Terms used to categorize and describe plastic radio cabinets are loosely tossed around.
Frequent questions about terms used in radio descriptions prompted some research...
It turns out most of the terms used, such as Plaskon, Bakelite, Catalin and Beetle are not types of plastics, but tradenames given by different manufacturers.
There were hundreds of different plastic industry recipes in the 1930s and '40s with similar characteristics,
which led to many plastic tradenames that few have heard of and the radios made from them
get funneled into these more popular tradename categories.
These are the 6 most widely used categories that radio collectors use to describe plastic radio cabinets.
Without getting too technical, here are descriptions on how to tell the difference with examples of each:
The term, "bakelite" is used differently in radio collecting as opposed to jewelry collecting.
Bakelite jewelry collectors use the term "bakelite" for material that radio collectors call "catalin".
The "bakelite" term in radio collecting is generally reserved for cabinets
made by the high pressure phenolic casting process. Most commonly bakelites are browns and black,
although bakelite colors from yellow and red to blue and green are also found.
(see the green bakelite voltmeter at the bottom of this page and the bakelite color chart below).
Bakelite radio cabinets can have a beautiful gloss and sheen to them,
although bakelite colors are somewhat muted and the surface does not have the translucency and luster of a catalin radio cabinet.
Bakelite radio cabinets sometimes exhibit very nice marbling as seen in the Airline example below.
The Bakelite Corporation itself referred to all its plastics as "Bakelite", which included
their entire catalog of ureas, phenolics, cast resinoids, vinyls and more.
And other plastics manufacturers labeled their phenolic plastics
with different names, such as "Durez" and "Insurok", all labeled "bakelite" by radio collectors today.
These phenolics seems to be the most durable of plastics used; sturdier,
with no shrinking and they could withstand heat better than other materials.
Lengthy UV exposure does cause the surface to become dull and pourous,
and unfortunately the original glossy sheen cannot be fully restored in these cases.
Catalin radio cabinets have the unmistakable, unique characteristics of poured resin.
The glass-like surface is translucent giving depth and luster. Every color in the spectrum was available
and catalin radio cabinets can be found from solid colors to dramatic marbling of colors.
A rare Kadette "Clockette" version had a transparent blue-tinged catalin cabinet.
Catalin's unique qualities have made these radios the most sought after and valuable in plastic radio collecting.
Some examples command prices in the thousands, driven higher by certain designs and the rarer blue, red and green cabinets.
The Catalin Corporation bought the cast phenolic resin patent in 1927 when the Bakelite Corporation allowed it to expire.
Many other companies began using the process paying the Catalin Corp. a royalty for a license to do so.
These companies individually named the material, all which are now labeled as "catalin" by radio collectors.
Some names included, "Catalin" (Catalin Corp.), "Bakelite Cast Resin" (Bakelite Corp.),
"Fiberlon" (Fiberloid Corp), "Marblette" (Marblette Corp.) and "Opalon" (Monsanto).
Unfortunate characteristics of catalin are shrinkage and color fading from UV light,
although some color change can be appealing, such as the change of alabaster catalin into
nice yellow-orange-golden hues.
Shrinkage around tight fitting chassis and glass dials caused the cabinets or the dial glass to crack
contributing to the scarcity of undamaged examples.
See the catalin radios and clocks page.
Plaskon is a term generally used for urea molded, white and light pastel colored radio cabinets of the 30s & 40s.
The name, "Plaskon" is actually a trade name used for urea molded plastics made by the Libby-Owens-Ford Glass Co., Toledo, OH.
Many other plastic manufacturers also made urea molded cabinets, that all get funneled into this tradename labeled category.
Stress line cracks are a typical unfortunate characteristic of plaskon radios, and it is rare to find one without any.
Unlike Catalin radios, Plaskon radios do not change color over time.
Beetle is a term used by collectors for plaskon cabinets that are mottled or marbled
with green, browns, blues, oranges and blacks usually with a white cabinet base.
West coast radio makers' beetle radios were predominantly streaked with yellows and reds,
as found with Gilfillan, Packard Bell and the Remler Norco 158 seen in the gallery.
The marbling makes each example unique.
These cabinets were commonly listed as the "onyx" option in early radio advertisements,
and cost a few dollars more than their 'walnut' and 'ivory' cousins.
"Beetle" and "Beetleware" plastics are actually trade names used by the American Cyanamid Co., NY, NY for urea formaldehyde moldings.
Beetleware is said to have originated in Great Britain, where colorful speckled "Beetleware" dishware is often found,
perhaps the origination of the term now used to describe these radios.
Early plastic ads are confusing showing the same clock in both Plaskon and Beetle ads as seen below,
and with Beetle ads showing solid colors which would be described as "plaskon" in radio collecting.
Beetle and Plaskon are only two tradenames of the many urea molded plastics, just different manufacturers,
some adding colored speckling or marbling that are now described as "beetle".
Beetle radios commonly developed stress lines or cracks that tend to follow marbling lines,
or appear on the surface near the hot rectifier tube.
It is rare to find a beetle radio without any stress lines.
The 1931 Kadette model H is an very early example of a "beetle" radio cabinet.
Some radio manufacturers offered painted radio cabinets as an option.
Generally painted finishes are over black or brown bakelite cabinets.
Although first developed in the late '30s, Styrenes were not widely used until the 1950s.
Polystyrene radios were made in many colors, sometimes marbled.
The plastic is fragile and surfaces are easily cracked and susceptable to scratching and heat damage.
These characteristics didn't dissuade it's use, likely because it was more cost effective and planned obsolescence.
Tenite plastic, although not mentioned above, was another plastic used in radio construction.
It was generally used for dials, grilles, esctcheons and knobs in the late '30s to the mid '40s and was soon found to
exhibit an unwelcome characteristic from heat exposure and was discontinued.
Tenite plastic is very unstable and suffered severe warping and shrinkage over time.
The bakelite Philco radio below is a rare surviving example with a tenite speaker grille with somewhat minimal warping
considering most were thrown out because shrinkage and warping was so extreme.
Strangely, the clock in the Beetle ad below is the same as the clock in the Plaskon ad above(!)
Cast Phenolics (catalin)
Catalin in Europe
From Grace's Guide (https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Catalin)
Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain.
This web publication contains 148,272 pages of information and 233,809 images on early companies,
their products and the people who designed and built them.
"1937 To exploit the market in Europe and the Commonwealth, Catalin Ltd was set up in England,
not as a subsidiary of the American concern but autonomous - although using the latter's technology.
Dr Riesenfeld, who had acted as consultant in America and was one of the inventors of the process, became technical director.
(There were at this time two other companies producing cast phenolics:
Marblette in the USA and Raschig in Germany, with processes differing in some respects from that of Catalin.)
The British company was installed in the large building in Waltham Abbey, Essex,
that had housed the Nobel company in the First World War which made munitions.
The building provided ample space to accommodate a battery
of six nickel reaction vessels (called 'kettles' in the American style) and six large circulating hot-air ovens
for curing (i.e. hardening) the cast resins in their moulds, together with ancillary pumps,
boiler, workshops, laboratories and offices."
This is an early article about plastics use in radio cabinets from Electronics magazine, November 1937:
Below is a cover story article about collecting radios from the Monitoring Times 2011 July issue.
Click here to read the Monitoring Times radio collecting interview that the following article was compiled from
or click the image below to read the article from the magazine page full-size JPGs.