Wednesday, 3 March 2021

16 animali, Enzo Mari, 1972

Following on from my blog about Enzo Mari’s Pago Pago vase, I am very happy to be able to write this week about another of MoDiP’s recent Mari acquisitions: the 16 animali puzzle.

Image ref: MoDiP’s 16 animali.
Image credit:
Katherine Pell.

16 animali (also known as the Sedici Animali Puzzle) was originally conceived in 1956 when Mari was commissioned for research and development at La Rinascente (an Italian chain of high-end department stores). Answering the brief to design a children’s game, Mari’s research resulted in him becoming inspired by a Scandinavian toy he had found consisting of a wooden box made up of individual pieces, vaguely resembling animals. He felt that the game was boring because the shapes were too similar and so set about designing his own version with a greater variety of more realistic forms. 

Image ref: One of Mari’s early concept sketches for 16 animals.
Image credit:
Casciani, 1988, p. 117.

After more than thirty sketches and three prototypes, the design was finalised. The animals would all slot together and be made out of a single sheet of wood, cut in one continuous line and then hand finished. The toy would be a puzzle as well as providing sixteen individual characters to play with, each of a sufficient depth to make them both robust and stackable.

Image ref: The 16 individual characters.
Image credit:
Katherine Pell.

I have found no explanation as to why La Rinascente did not pursue their original brief any further, but the project was revisited when Mari began working with Danese in 1957. The company was founded that year by Bruno Danese and Jacqueline Vodoz and it is Vodoz’s name that appears on the 16 animali patent (Bailey, 2020).

Image ref: The patent.
Image credit:

A limited number of puzzles were produced each year but although the game was well received, the manufacturing process was complex, time-consuming and expensive; using highly-skilled craft techniques was proving neither productive nor competitive. Mari was committed to the idea of mass production but, at the same time, was determined not to compromise the beauty and efficiency of his original design.

After much development, in 1969 the decision was made to injection mould the puzzle in Baydur, a polyurethane expanded resin. This material offered the same look and feel as wood, whilst being cheaper, more durable and easier to manufacture. The swirling effect of the material as it was poured into the mould also created a pleasing, soft textured surface and 16 animali quickly went on to achieve commercial success.

Image ref: The swirling effect of the plastics material.
Image credit:
Katherine Pell.

Product catalogues show that the puzzle was released continuously by Danese until at least 1988 and, as MoDiP’s example is dated 1991, we can assume on into the early 1990s (Danese and Vodoz sold the company in 1991). There was then an interruption to supply until Alessi took over in 1997 but I have been unable to ascertain when this company stopped their production (I think I have seen an image of an Alessi puzzle dated to 1999 but the maker’s mark on the resin is notoriously very difficult to read). Danese then re-issued the wooden version three years after the company was sold again in 2000.

Summary of production:

1956    Mari first designs 16 animali for La Rinascente
1957    Danese take over the project and manufacture the puzzle in wood
1958    Danese release a smaller version in wood
1961    Mari designs a book featuring the animals to show their interlocking features
1963    Danese issue a pull-out cellular paper version of the puzzle
1969    16 animali is injection moulded in polyurethane
1972    Danese release the new plastics puzzle
1997    Alessi release the puzzle in expanded polystyrene
2003    Danese reissue a limited run of 200 puzzles each year in wood

Image ref:
Page from the 1961 story L'altalena/See-saw/ Balancoire/Die Wippe, the Alessi polystyrene version and the modern Danese reissue in wood.
Image credit:
Casciani, 1988, p.116, and

In 1973 Mari designed 16 pesci to accompany 16 animali, but that’s for another time…

Image ref: 16 pesci concept sketch and finished product in polyurethane.
Image credit:
Casciani, 1988, p. 117 and 119.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer


Alessi, A. 1998. The Dream Factory. Germany: K├Ânemann.

Bailey, D. 2020. Enzo Mari.

Casciani, S. 1988 Industrial art: objects, play and thought in Danese production. Milan: Arcadia Edition.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

In search of early plastic chairs

I am looking for help in finding examples of early plastic chairs from the UK and for information on a New York-based company active in the 1930s-1950s.


