Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Beside the sea - introduction

In the video below I introduce our current exhibition, Beside the sea.  This is the first in a series of short videos all about the objects we have on display.

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP



 

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Worshipful Company of Horners visit

MoDiP has been caring for the collection of the Worshipful Company of Horners for the past eleven years. These objects provide a comprehensive insight into the use of one of nature's plastics; defined as being a material that can be moulded with the application of heat (in this case with a soft flame or by dipping in boiling water or hot oil) and/or pressure (eg. using a press), in its natural form. By using techniques such as cutting, sanding and polishing, the material can be used to create a wide range of products.



Whilst horn artefacts have been found that date back to the 5th century BCE, its biodegradable nature has resulted in under-representation within the archaeological record. For example, evidence of horn working is commonly identified by the remains of the hard, bony inner cores (removed from the keratin outer layer which can then be worked), and metal fittings are often all that is found to indicate the presence of early drinking horns. However, it is historically recognised as having been a widely available and relatively cheap material that was commonly used for the production of everyday items, essential tools, weapons as well as decorative objects.


A selection of horn artefacts from the Worshipful Company of Horners’ collection.
Image credit: MoDiP

The first historic reference to the Worshipful Company of Horners was recorded in 1284, identifying it as a Livery Company with powers to control the craft within the City of London such as regulating conditions of employment and setting standards for workmanship. In 1476 they merged with the Bottlemakers, originally makers of leather bottles whose trade was being eroded by the introduction of glass and, as the craft of working with horn later declined, the Company adopted the emerging plastics industry in 1943, the two industries sharing many similar production techniques.



A 17th century leather
costrel (left) and modern replica.
Image credit: MoDiP

Their extensive collection of items made from horn ranges from simple agricultural tools such as drenches for use with cattle to sophisticated pressed and pierced combs as well as horn-working tools that demonstrate how the trade gradually became mechanised. Their earliest piece is a shoe horn dated to 1612, engraved with floral and geometric designs and bearing the legend 'Robart Mindum made this shooing horne for Ricard Gibon anno Domini 1612’. 



The objects laid out for the Horners to view.
Image credit: MoDiP


Recently, MoDiP travelled to a local hotel with a selection of these objects to meet with members from the Company. This was a postponed visit due to the Covid-19 lockdown and whilst we had hoped the group would be able to join us at the museum, current restrictions on visitor numbers unfortunately meant that would not be possible. So, if they could not come to us, we would go to them and we duly borrowed a van to carefully transport the objects a few miles down the road.

We spent the afternoon examining the collection in detail and a few favourites included: a set of six beakers, graduated in size to stack inside one another and dated to c.1910, a collapsible beaker in black and cream horn, an early 19th century engraved beaker depicting a hunting scene and a leather Black Jack with silver mounts, c.17th century. All seen in the image below. 



Cups and snuff boxes.
Image credit: MoDiP


The hornbook (seen below at the top of the table, centre) was also of particular interest. From the mid-sixteenth to the late nineteenth century, hornbooks were used as a teaching aid for children and were referred to as a primer. This example consists of a sheet of paper containing the alphabet and the Lord’s Prayer, protected by a thin layer of transparent horn and mounted on a leather covered oak frame with a handle. It is stamped with a figure of Charles I on horseback on the reverse.



A selection of cutlery, combs and the hornbook.
Image credit: MoDiP


The entire collection is housed at the museum and is available for research. It can be viewed in person on request or viewed via the on-line catalogue.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer 

 


Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Damard Lacquer Company

An intriguing object found in amongst some recent donations to the MoDiP collection turned out to be something rather special.

 


This shiny black piece of hard plastic came with a small handwritten note explaining that:

‘This phenolic rod was given to me by H.V. Potter, Chairman of Bakelite Ltd. He said it was made circa 1918 by Damard Lacquer Co and was an experiment into phenolic resins and moulding materials. It was cured by increasing the temperature of the oven over a period of 24 hours.’

 


With further investigation I was able to establish that the Damard Lacquer Company was formed in 1910, in Birmingham. 

