Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Current exhibition: Being me

Unfortunately, MoDiP will remain closed unil further notice.  However, you can still view our current exhibition online.

Being me: plastics and the body

The problems that plastics can create for the human body are now becoming better understood. Plastics materials cause health issues for people in a variety of ways, most notably through microplastics entering the food chain via pollution in our seas, and when chemicals, such as bisphenol-A (BPA), leach from containers through our food and into our blood streams. However, through good design and use, plastics materials enable us to maintain our bodies and express ourselves in ways that empower us to be human.

Being me: plastics and the body explores the ways in which plastics materials, and the products made from them, help us to be ourselves; by changing our shape, keeping us safe, aiding us when our bodies struggle, and by keeping us alive. From prosthetics with life-like qualities, supporting amputees both physically and emotionally, to sportswear that helps athletes move faster and more efficiently, the objects on display show the ways we can maintain our physical attributes and become superhuman.

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Material value – Christmas tree

As Curator of MoDiP, I find myself talking a lot about the understanding of the material value of plastics. That is to say, showing that the material family is not made up of ‘cheap’ materials that do not matter, or that are made into inconsequential objects that can be thrown away without thought. We hear so much about the disposability of single-use plastics and how they are bad for the environment but we do not hear so much about how objects are reused. The reuse of plastics objects that are designed to have a long life is vital to make sure that their material value is realised.

At this time of year many families will be debating the environmental difference between a real Christmas tree and an artificial one. According to an Independent article from last year:

  • A natural two-metre Christmas tree that does not have roots and is disposed of into a landfill after Christmas produces a carbon footprint of around 16kg of CO2.
  • A two-metre tree that has roots and is properly disposed of after its use — by burning it on a bonfire, planting it or having it chipped — has a carbon footprint of around 3.5kg of CO2, four and a half times less.
  • On the other hand, a two-metre Christmas tree made from plastic has a carbon footprint measuring at around 40kg of CO2, more than 10 times greater than a properly disposed of real tree.

Therefore, if you have an artificial tree, you would need to use it for at least 10 years in order for its environmental impact to equal that of a responsibly-disposed natural tree.​ That is, if it has been built to last that long. (Barr 2019)

There are many artificial trees that will not last very long because their construction or the materials that are used to create them are not robust enough to withstand being put up and taken down multiple times. My Mum’s tree, on the other hand, has been going strong for at least 35 years, if not more, this is the only tree that I remember. By continue to use it, my Mum has certainly got her money’s worth, and more than the materials’ environmental spend was worth out of this plastics object.

The four feet slot into a central core which has a hole in the middle for the trunk. The trunk itself is in two pieces and has a metal sheet curled round to give strength. It is finally topped off with a cone shape of mini branches.

I love the moulded detail at points where it will be seen e.g. the base of the finial, at the branching points, and the base of the trunk. Where the trunk is less visible the detail of bark is less sophisticated.

The branches each have a letter denoting into which branching layer they should be placed.

The tops of the branches have more ‘needles’ than the underside and each of the ‘needles’ are like a mini tree in themselves with a two-tone green effect giving depth to the branches. Going up the tree the branches get smaller to create a lovely, smooth, conical shape.

The finished article is a handsome tree with enough space between each layer of branches for baubles, lights and tinsel.

Like many families, the decorations on the tree have personal meaning. My Mum’s tree will always have this little polystyrene spaceship and lorry. They may not seem very Christmassy on first glance but I believe they represent the toys you might find under the tree. They have always been there and would be sadly missed if they were not there.

From a material value point of view, this 1980s tree has proved its worth by being taken apart and put away safely each year, only to come out the next year to be put back together. It has had dogs’ tails wagged against it, cats have been up it, and house rabbits have nibbled it and yet it still looks as if it has many years of life left in it. It would be great to hear your stories of your family’s artificial tree. Do you have an older tree? Or even the same tree? What about other decorations that come out each year?

All images very kindly taken by my sister, Sarah Dennis, as I haven’t been able to visit the old tree… I mean my Mum recently.

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP


Barr, S., 2019. Are artificial or real Christmas trees better for the environment? [online]. The Independent. Available from: [Accessed 30 Nov 2020].


Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Closed for Christmas

Like the rest of the AUB campus, MoDiP is now closed.  The team will be available until 21st December after which we are taking a well needed break until 4th January.