The earliest plastic chairs that I have come across were designed for New York-based Grosfeld House in the late 1930s. They appear to have been quite a significant furniture retailer, with a large showroom at 320 East, 47th Street and moved into manufacturing (or at least branding) their own products. They appear to have been quite prolific - an internet search usually shows several items still changing hands on the secondary market. Lorin Jackson was one of the designers working with Grosfeld House in the early days and among his work was the chair shown in Fig. 1 made from acrylic glass in 1939. Some other examples of the company’s early experiments with plastics are shown in Fig. 2 and Fig. 3. In the mid-1950s, the company launched a fifty piece collection of wooden furniture designed by Vladamir Kagan. 


Fig. 1 Chair by Grosfeld House

Fig. 2 Chair by Grosfeld House

Fig. 3 Chair by Grosfeld House

Despite this impressive pedigree I have been unsuccessful in finding much information on the company, apart from the adverts shown in Fig. 4 and Fig. 5. New York museums have nothing at all on the company (Winterthur Museum, Smithsonian/Cooper Hewitt, MoMA and New York Historical Society).


Fig. 4 Grosfeld House advert

Fig. 5 Grosfeld House advert

The Hollywood Regency inspired chairs produced by Grosfeld House are the earliest attempts at using plastics to make chairs. Significantly, they pre-date the more famous chairs designed by Ladislas Medgyes for Helena Rubenstein’s New York apartment in 1941 (often attributed as the first). I would like to find out more about the company and their early interest in plastic for furniture and the materials they worked with. If anyone has any information about the company or any of the designers that worked with them it would be great to hear from you.


From the UK the earliest plastic chair I have found is Robin Day’s Polyside from 1963. I think there are probably earlier examples and would be very interested in any tips or information about the early plastic furniture market in the UK.


I am a PhD candidate at the University of Technology Sydney. I am tracing the history of the plastic chair and focusing on how product designers are responding to the environmental emergency by experimenting with renewable carbon-based plastics (recycled plastics and bioplastics). Please do get in touch if you can help!




Geoff Isaac

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

MyPlastic competition

We are an AUB student team from the Creative Events Management course and we are running a competition to promote the re-launch of MoDiP's MyPlastic exhibition. The competition is open to everyone, students and the general public, for the chance to win a cash prize of £100.

You may not realise that plastic is an important part of our daily lives. The idea of the competition is to highlight this by asking you to share with us a plastic object that is important to you; it could be your 3D printer, a piece of sports equipment or your favourite cooking utensil.. get creative! 

The entry can be in the form of a video, picture or a piece of art inspired by your plastic object. It really is up to you. Why not check out the MyPlastic exhibition on MoDiP's website for inspiration?

For more information and updates: 

Instagram: @myplasticaub 

Facebook: My Plastic AUB 

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Kleintex invisible thread

Following on from Pam’s blog where she talked about plastics research and MoDiP’s 2013 crowd sourcing data project, I am looking for help to find out more about a particular object that I have donated to the museum (see image below). 

Image ref: My reel of invisible thread.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Whilst we have been working from home, one of our tasks has been to prepare for future MoDiP exhibitions and so, back in the Spring of 2020, I began research for Friend and faux. One of my cases looks at secretions and how plastics have enabled us to find alternatives to animal substances such as cellulose acetate replacing natural silk in stockings. Thinking about silk thread, I suddenly remembered that I had a reel of plastics invisible thread in my sewing basket, something I had inherited several years ago but had so far never found a use for.

On close examination it appeared to be a nylon monofilament and my first online search to find out more about it turned up a reference in a June 1966 edition of the Aeromodeller magazine. In an article entitled ‘Scale commentary’, the author refers to Kleintex invisible thread as being available in either brown-tinted (my example) or clear, and being useful as rigging to tie up strut ends (McHard, 1966).

Image ref: The first reference to my invisible thread
Image credit:

My next find was from The Guardian newspaper dated Friday, 26th February 1965. It reported that a contract had been signed by the Nottingham firm of Kleintex to supply 500,000 reels of transparent sewing thread to Australia. It also mentioned a similar contract being arranged two months prior going to Africa and a further edition of the paper included an advert (dated Monday 27th September 1965) with part of the company address visible: _ _ _ er Gate, Nottingham.