 

Demolition of 98 Bradford Street, exterior shot. BXL : 1191.2

At that time Birmingham was the centre of the UK's brassware industry where durable lacquers were in demand for coating brass to prevent tarnishing. Responding to the demand for lacquers in America, the company set up another factory in New York in 1912, but this was closed at the onset of WWI with patent litigation threatened by Bakeland, the inventor of Bakelite, being another possible contributory factor.  Subsequent agreements with Bakeland allowed Damard to continue to develop lacquers and to produce laminated sheet for electrical insulations and resins for brake linings. In 1927 a new company was formed comprising the Damard Lacquer Co., Mouldensite Ltd., and Redmanol Ltd., to develop Bakeland's phenol formaldehyde patents in England. That company was Bakelite Ltd. through which this phenolic rod was eventually donated to the museum.



 

This unassuming object is a bit of a gem. It dates back to the early days of the development of wholly synthetic plastics, so whilst it is not the most photogenic of objects, it is a rare and tangible link with those early pioneers of plastics materials production. 

Pam Langdown
Documentation Officer

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Synthetic garments workshop at MoDiP

In April 2020 (see our post of 20 May 2020) we had the good news that our application to the Art Fund for support for a project in partnership with the Dress and Textiles Specialists’ network and the Plastics SSN had been successful. Its aim is to create a resource focused on synthetic garments with a view to building museum staff skills and confidence in this significant but neglected area. By ‘synthetic’ we mean garments made of materials that have been chemically changed or are entirely manmade. An example of the former is viscose, often called rayon, and of the latter, nylon. 

The intention was to hold workshops with a view to sharing experience and expertise and thereby to gather information for the resource. The timing of the project was such that we were meant to begin just as lockdown got underway so I am delighted to be able to report that we have, at last, managed to hold two workshops. The first was at the V&A’s magnificent Clothworkers’ Centre at Blythe House at the end of April. Lockdown restrictions were such that I was the only person to have the privilege of joining five V&A textile/fashion curators in person but we were fortunate to have further experts join via Zoom from Glasgow Museums and University. The second workshop was held recently at MoDiP where the MoDiP team was joined by three curators from the V&A and one from the Science Museum and again by the colleagues in Glasgow on Zoom. It resulted in a very rewarding day. 


Workshop attendees enjoyed exploring the collection. 
Image credit: MoDiP

MoDiP’s research, with the exception of the exhibition ‘Threads: plastics wearing well’ (www.modip.ac.uk/exhibitions/threads-plastics-wearing-well), has tended to focus on objects made of hard plastics. Thus this workshop provided a wonderful opportunity for us to learn to look at and see garments through the eyes of textile specialists. I had scrutinised each of the 14 garments in advance and was amazed by how much I had missed. For example, that a blouse sporting a Utility label has a patch in a different material under one of its shoulder pads; a fake fur jacket had been shortened; and another fake fur object, a scarf, which is more convincing as fur to the touch, has a regular effect of striations across its surface when looked at from a certain angle. 


Some of the garments reviewed during the workshop. 
Image credit: MoDiP


Most of the garments we explored have labels specifying the materials of which they are made. For example an undershirt designed as protective clothing for racing drivers is composed of 69% Modal viscose, 28% aramid, 1% carbon fibre and 2% Elastane. I had assumed that it was made of a fibre created from a blend of these materials but learnt that it is more likely that it is the thread with which the garment is sewn together is the carbon fibre element. The reason being that it is much easier to work with than Modal viscose, very strong and maintains functionality at high temperatures. This supposition will be tested by infrared (IR) spectroscopy. An explanation of how this process enables material identification through the creation of a unique spectrum (graph) can be found here: https://www.modip.ac.uk/research/confronting-plastics-preservation/case-studies.


Sparco Pro Tech RW-9 undershirt, AIBDC : 007097. 
Image credit: MoDiP

I would like to thank our V&A, Science Museum and Glasgow colleagues for making the workshop so useful and enjoyable. Their different approaches have hugely expanded my understanding of the objects we looked at. If only we could submit everything in the collection to this kind of scrutiny and discussion.

Susan Lambert
Chief Curator of MoDiP



Wednesday, 25 August 2021

K-Tel's Burger Matic, 1976

I have just catalogued this K-Tel Burger Matic, which was kindly donated to MoDiP by a friend of mine.