The collection and resources are still available on the website


 Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday, 9 December 2020


Spoiler alert!!! I’ve just bought my nephew this for Christmas:

Image reference: Airfix model kit of a Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Ia.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

We love Airfix in our house: my husband has loads of kits relating to his interest in military history. We also love Airfix at MoDiP and I am pleased to say that we actually have a similar  model kit in the collection to the one I have just purchased, albeit a different scale and Mark. We often use it to demonstrate the manufacturing process of injection moulding. In the close-up image below, you can clearly see the frame around the parts of MoDiP’s model where the plastics material was injected into the mould. This is referred to as the runner and sprue (the smaller and larger channels respectively) and it is usually discarded after each individual part has been cut free. 

Image reference: AIBDC : 006986 MoDiP’s Supermarine Spitfire MkXII Airfix model kit
Image credit: MoDiP

There is a regular debate amongst modellers regarding what to do with this waste plastic and many have found ways to reuse it such as melting it down to use as filler, heat stretching it to make parts such as antennas and rigging or even using it for scratch building. Finding a new use for this material is reminiscent of Airfix’s early beginnings with plastics.

The company was founded in 1939 by Hungarian businessman Nicholas Kove. He began making rubber toys, the name Airfix being associated with the process of inflating air into his products. When rubber supplies were diverted for military use due to the war, Kove turned his attention to plastics and in 1947, he introduced a range of cellulose acetate combs, being the first UK manufacturer to operate an injection moulding machine. 

Airfix was then approached by the Ferguson Company to make a model of one of its tractors to be used as a promotional tool. The design team created this as a series of parts using waste cellulose acetate that was then hand assembled and boxed. By using scrap plastics in this way, some of the early tractors were multicoloured but they are now extremely rare and this image of an auctioned kit is the only example I have been able to find (if anyone has one they would like to donate to the museum, please let me know!). 

Image reference: An early, multi-coloured, cellulose acetate, Airfix Ferguson tractor model.
Image credit: 

Kove negotiated with Ferguson to allow him to sell the model tractor as a toy through the popular high street chain Woolworths. In order to meet the shop’s required retail price of two shillings, he had to replace the cellulose acetate with a more stable polystyrene and offer the toy as a self-construction kit sold disassembled in a polythene bag. 

By the early 1950s, increasing competition from other comb manufacturers led the company to end this side of their business, but whilst they were steadily expanding their range of model kits, they were still producing other general plastics products such as tea-sets and beach toys. In 1961 the company were advertising 100 different kits, which doubled over the next five years to cover 13 themes including planes, trains, cars as well as figures. By the late 1960s, 250 kits were being produced as the modelling hobby grew in popularity, and it was at this point that the Airfix brand had become synonymous with plastics scale-models.

Image reference: From artwork, to model, then mould and finally the finished kit.
Image credit:   

Katherine Pell, Collections Officer, MoDiP.


Wednesday, 2 December 2020


During the first UK lockdown Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, stated “NHS and care staff protect us. Every day, while we’re safe at home, they go off to work to care for us. We owe it to them to get them the kit they need to protect themselves” (Department of Health & Social Care 2020). The kit to which he refers is personal protective equipment (PPE); this phrase has become part of everyday conversation and used almost daily in news reports and government press briefings where it had previously only resided in the lexicon of the health & safety specialist.

Although most of us going about our normal business can be protected by keeping our distance, washing our hands, and utilising reusable facemasks, disposable plastics PPE has proved vital in the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic for those in unavoidable close contact with people. When a disease is so infectious, like COVID-19, single-use PPE helps to stop the spread by blocking and containing any infectious material. It does, however, need to be the right equipment for the right job. To be effective, PPE also needs to be safely removed to avoid self-contamination, be within its expiry date, and be safely and cleanly stored.