Using this geographical detail, I then found a book that referred to a meeting between the author (a journalist in Nottingham at that time) and the owner of the business:

“… a businessman named Alan Klein rang me to say he had invented an invisible thread would I like to see it! I did a double take and asked how I would be able to see it. I was sure I was having my leg pulled, but it was true. I went to his factory and he showed me his transparent nylon thread which he called Kleintex invisible thread. I wrote the story because it fascinated me and the thread went on to revolutionise clothing manufacture and make Alan Klein a millionaire.” (Scott, 2013).

I contacted the author (who now lives in Australia) to see if he could recall where the factory had been but unfortunately, he could not remember the exact address and I was unable to source his original article as the newspaper has not been digitised (remember this research was being done from home during the Covid-19 lockdown!). MoDiP’s good friend Colin Williamson, a polymer specialist, also very kindly had a look through his collection of plastics directories and catalogues for me but was unable to identify anything listing the tradename, the company or the owner.

The only other reference I was able to find online at that time was the winding up of the company (no pun intended) on the 15th September 1967, notified via The London Gazette newspaper. Sadly, the trail ended there and as lockdown ended and we returned to work, other jobs to be attended to in the museum took priority.

Image ref: The company ceases to do business.
Image credit:  

But then the second national lockdown happened. Finding myself working from home again, I revisited my earlier research and almost immediately found this available for sale on a popular online auction site, which I have been able to acquire for the museum:

Image ref: The natural colour invisible thread.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Now we have the full address of the company and some wonderful contextual information to support the objects, as well as an example in the collection of both colours that had been originally manufactured. I have still been unable to identify a related patent or find out anything more about the company, the owner or the thread but I will be asking Pam to keep an eye out when she next delves into the MoDiP Reference Library.

If anyone reading this blog has any information to add to the story, please do get in touch.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer



McHard, J.D. 1966. Scale commentary. Aeromodeller, (online) (Vol. 31, No. 365), p.338. Available at: (Accessed June 2020).

Scott, E. 2013. I could have been a contender: the memoirs of a black sheep(online) Bedfordshire: Andrews UK Limited. Available at: (Accessed June 2020).

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Pago Pago vase, Enzo Mari, 1969

Just before Christmas 2020, MoDiP acquired a beautiful Pago Pago vase, designed by Enzo Mari in 1969 for Italian manufacturer, Danese Milano. Mari (b.1932 – d.2020) was a renowned design theorist who both practised and taught throughout an illustrious career that resulted in the creation of over 1500 objects.

Made of ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), the vase was designed with flexibility in mind, being reversible. A single bloom can de displayed in the narrow opening but turn the vase over to place a bouquet into the wider mouth. The double vase shares an interior wall to enable a two-part mould in manufacture, with a double bevel included within the design to conceal possible moulding shrinkages. 

Image ref: The double bevel
Image credit:

Even evidence of the injection moulding process has been made into a feature – the gate/sprue mark has been positioned in the centre of the narrow end of the inner cone: Mari referred to this as a ‘slug’.

Image ref: The injection gate mark
Image credit:

Essentially, the vase is made up of two truncated cones, one smaller one upturned within the other, with half of the outer side cut away and new supporting radial walls connecting both structures. The base has also been opened to enable access to the internal frustoconical body. Confused? The drawing in the patent (below) should help to make things clearer.

Image ref: The patented design
Image credit:

Mari spent a significant amount of time researching different flower types and sizes in order to determine both the functional requirements of the vase as well as its colour, to show off the blooms to best effect (it was made available in white, yellow, orange, green and violet – MoDiP’s example). He aimed to create something that was versatile, to remove the need to purchase a variety of different shaped containers, but that was also elegant and affordable.

Alessi re-issued the Pago Pago in 1997, recognisable by the company imprint on the bottom.

