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Art Deco Galalith, Erinoid Letter Opener with Etui/Case, French Bakelite
This fantastic piece comes from France and is made from Galalith, also called Erinoid in England. This material is an early plastic made from casein and formaldehyde. The colors on both the handle and opener part are breath taking an unusual. The handle is molded and looks like bone without the texture or feel of bone. It is very well carved and has a small logo on it, that I have not been able to identify. The opener part of the piece is made of a translucent form of the Galalith and resembles amber. It has a beautiful translucent variegated quality. The piece comes with its custom case, which dates it to the 1920's.
In 1897, the Hanover, Germany mass printing press owner Wilhelm Krische was commissioned to develop an alternative to blackboards. The resultant horn-like plastic made from the milk protein casein was developed in cooperation with the Austrian chemist (Friedrich) Adolph Spitteler (1846–1940). Although the final result was unsuitable for the original purpose, at the beginning of the 20th century French chemist J.C. Trillat discovered the means to insolubilize casein by immersion in formaldehyde. This new plastic was presented at Paris Universal Exhibition in 1900. In France, Galalith was distributed by the Compagnie Française de Galalithe located near Paris in Levallois-Perret. Galalith could produce gemstone imitations that looked strikingly real. In 1926 Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel published a picture of a short, simple black dress in Vogue. It was calf-length, straight, and decorated only by a few diagonal lines. Vogue called it "Chanel's Ford," as like the Model T, the little black dress was simple and accessible for women of all social classes. To accessorize the little black dress, Chanel revamped her designs, thus facilitating the breakthrough and mass popularity of costume jewelry. Galalith was used for striking Art Deco jewelry designs by artists such as Jacob Bengel and Auguste Bonaz, as well as for hair combs and accessories. By the 1930s, Galalith was also used for pens, umbrella handles, white piano keys, and electrical goods, with world production at that time reached 10,000 tons.
The condition of this letter opener is excellent, the color is true, there are no mold marks and it has the clear impression of being hand carved. There is one tiny scratch on the opener part, no other flaws. Measurements are: 10" long and 1 ¼" diameter at the thickest part. The case is 11" long and 1 ¾" diameter. The case is also in very good condition with one small smudge on the inside.
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