Public Health England suggest that gloves are important to protect the hands from encountering a patient’s body fluids, such as blood, broken skin or mucous membranes and that they should be changed immediately after each patient and in some cases between each procedure on the same patient. Aprons need to be worn to protect uniform or clothes especially when a carer or member of NHS staff are providing direct care within 2 metres of a COVID-19 case, alternatively a full body gown could be used. To protect the face and eyes the suggestion for staff is to wear visors and Type IIR face masks to cover the mouth and nose, these should not be touched or allowed to hang around the neck between uses. (Public Health England 2020)

Where PPE comes in different sizes, the correct size should be selected as a good fit will ensure the best protection available. Donning (putting on) and doffing (taking off) needs to be done with great care to prevent self-contamination. Even with PPE it is important to maintain good hand hygiene using an alcohol-based solution. The first piece of equipment to put on is the long sleeve gown, followed by the mask, goggles, visor, and then finally the gloves. When removing such equipment, the gloves are the first to be removed following an 8-step procedure: ‘(1) start by pinching and holding the glove (with the other gloved hand) between the palm and wrist area, (2) peel the glove away from the wrist, (3) until it turns inside out covering the fingers. With the now half-gloved hand, (4) pinch and hold the fully gloved hand between the palm and wrist, (5) peel the glove away from the wrist (6) until it turns inside out and covers the fingers. Now that both hands are half-gloved, (7) remove the glove from one hand completely by grabbing the inside part of the glove and peeling it away from the hand, and do the same for the remaining half-gloved hand using the non-gloved hand, while always grabbing the inside part of the glove. Dispose of the gloves (8) in a biohazard bin.’

Once the gloves are removed, the hands should be cleaned with an alcohol-based solution before another set of gloves are donned to continue the removal of the rest of the PPE. Now the gown can be removed, disposable gowns should be pulled away from the body keeping the contaminated front part inside the gown. Touching the front part of the goggles should be avoided as they could be contaminated so if they are the type with an elasticated strap around the back of the head this should be used to remove them. Masks should be removed by the ear straps, and then finally the gloves should be removed and hand hygiene carried out once again (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control 2020).

The extensive use of PPE within both the medical setting and by the general population has seen an increase in polymer sales. The production of N95-type masks in China went from 20 million units per day before the pandemic to 150 million as the virus began to spread significantly. As demands changed from one material for a particular product fell, manufacturers changed their working practices to keep their businesses going, in some cases this meant changing their equipment to cope with the new materials, one manufacturer ‘that customarily produces polyolefin film needed special dryers installed so it could run polycarbonate instead. Other firms have installed new rollers or hydraulic screws that pump molten resin. Yet others have ordered up tools to begin injection molding the long stems for the nasopharyngeal swabs used for COVID-19 tests.’ Makers of engineering polymers makers also witnessed a rush on materials for medical devices (Tullo 2020).

PPE has not only been used by the healthcare professionals, with an estimated monthly usage being estimated as 89 million medical masks, 76 million gloves, and 1.6 million goggles, but the general public have increased their usage as well. Unfortunately, this has led to the poor disposal of gloves and face masks with an increase of littering in public spaces. The fear of reusable items being carriers of the virus has also led to calls to withdraw bans on single-use plastic bags and other such items (Prata et al. 2020). There are organisations, such as TerraCycle, who are looking at ways of gathering and recycling certain types of PPE (TerraCycle 2020) but there are costs involved making it prohibitive for many individuals, however, organisations including MoDiP can have receptacles in place to collect nitrile gloves and single-use masks which are then sent off to TerracCycle to use the materials to create other products.

MoDiP has put on a small exhibition of PPE which is designed to be used in a medical and caring setting. 

MoDiP's PPE exhibition

Polythene (PE) aprons (1) offer protection from low level hazards where risk of injury is minimal. They can be removed quickly by pulling at the material which breaks easily. Such large quantities are used each day that they are purchased in bulk. However, it is important to store them properly so they do not gather dust; a potential breeding ground for bacteria. 


Disposable aprons

Face masks and shields are effective in reducing the spread of airborne disease by capturing liquid particles from the mouth and nose. Disposable masks, like the Wondo Medical Surgical Masks (2), are used extensively by frontline staff, surgeons and other medical professionals on a daily basis. Being made of three layers: an outer of non-woven polypropylene (PP), a middle layer of high efficiency blown melt material which is possibly PP, and an inner layer of non-woven polyester (which is soft against the face), they have a high bacterial filtration efficiency at more than 98%. 


Various objects of PPE on display.

