Phenol formaldehyde (PF)

Spectroscopy chart PF

The common trade name for phenol formaldehyde is Bakelite.

Box with lid, 1940s





Acquired from a flea market. The loss of colour and shine to the outside are consistent with a life of use.


Entirely made from the featured material, phenol formaldhyde.


Phenol formaldehyde is chemically a stable material however pigments used to colour it, such as the green in this example, can be susceptible to light. Here the green has become dark. The sheen has also been reduced by contact with the atmosphere.

The surface is also susceptible to solvents. Solvent seems to have been used to remove the residue of a label on the base of the box resulting in a roughened area.


Degradation typical of the material not visible in this example

A tendency to crack if the moulding is under tension or if the object is dropped.


The damage cannot be reversed.

It is especially important not to wash phenol formaldehyde. It is usually filled with rags or paper and if it is kept in a damp atmosphere it will absorb moisture and any cracks will increase in size. It should be cleaned only with a dry, soft, lint free, cloth.

Phenol formaldehyde easily breaks with trauma therefore careful handling is crucial.

Display and storage

Follow standard practice: keep in a stable environment and, when not on display, in the dark.

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