Image ref: AIBDC : 008700
Image credit: Katherine Pell




It works by making up to 8 burgers quickly and easily: a reusable polyethylene (HDPE) plastic disc is placed in the acrylic (PMMA) tube, followed by the burger mixture with another disc put in on top of that. The plunger is then inserted to press the food into a uniform burger shape before the whole process is repeated, stacking one burger on top of another. Advertised as being convenient and easy to clean with ‘no more mess’ and ‘no more fuss’, it dates to 1976.



Image ref: The K-Tel Patti-Chef advert.
Image credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O81OIvZD-Gg



Released as the Patti-Chef in 1960s America, the invention came to the UK a decade later as the Burger Matic at a time when pre-processed foods were not as widely available as they are today. It cost £1.99 from high street stores like Woolworths and the Co-op and possessed the magical marketing slogan on its box: ‘As advertised on TV’.



Image ref: Philip Kives with some K-Tel products.
Image credit:
https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2016/05/08/k-tel-founder-phil-kives-developed-the-perfect-pitch.html




K-Tel was founded by Philip Kives (1929 – 2016), a Canadian door-to-door salesman and department store product demonstrator. In 1962 he invested his own money in purchasing some teflon-coated frying pans and paid for an accompanying television advertisement that he wrote and directed himself. With his fast-talking patter and marketing skills, the infomercial was an immediate success and Kives went on to establish his company K-Tel (the ‘K’ stood for Kives, the ‘Tel’ being an abbreviation of television), and acquired more products to sell. Such innovations included the Miracle Brush (over 28 million had been sold by the late 1960s), the Veg-O-Matic (invented by Samuel J. Popeil in 1960) and the Patti-Chef/Burger Matic.




Image ref: AIBDC : 004662. The Veg-O-Matic was one of K-Tel’s early product lines.
Image credit: MoDiP




In 1965, K-Tel Records was launched selling compilation albums from all musical genres. Whilst this may sound dated now, it was a way in which people could discover new songs and listen to their favourite tracks without having to acquire all of the pop chart singles separately or purchase individual artist’s albums. Even Dave Grohl recently paid homage to the K-Tel ‘Block Buster’ LP which was the first record he had ever owned and at MoDiP we have the 1976 ‘Disco Rocket’ album in the collection, including classics like Donna Summer’s ‘Love to Love You Baby’.




Image ref: AIBDC : 001370. Even the LP sleeve was used to advertise other K-Tel products.
Image credit: Katherine Pell 




By 1981 K-Tel’s sales had reached a peak at $178 million but a series of bad business investments followed, resulting in bankruptcy and many years of legal battles for Kives to get his company back. He did and it is still operating today although Philip Kives sadly died in 2016 at the age of 87. In its day, K-Tel sold a huge variety of household wares designed to save time, space and trouble, the majority involving the plastics material in some way. The adverts have been widely referenced in US popular culture, being parodied in comedy performances for television programmes like Saturday Night Live and The Simpsons, as well as in several films. Kives was at the forefront of direct marketing television, coining the catchphrases, ‘As seen on TV’ and ‘But wait, there’s more!’ now so widely familiar to us all.
 
Katherine Pell
Collections Officer
 
 
References:
https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_323705
https://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-rosenthal-k-tel-founder-0503-biz-20160502-column.html
https://www.facebook.com/KTelRecords/posts/1397616816935038?comment_id=1399388036757916
https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/tv/tv-news/philip-kives-dead-k-tel-888464/
https://www.thestar.com/news/insight/2016/05/08/k-tel-founder-phil-kives-developed-the-perfect-pitch.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K-tel
http://www.woolworthsmuseum.co.uk/1970i-price.html
https://youtu.be/O81OIvZD-Gg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O81OIvZD-Gg 




Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Shellac

Florence Compound was the invention of Alfred Critchlow (1813-1881) who was a manufacturer of horn buttons in Birmingham, England. After emigrating to the US, where he initially continued in this trade, Critchlow eventually moved to Florence, Massachusetts, where, in the 1850s, he began to experiment with moulding compounds of shellac (a resin secreted by the lac beetle) and gutta percha (a natural material derived from the Malaysian tree of the same name). He developed a shellac-based moulding material which he named Florence Compound and used it to manufacture buttons and Union Cases (small protective cases for daguerreotype photographs), thought to be some of the first mass-produced plastic mouldings. In 1853 Critchlow went into partnership with Samuel Hill and Isaac Parsons, but when the development of new photographic processes led to a dwindling in demand for such cases, he sold his share in the company which then took the name Littlefield, Parsons and Co. Subsequently they changed their name to the Florence Manufacturing Co. and, needing to find new uses for their moulding material, produced highly decorated hand mirrors and brush sets.    