Masks with ear loops can be extremely uncomfortable if worn for a whole session of 3 or 4 hours, so to alleviate the pressure and prevent wounds, flexible PP ear guards (3) are worn at the back of the head with the ear loop threaded over one set of hooks on each side. Alternative masks like the Handanhy FFP3 NR D face mask (4) have elastic straps which sit across the back of the head. This mask is graded a FFP3 which denotes the level of protection provided by the mask against very fine dust, fibres, aqueous mists and oil-based mists. FFP stands for Filtering Face Piece and NR means non-reusable. To offer additional protection, a face shield can be worn over a mask and goggles or glasses. The Barriguard face shield (5) offers high level protection to the face and eyes from airborne viruses with the foam headband offering a ‘no-gap’ design protecting the wearer from liquid or air entry. 


Thumbloop gown.

The Biogel Neoderm surgical gloves (6) have a long cuff to cover the wrist and lower arm. The inner coating of Biogel makes it easier to put them on even with wet hands and helps to soothe the skin to help prevent moisture loss. Gloves can be worn with PE gowns with long sleeves and thumbloops (7) to create good, secure, coverage of the upper body particularly during prolonged contact with fluid.


1. Disposable polythene aprons, Unknown, 2020. AIBDC : 008492

2. Face Shield Visor, Barriguard, 2010s circa. AIBDC : 008486

3. Medical Surgical Face Masks, Hunan Wondo Medical Supplies, 2020. AIBDC : 008487

4. Face mask ear guards, Fenton Precision, 2020. AIBDC : 008488.5

5. FFP3 NR D face mask, Handan Hengyong Protective & Clean Products, 2020. AIBDC : 008489

6. Biogel Neoderm gloves, Molnlycke Health Care, 2020 circa. AIBDC : 008490

7. Protective thumbloop gown, Finess Healthcare Group for Gen Med Enterprises, 2020. AIBDC : 008491

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP 


Department of Health & Social Care, 2020. COVID-19: personal protective equipment (PPE) plan [online]. GOV.UK. Available from: [Accessed 26 Oct 2020].

European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 2020. Guidance for wearing and removing personal protective equipment in healthcare settings for the care of patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 [online]. Stockholm. Available from: [Accessed 26 Oct 2020].

Prata, J. C., Silva, A. L. P., Walker, T. R., Duarte, A. C., and Rocha-Santos, T., 2020. COVID-19 Pandemic Repercussions on the Use and Management of Plastics. Environmental Science & Technology, 54 (13), 7760–7765.

Public Health England, 2020. COVID-19 infection prevention and control guidance [online]. Available from: [Accessed 26 Oct 2020].

TerraCycle, 2020. TerraCycle [online]. TerraCycle. Available from: [Accessed 26 Oct 2020].

Tullo, A., 2020. Plastics during the pandemic. C&EN Global Enterprise, 98, 24–25.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Everywhere: Life in a littered world

By Joanne Lee and Rosemary Shirley

Joanne Lee and Rosemary Shirley are the curators of  ‘Everywhere: Life in a littered world’, an online exhibition for The Arts Institute, University of Plymouth, launched alongside Micro2020, an international scientific conference on the fate and impacts of microplastics in the environment. In this blog post, they outline their curatorial intentions and explore some of the themes that have emerged.


In recent years, the creation and disposal of waste has become an urgent area of global concern, amplified through an emotive response to its material excess and polluting effects. Our project recognises that whilst there are of course significant problems to be addressed with regard to reducing or eradicating litter, the complex intersectionality of issues through which waste is caused and distributed demand creative and critical responses that engage rather than alienate.


As curators, we have been thinking on and with different scales, both spatially and in terms of duration: litter is, after all, a matter that requires negotiation between the local and the global, between the throwaway moment of the single-use plastic bottle and the long durée of breakdown, and between the seemingly everyday triviality of the subject and the monumental potentiality of waste. 


For the exhibition, we have considered the matter of litter that is everywhere out of place: often mobile and hard to contain, it blows, disintegrates and leaks from our efforts to dispose or manage. It is unwanted, contaminating and enduring and thus resolutely in every place; from the streets of our major cities to the remote polar regions, from the epic scale of landfill and off-shoring to the minute particles found in so-called ‘plastic rain’ identified in recent research. Waste is ineradicably present in the lives of contemporary species and will last long into an inconceivable future: we have sought to explore how playfully affective contemporary art can engage viewers and operate imaginatively to help us understand its various scales, meanings and materialisations and consider how we might live with what humankind has produced. 

