy set from Williams Sonoma. And though it’s possible that Craig and I could get married in several states, neither of us has popped the question yet. Which is why I had to turn to E-Bay: my Ikea days were over, it was time to move up in the world.

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I started by searching “vintage flatware,” looking at old dusty, rusty forks and knives that were several thousand dollars. Then I looked at Parisian flatware, almost going in for a set of Laguiole forks and spoons that would perfectly match the steak knives Craig’s parents bought us for Christmas. But then, on a whim, I searched “midcentury modern flatware”–or something to that effect–and boom! Like love at first site, I saw the flatware you see above. It’s called Bakelite, which you probably know by its proper name: polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride.

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I love the various colors and shapes of the handles–the Chicago Tribune refers to it as “kitchen jewelry”–and the fact that it’s vintage American (it had its heyday in the 30s and 40s, when Bakelite was a new kind of plastic). So if all my youthful vitality has been squandered, at least now I have flatware with a youthful vitality all its own. And as I cut up my frozen Salisbury steaks while watching “Wheel of Fortune,” I’ll look at my flatware and remember what it was like to be young.

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Categories: Essays

  • Kirk

    Don’t put it in the dishwasher. It will slowly decompose. The alkaline detergents are too much for it. It looks great. Have fun!

  • John

    Good luck with it. It is indeed very cool looking and fun to use. We have some from my grandmother and we keep losing it piece by piece as the handles finally give out and break. If you want a matched set order extras and be prepared for the eventual end.

  • katalia

    I was curious about how it holds up over time, but John answered that one. My second question is around the weight: how does it feel in your hand? I like heavier tableware, and butter knives that have some heft to them.

  • http://www.amateurgourmet.com/ Adam Roberts

    Hi Katalia, great question: that’s the one thing I don’t like about it, it’s VERY light. So on that front, I’m disappointed. Otherwise, I’m very happy.

  • michismind

    LOL sorry to inform you but the Jonas Brothers are also no longer for the “cool” set. It’s some kids called one direction now. :)

  • amelia

    I’m pretty sure that is called sarcasm…

  • Katie Rose

    I love picturing you and Craig shimmying with flatware in hand (although that sounds dangerous).

  • Carrie

    OMG- Another “we had” gone sour- My grandmother had Bakelite at our cottage in NH (Danforth Bay) in the 60´s- along with original fiestaware- The whole lot got sold along with the cottage in the 70′s- Oh, well, someone is enjoying it all-Hopefully someone who reads your blog and will appreciate it. Thanks for a very interesting post!

  • jds mom

    We have a baby spoon that belonged to my 67 year old husband, and our toddler grandson uses it. It has a green handle. It has survived our diswasher. Back when our kids were small, I had no idea how special it was.

  • Eliza

    Hi Adam, I just saw these Bakelite steak knives on Etsy and thought of you.
    http://www.etsy.com/listing/122262083/vintage-steak-knives-set-of-four?ref=fp_treasury_10
    This is not my site nor am I affiliated with it in any way. Just saw them and thought of your new collection. I love Bakelite but I collect bracelets not flatware. It’s fun to have a collection.

  • The Weary Chef

    Hilarious stuff. We skipped the Ikea stage because my soon-to-be-mother-in-law passed down her old, beaten up silverware before we got married. We only recently upgraded to some Bed Bath and Beyond fineries. We live like royalty now.

  • Annie Hollywood

    Fantastic stuff. I just freaked out when I discovered there are Bakelite switchplates and outlet covers on ebay, but held back on buying them for my rental.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sandi.bozarth Sandi Bozarth

    I’ve never bought sets of anything, I love going to flea markets and thrift stores to get dishes. I like everything to be unique and have it’s own story of where I got it. Why choose uniformity? Being like everyone else is never any fun.

    http://indefenseoftaste.wordpress.com/