One such mirror has recently been acquired by MoDiP. The back of the mirror is decorated with a Japanese chrysanthemum design




and the word ‘Florence’ is clearly seen moulded on the handle.




The mouldings are still crisp and sharp and, apart from a little damage to the handle, it doesn’t look as if it is over 130 years old.



The ability of shellac to be moulded into intricate patterns is also demonstrated by this Union case which is part of the Plastics Historical Society Collection and held at MoDiP. Manufactured by S. (Samuel) Peck & Co. it is thought to have been made in the 1850s.




Another recent acquisition for MoDiP is a very pretty shellac trinket box. It has a moulded lid depicting two nesting birds. As yet we haven’t conducted any research to establish its manufacturer. It has no identifying marks, but hopefully, with time, we might find information about it.




Pam Langdown
Documentation Officer


Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Stelton coffee pot, Arne Jacobsen, 1967

Following on from my recent blog post about Arne Jacobsen’s alarm clock, this week I am focusing on another object from MoDiP’s collections designed by him: the Cylinda-Line coffee pot from Danish tableware manufacturer Stelton. This sleek, stainless-steel range has contrasting, decorative phenol formaldehyde handles, aptly demonstrating this material’s heat resistance properties.



AIBDC : 008681
Image credit: Katherine Pell


Jacobsen’s stepson, Peter Holmblad, was employed as the Export Manager for Stelton in 1963. He wanted to modernise the company and as part of this, he tried to capture the interest of his stepfather in helping him design a new product line. Without success, he attempted his own design of a lidded bowl which Jacobsen could not resist in perfecting. Together they went on to develop the Cylinda-Line range of simple, hollow cylindrical forms: the iconic shape and name being attributed to Holmblad, whilst the styling was Jacobsen.



Early sketches of the teapot and the coffee pot – note the change in the handle design.
Image credit: (left)
https://view.publitas.com/master-design/stelton-ss2017/page/2-3 (right) http://midcenturymagazine.com/furniture-objects/cylinda-line-arne-jacobsen-steels-the-show/

Beginning with a drawing on a napkin at a family dinner, once the design had been approved, prototype models were made out of wood and the Stelton production team then collaborated with Danish Steel for manufacture. Three years of intensive development followed as the original idea of using steel tubes and then welding on the base proved too expensive for mass production. New techniques and machinery had to be invented and the design modified to what was actually possible to recreate (note the different handle in the two drawings above).



Arne Jacobsen introducing the new tableware at an exhibition in 1967
Image credit:
https://view.publitas.com/master-design/stelton-2016-2017/page/8-9


Unlike anything else seen on the market at the time of launch in 1967, at first the cocktail and tableware collection did not sell well: Holmblad recalls asking his mother and sister to order items in order to boost sales. However, later that year Cylinda-Line was awarded the Danish Society of Industrial Design ID prize and the following year the International Design Award by the American Institute of Interior Designers. By 1970, Stelton had had to expand to meet with international demand and the range is still available to buy today, now widely considered a design classic.



Close-up of the plastics handle
Image credit: Katherine Pell


Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

 

References:

Hackney, Rod. (1972). Arne Jacobsen: Architecture and Fine Art. Leonardo. Vol. 5 No. 4. pp. 307–313 (online). www.jstor.org/stable/1572585. Accessed 8 July 2021.

Tøjner, P. E. and Vindum, K. (1999). Arne Jacobsen. Architect & Designer. Danish Design Centre, Copenhagen. pp. 110-112 (online) https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/H_1981-1105-11

https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O140642/cylinda-line-coffee-pot-jacobsen-arne-emil/

https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/H_1981-1105-11

http://midcenturymagazine.com/furniture-objects/cylinda-line-arne-jacobsen-steels-the-show/

https://www.stelton.com/en/arne-jacobsen-coffee-pot-1-5-l-p-2997?marketSelector={C53C6B51-8796-4EAA-B837-4B2AC161D6ED}

https://www.stelton.com/en/designere/peter-holmblad

https://view.publitas.com/master-design/stelton-2016-2017/page/1