Image credit: Diana Lelonek ‘PET Environment’ from Center for Living Things

It is perhaps unsurprising that plastics of various sorts feature in the work of every artist whose practice we have featured. The casual littering of plastic-bagged dog faeces captured by John Darwell, is set alongside the deliberate trans-border shipping of technological so-called ‘e-waste’ in Kai Loffelbein’s documentary photographic series CtrlX. An intimate encounter between a snail and a plastic bag in the work of Peter Nencini sets off a chain of connections between capitalism and the ‘natural’ world, whilst the beaches of an uninhabited Pacific island are revealed as deposited with the products and packaging of multiple global brands in Mandy Barker’s investigative images. Plants colonise plastic discards in illegal Polish dumps in Diana Lelonek’s Center for Living Things, and future animals are imagined by Pinar Yoldas in her Ecosystem of Excess, as having evolved to thrive as plastivores, living amongst and eating the plastic waste that we have caused to proliferate. 

Image credit: D. Taylor ‘different ways of saying the same thing’

The artists have also considered the new myths necessary for us to live amongst our own leavings: D. Taylor interprets scraps of pavement litter as sigils through which divination might occur and Tejal Shah’s ritualistic performance on a complex landfill site offers a queer and feminist perspective on living in damaged places.


The artists with whom we have worked are brought into a curatorial constellation which we hope resonates to show the scale, interconnectivity and power relations of waste practices. This helps us to sustain an engagement beyond the understandable desire for a quick fix and to reveal the entanglements of human and non-human actors and the overlapping of social, cultural and natural phenomena.



Everywhere: Life in a littered world

22 November 2020–31 January 2021

Online exhibition:


Artists:  Mandy Barker, John Darwell, Diana Lelonek, Kai Loffelbein, Peter Nencini, Tejal Shah, D.Taylor and Pinar Yoldas.


Joanne Lee is an artist and writer based in Sheffield. She is Course Leader for Graphic Design in the Department of Art and Design at Sheffield Hallam University.


Dr. Rosemary Shirley is Associate Professor in the Department of Museum Studies, University of Leicester.


Wednesday, 18 November 2020

My plastics at home: part 2.

As we are now in the second coronavirus lockdown, I thought it would be interesting to re-visit the My plastics at home blog series. The MoDiP team are all working from home for some, if not all, of the week (staff involved in tasks that require access to the collections continue to come onto campus), so I decided to ask everyone to contribute. The brief was to send me a picture of a favourite plastics object from home, with a brief description of what the object is and why they chose it. This is what we came up with:

Professor Susan Lambert, MoDiP’s Chief Curator

I have known this little swan all my life. It is a soap dish that floated in my bath when I was a small child in the late 1940s. I re-met it when I was clearing out my mother’s house some fifteen years ago and now it puts a smile on my face every day. It appeals to me because it provides such a succinct lesson in plastics manufacture. It was made in England for Gantoy and is a relatively early example of injection moulding. The gate – the point at which the plastics enter the moulding tool – can be seen clearly on the back of the swan’s head. And, manufactured in three parts with the wings snap-fitted to the body, it demonstrates an early example of a form of fixing unique to the plastics materials group.

Doctor Louise Dennis, MoDiP’s Curator

My object is an acrylic desk sign given to me by my colleagues. The sign is made up of three sections: a base with a stepped slot cut into it, a wide opaque black back panel, and a smaller clear front panel. The front panel has the words ‘Dr. Louise Dennis, Museum of Design in Plastics’ laser etched into it so that the semi-translucent, almost white letters stand out against the black back drop. The sign means a lot to me because it represents a long journey and a lot of hard work, which all came to a conclusion during lockdown when I have not been able to celebrate my achievement. Being called Dr. makes me giggle every time, it seems so surreal, I must learn to get used to it and this sign will help me do just that.

