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What Is Vintage Lucite®?

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  • Written By: Britt Archer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Lucite® is a modern material with a vintage past. The name refers to a form of acrylic plastic known chemically as polymethyl methacrylate. It has both the light weight of plastic and the hardness and sheen of glass. Mostly used in industrial manufacturing today, Lucite® was once a popular medium for jewelry and accessories. Vintage Lucite® refers to Lucite® products, particularly jewelry, manufactured prior to 1970.

Polymethyl methacrylate was first synthesized at the end of the 19th century. Rohm and Haas, the company that manufactured Lucite®, was formed in the 1930s and began manufacturing jewelry and accessories using the material. The manufacturing company ceased making these products to focus on industrial applications in the 1970s. Vintage Lucite® was manufactured during the decades between the inception of the company and the cessation of jewelry manufacturing by that company. Though jewelry is still made using polymethyl methacrylate, it is not manufactured or sold under the Lucite® name.

Lucite® can be either transparent or opaque and comes in a wide array of colors. Vintage Lucite® jewelry is made to look like glass; only the feel and texture of the objects belies their plastic nature. Vintage pieces exist in many forms, including beads, finished jewelry items, purses and housewares. Vintage accessories made using Lucite® are considered collector's items, comparable in demand to the bulkier Bakelite® pieces from the same era.

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Pieces made from Lucite® can be distinguished from other vintage plastics using a simple test. Dip the piece in hot, but not boiling, water. If the piece has a discernible smell, it is not a vintage Lucite® piece, as Lucite® has no scent when exposed to hot water. Antique dealers are often able to identify vintage poly methyl methacrylate pieces, sometimes by sight alone.

Some Lucite® pieces are distinctly vintage. The moonglow finish, for example, was manufactured during the vintage era and appears to glow when held to light. Pieces that resemble granite in pattern are also probably vintage Lucite® due to their construction and design. Confetti Lucite®, which is a transparent plastic with pieces of glitter trapped inside, is another popular vintage finish, though confetti pieces were also manufactured during later periods of polymethyl methacrylate production.

Lucite® has experienced several revivals since its peak period of manufacture, though the name cannot properly be applied to the pieces. A brief revival of the material in fashion and accessory manufacture occurred in the 1980s and again in the early 2000s. Even though these pieces are termed Lucite®, it is a misnomer. Polymethyl methacrylate pieces from the 1980s are sometimes termed vintage Lucite® because of the improperly applied Lucite® label.

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