Often described as one of his most notable works, the complex structure of the plastics vase aptly fulfils Mari’s philosophy of designing both aesthetically and functionally, whilst doing justice to the material. He sadly passed away in October 2020, aged 88, due to complications related to Covid-19. 

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Provocative plastics: their value in design and material culture

Back in 2015, the Arts University Bournemouth held an international conference, Provocative plastics: design in plastics from the practical to the philosophical, attended by scholars, art and design practitioners, and members of the plastics industry from five countries. We are pleased to announce that the book of the conference has now been published:

Its scope is more focused than the conference but on the area that elicited the most interest, plastic’s value. It consists of two sections. The first explores the multivalent nature of plastics’ materiality and their impact on creativity through the professional practice of artists, designers and manufacturers as a medium for making. The second explores how they are valued in societal use, people’s attitudes to plastics and the different values that can be applied to them.

The book is unusual in the range of its tone arising from the variety of experience of its authors. Some have hands on knowledge of working with plastics. As a result, their perceptions stem from anecdotal experience that, nonetheless, because of their practical knowledge of working with plastics as a means of livelihood, contribute meaningful testimony to the wider picture of plastics’ value. Others have researched their subject from specific theoretical standpoints and provide more traditional academic arguments. Some themes are common across chapters. Indeed there is a synergy across the texts in the two sections but from different perspectives. It is the interdisciplinary approach that sets this compendium apart. It brings together a variety of voices to unpick values attached across time to this paradoxical materials group, as their unique properties lead them to play an ever more essential part in our lives whilst simultaneously their ubiquity creates an ever-greater problem that we must solve.

Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, Cultural Historian and former Rector of the Royal College of Art and Chair of Arts Council England, says: ‘Plastics have had a very bad press - from just about every point of view: environmental, social, cultural, aesthetic, the lot. This book adopts a series of fresh perspectives on this much-maligned material. It explores, on the whole dispassionately, the use of plastics in fine art, industrial and product design, fashion, popular culture, in craftsmanship and in industry. And it asks the question ‘is it possible to have sustainable plastics?’ Provocative? Yes - and also both timely and important. For too long, the debate about this product of chemistry and manufacturing has been characterised by rhetoric and knee-jerks. It’s time to reflect.’

Susan Lambert
Chief Curator

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Fascinating finds from MoDiP's Reference Library

Whilst undertaking research in the MoDiP library, before lockdown #3, I found a mountain of ‘useful’ information, but not that little bit of information I was looking for. Still, it is a fascinating way to spend a few hours and quite a bit of what I came across relates to objects in our collections. 

One of those objects is a No. 2 Hawkette camera with a Bakelite case (refer image above). It was made for Kodak circa 1927, but we didn’t know who actually made the outer case, until today. We now know that Solidite and Synthetic Mouldings Limited (refer image below) manufactured the mouldings for Kodak, a piece of information that, for many objects, is all too often difficult to establish with the passage of time. Now we will be able to update the information on our website.  

Of course, such endeavours are not new to the research that the MoDiP team undertakes on a regular basis. In 2013 MoDiP launched the ‘10 Most Wanted’ project, a Digital R & D Fund for the Arts project undertaken by MoDiP in partnership with the University of Brighton and Adaptive Technologies. It sought to crowd source information relating to selected objects in the museum’s collections that had been difficult to find. With the help of social-media, a wealth of invaluable information was unearthed and recorded for posterity and it provided a template for other museums to gather difficult to find information relating to their collections.

I have been trawling through bound volumes of British Plastics & Moulded Products Trader from the 1930s and, as with most old periodicals, the advertisements are as interesting as the articles. Those adverts tell a story. Who was producing what and for whom and who were they trying to sell it to at any particular time. 

These trade publications are also full of adverts for long forgotten plastics materials which would have been familiar names to consumers and manufacturers of the time, Sicalite, Stanite and Nestorite and Indurite, for example, but not Birmite that I was searching for. 

Since starting this blog I have encountered another ‘ite’ for which I need to find information, namely Jaxonite, a type of phenolic resin. And so, when I can get back into the museum, the search will continue and I will try not to get too distracted by the ads., but they are fascinating…

Pam Langdown
Documentation Officer