Pam Langdown, MoDiP’s Documentation Officer

During lockdown, in particular, I seem to have spent quite a lot of time in the kitchen, trying to come up with something interesting for dinner. One of the things I use almost daily is this green colander, made from injection moulded polypropylene by Mepra of Italy. I bought it some years ago and I have the feeling that it will be one of those kitchen tools that will be with me for many years to come. I have three colanders in my kitchen cupboard but this is the one I prefer. I like it for its simple, uncomplicated design. It is the one I pick up in preference to the others. The choice of material means that it doesn’t require ribs for strength, so there are no nooks and crannies created in moulding that hold onto stray soap bubbles and make it difficult to dry after washing, and the drain holes are small enough that strands of spaghetti don’t sneak through. Its’ tripod arrangement of feet means that it is stable and, coincidentally, they are spaced just the right distance apart that it fits into the half sink and stays put without toppling over when I drain vegetables or pasta. It has frequently been used to transport freshly picked tomatoes, raspberries, herbs, and salad leaves etc. from the garden to the kitchen. And, inverted, I think it has even been used for kid’s dressing up as some sort of head gear. I predict that it will be in my kitchen cupboard long after other things have fallen by the wayside, and all for the price of a couple of cups of coffee. What a bargain.

Julia Pulman, MoDiP’s Digital Communications Officer

This Elizabethan collar (the cone of shame) that my dog is seen wearing in this picture is made from low-density polyethylene. It is flexible enough for him to lay his head down and sleep whilst being stiff enough to restrict his range of movement so that he is unable to worry his bandaged foot. It has air holes to help with ventilation, is transparent to aid vision and navigation and wipe-clean for hygiene purposes (especially useful after meals!). Despite the fact that my dog looks a little unhappy wearing this plastics object, it really did help with his recovery and he has now returned to his normal self.

And, as for me…

Katherine Pell, MoDiP’s Collections Officer

As Bakelite was once marketed as the material of a thousand uses, I feel this object should be promoted as one that will save a thousand arguments. Certainly in my house anyway. I bought this Tangle Teezer hairbrush for my daughter about ten years ago and it is still going strong, albeit a little battered. The soft polyester ‘teeth’ are arranged in alternate rows of longer and shorter lengths, which bend and flex to detangle the hair without pulling or tugging (or screaming!). The injection moulded, polypropylene body is ergonomically shaped to fit comfortably in the palm of the hand. It was designed by a British hairdresser, is made in the UK and has won numerous awards since its launch in 2007. I have calculated that ours has so far been used over 7000 times!

Katherine Pell, Collections Officer, MoDiP.

Wednesday, 11 November 2020

Bois Durci

These days we are encouraged to buy products made from plastics materials by assurances of the sustainable resources from which they are made. Consumers are increasingly made aware that plastics derived from oil are not always the most environmentally friendly and that there are other options. Bio plastics made using sustainable resources such as bamboo fibres, algae, coffee grounds, pine fibre and polylactic acid (PLA) from corn starch and sugar cane, for example, are very much in vogue, but the concept is nothing new.  

It has been done before, and it feels sometimes that the production of mouldable plastics materials has come full circle.  Materials such as cellulose nitrate and cellulose acetate (cellulose being the main constituent of plant cell walls and of vegetable fibres such as cotton) were amongst the earliest semi-synthetic plastics, but in 1856 Francis Charles Lepage patented ‘A new composition of materials that may be employed as a substitute for wood, leather, bone, metal and other hard or plastic substances’.  This material was Bois Durci. 

It was made by mixing fine, sieved sawdust of selected tree species with 15 or 20%, by weight of liquid blood, probably acquired from the slaughterhouses of Paris where Lepage lived. A colouring was sometimes added to achieve the desired appearance.   The concoction was mixed and heated and the resulting paste was dried and reduced to a powder. The powder was then poured into metal moulds and subjected to pressure and heat until it bound together and took on a density which could be forced into the fine detail of the mould. After half an hour of heat and pressure, the mould was removed and the resulting object plunged into cold water. It was a particularly dense material and could be worked on a lathe or sawn, like hard wood, and could be polished.  Its strength and resilience relied on the albumen in the blood combining with the sawdust.  

Unsuccessful in his attempts to manufacture items to a good standard, Lepage sold his patent in 1859 to entrepreneur Alfred Latry.  Latry established the Societé du Bois Durci and after initial difficulties, Latry began to make and sell a wide range of small decorative objects, such as ink well stands, desk sets, combs, pipe stems and portrait plaques. He exhibited his goods at the World Exhibition in London in 1862 and at the Paris Exposition in 1867. 

By the end of the 19th century Latry’s Societé du Bois Durci had been taken over by MIOM – La Manufacture d’Isolants et Objects Moulés. They continued to make Bois Durci until about 1920, with a somewhat altered recipe, but by that time the material had been superseded by materials such as bakelite, the first entirely synthetic plastic.


MoDiP has recently acquired a small portrait plaque (see above image) made from Bois Durci and has one other object, an ink well stand, in its collection:

We will undoubtedly be on the look out for other objects made from this unconventional early plastic. 

Pam Langdown, Documentation Officer.

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Innovations in recycling

One of the great things to come out of the Covid-19 lockdown is the opportunity to access online conversations which might have been inaccessible to us previously.  This could be down to the fact that we are not a member of the group having the conversation, or we might not be able to justify a whole day out of the office to attend a seminar, or the costs of travel might be prohibiting.  One such opportunity came up this month where I joined a live webinar put on by Recoup.  


MoDiP has lots of objects made with recycled material. AIBDC: 005940

Recoup is a charity that aims to lead and inform the continued development of plastics recycling and resource management; be the UK's plastic value chain co-ordinators and the independent voice of reason; and educate the public and businesses on the recycling of plastics to protect the environment.

The webinar I attended was looking at Innovation and the Future of Plastics Recycling and was part of a series of conversations relating to plastics recycling and resources all of which can be watched again on the Recoup website and I look forward to watching the others as this was such an informative webinar.

Innovation and the Future of Plastics Recycling was chaired by Jim Harvey, Innovation Lead Industrial Carbonisation, Innovate UK/UKRI and brought together 3 pairs of speakers – 2 who were talking about the identification of plastics materials for recycling, and the third talking about the chemical recycling of plastics and their subsequent use in technical clothing.

The first pairing, Gian De Belder, Technical Director, R&D Packaging Sustainability, P&G and An Vossen, Executive Manager, Plarabel, spoke about a really interesting project, HolyGrail 2.0, which explores the use of adding digital watermarks to plastics either in mould or through imperceptible printed coding across the whole item so that it is easy to read by sorting machines.  This technology would also help recycling sorters to see black and transparent plastics which the current systems find difficult. The resultant ‘intelligent’ packaging could be sorted further including separating food grade from non-food grade material adding value to the end recyclate.  The project is continuing to create a standardised digital watermark database, encourage consumer engagement and work on the commercialisation of the process.  More can be seen in this news report

The second pair of speakers, Marina Leed, Senior Sustainability Manager and Amy Sandhu, Head of Sustainability and Government Relations, both of BASF Canada were speaking about their project ReciChain.  The aim of this project is to keep the value of plastics materials in the circular economy.  The plan is for the material to have an embedded digital tracer, the material can then be traced as it makes its way around the circular loop from the manufacturer or packaging through to the consumer and on to the recycler.  The tracer could then be linked to credits which would gain value with each additional time the material goes around the loop.

The last pairing was Rob Webbon, CEO, Presca and Dr Martin Atkins, CEO, Poseidon Plastics who were talking about the sustainable issues presented by the fashion industry.  The fashion industry is the 3rd most polluting sector (behind fuel and agriculture), it is a traditionally take-make-waste industry, and creates 10% global emissions.  Presca make sports clothing and their project with Poseidon aims to create good quality cycling and triathlon clothing out of recycled polyester (including PET bottles).  To make good quality recycled yarn for clothing Poseidon chemically recycle all kinds of polyester including fabrics by depolymerising the material back to its monomer state.  I found it really interesting to hear that there is a lot of titanium in white textiles and this resource can be recaptured and made use of.  Following this talk I have acquired one of Presca’s Forever T-shirts for the MoDiP collection due to its sustainable credentials which includes the tightknit fabric, made from 100% recycled bottles.  This type of fabric construction has an increased resilience and reduces the shedding of microfibres during washing.

All of these projects with focus on sustainability were fascinating, I will definitely go back to some of the other webinars that are part of the series.

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Libuše Niklová

MoDiP has recently acquired several examples of Libuše Niklová’s work, a renowned Czech toy designer (1934 – 1981).

Image ref: Libuše Niklová with her Tomcat accordion toy.

Image credit:

Although the Czech Republic was (and still is) famous for its traditional, hand crafted, wooden toys, Libuše Niklová became well-known for her iconic toy designs made in plastics. She studied and worked at a time when new plastics materials were becoming commercially available and new plastics manufacturing technologies were emerging and evolving. She readily exploited this, stating:

“Development cannot be held back. In the future products from plastic matter will surround man just like the air, and they will become commonplace. Increasingly, natural materials will be a luxury and the object of admiration. The future, however, belongs to plastic.” (Bruthansová, 2013, p.11).

She began working at Gumotex Břeclav, a rubberised textiles manufacturer, in1954. There, she developed a series of animal-shaped squeaky toys made from rubber, followed by a range of small, foam rubber figurines with wire inside, allowing the body and limbs to be bent into different positions.

Image ref: Squeaky toys: Alik the Dog and Kitty with a Ball, 1956-58.

Image credit: Bruthansová, 2013, p.46.

In 1961 she joined Fatra Napajedla, a plastics manufacturer that had been producing toys since the 1940s, initially made of rubber and then unplasticised PVC. In 1948 Fatra introduced a range of inflatable rubber toys and in 1953 developed a plasticised PVC they trademarked as ‘Novoplast’. It was here that Niklová invented the two designs that have joined MoDiP’s collections.

Image ref: AIBDC : 008484, Tomcat accordion toy, 1963.

Image credit: Katherine Pell.

In 1963, inspired by a flexible, accordion-pleated, thin-walled tube that engineers at Fatra had been developing for a new flush cistern, Niklová introduced the first of her accordion toys: Tomcat. Made of blow moulded polyethylene, the body of the toys incorporated this bellows element which, due to the insertion of a whistle, would emit a sound when stretched. There were 11 accordion toys in total (10 animals and 1 baby), sold unassembled in packaging that
Niklová also designed, although sadly, this did not accompany MoDiP’s example. 

Image ref: Packaging designed by Libuše Niklová for her accordion toy range.

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Niklová also created some PVC inflatables that year: rocking toys consisting of a double chamber, the bottom to be filled with water as ballast so that the toy would always right itself.

Image ref: The innovative double chamber, inflatable PVC rocking sailor, 1963.

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However, one of her most notable inventions, the PVC inflatable toy seat, was devised six years later in 1969. Deliberately designed in a move away from children’s furniture being simply a scaled down version of the adult model, the whistling animals were not supposed to be passive seating but rather a toy to sit on and bounce around the room. The Buffalo was designed in 1971, joined in 1976 by a calf (MoDiP’s example).

Image ref: AIBDC : 008483, Buffalo calf inflatable, 1976.

Image credit: Katherine Pell.

Niklová sadly died in 1981 and in 2000, Fatra stopped manufacturing toys but the company re-released the Buffalo in 2010 to accompany a retrospective exhibition of the designer’s work. In 2013 they also commissioned several contemporary Czech designers to re-interpret her inflatables. MoDiP has added a modern, full-sized, inflatable Buffalo toy seat to the collection as well as a bull terrier reinterpretation, designed by Jan Čapek.

Image ref: AIBDC : 008494, Bull terrier inflatable, yet to be inflated, 2013!
Image credit: Katherine Pell.

Libuše Niklová believed that children should not be static observers when playing and so designed toys that would engage with all of the senses, offering tactile, olfactory, optical and acoustic development. She created over 200 different toy designs throughout her career and held 9 patents relating to plastics manufacturing. Her knowledge, understanding and passion for using this material resulted in some of the first mass-produced toys in Czechoslovakia, with Tomcat and the Buffalo being listed within the 100 Czech design icons project in 2005, a selection made by a group of the country’s leading design experts. MoDiP has also acquired the Libuše Niklová monograph (Bruthansová, 2013) which contains a comprehensive catalogue of all of her work. I have absolutely loved reading it and am thrilled that MoDiP has been able to represent this important designer within the collection: the objects and book can all be viewed on request.

Image ref: Inflatable Buffalo parent and calf.
Image credit: Bruthansová, 2013, p.197.

Katherine Pell, Museum Collections Officer, MoDiP

Bruthansová, Tereza., (2013) Libuše NiklováCzech Republic: Arbor Vitae Societas.