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.

Image credit:

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.

Image credit:

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.

Wednesday 21 October 2020


Inspired by Black History Month, we decided to review our collection with regards to diversity.  Many museums have done similar activities, in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, highlighting objects that have been looted from indigenous peoples or that celebrate the work and achievement of slave owners or those that benefited from the slave trade.

I am happy to say that the MoDiP collection does not suffer from containing objects that are so controversial.  However, our review showed us that the objects in our collection do not represent many (if any) black, Asian or minority ethnic designers.

MoDiP collects objects, first and foremost, because of what they are, how they function, and what they look like.  We have a collection development policy which can be found on our website,  but in essence all objects in the MoDiP collection relate in some way to our plastics focus.  In addition, they conform to one of three other criteria:

  • To be an interesting design
  • To provide insight into the society of which they are a part, or
  • To be documented in such a way that they add to plastics' history

The collection comprises objects that describe a variety of uses and activities.  These take into account the clothes we wear, the games we play, and the environments in which we live. 

Designers and manufacturers emerge from the collection, that is, if they are named.  Many of the objects in the collection are anonymous, we may not know who the manufacturer or the designer is, or the designer might be part of a design team who only get recorded under the manufacturer’s name.

Now that we, as a museum, are in this position we are seeking out these under represented designer and we would like to ask for your help.  We have a number of questions for you, our audience:

Firstly, to help us add to, and improve, our collection we would like to know who are the BAME designers who have worked / are working with plastics who should be represented in our collection?  At the same time, we would like to open up the debate about diversity in the design industry, particularly product design: 

  • Why are there few renowned BAME product designers?
  • Are they there but not being named?
  • Is it the nature of the design industry that it does not have a diverse workforce? 
  • Are undergraduate design courses lacking in diverse students?
  • What can be done about it?

Join in the discussions on our social media by using and following #MoDiPDiversity

Louise Dennis, Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Horn Chairs

I’m always amazed at the number of chairs MoDiP has in the collection. We are lucky enough to have some iconic designs including two of my favourites: the Panton chair, the first single-piece plastic chair to go into mass production in 1967; and the E Series chair, which instantly brings back memories of being at school. The Hembury chair is the only one in the collection to include any animal parts, through wool being used as the reinforcing ingredient within a resin base. Our guest blogger this week has written about horn chairs, something we don’t currently have represented within the Worshipful Company of Horners collection.

Katherine Pell, Collections Officer 

Surely the largest hornware artefacts you will see are the horn chairs? They are not only dependent on a ready supply of long horns, but on a ready supply of pairs of long horns.  Most of these items, unsurprisingly, come from Texas and the Western States.

Quite by accident I found a small collection of these unusual horn craft artefacts, seldom to be found outside the US, whilst visiting Parc Grace Dieu farm near Monmouth. My intention was to photograph their White Park cattle and I took along my postcard collection for reference. Anna, who met me, was very interested by these pictures and immediately latched onto one depicting a chair made from cow’s horns, taken in the Morse Museum, Warren, New Hampshire.

Image ref: Postcard of a horn chair from the Morse Museum
Image credit: Rebecca Davies

As it turned out, they have a few of these chairs at Parc Grace Dieu, and Anna was delighted to show me them. Their main chair came from Stockyard City, Oklahoma.

Image ref: Horn chair
Image credit: Rebecca Davies

This smaller chair was made by Abbey Horn

Image ref: Abbey Horn chair
Image credit: Rebecca Davies

Notice the back of this chair; it is designed so that pairs are not needed.

Image ref: Abbey Horn chair back
Image credit: Rebecca Davies

And they have a pair of chairs from Africa, possibly East Africa, where the Ankole cattle come from.

Image ref: African horn chair
Image credit: Rebecca Davies

All in all, a very interesting collection. I think I am going to save up and find myself a Horn chair of my very own. These artefacts are not actually that rare, you can find examples through online auction sites, but they are not cheap either.

Rebecca Davies


Abbey Horn -

Alan Rogers Texas Longhorn Museum -

Parc Grace Dieu Farm -

Wednesday 7 October 2020

Another great collaboration!

Following on from the last Facebook exhibition we co-curated with TheGallery, our latest collaboration - ‘A Fresher’s Kitchen in Plastics’   – is yet another online exhibition, created to use MoDiP’s collections to inspire AUB Freshers to eat healthily and also feel a little more at home in their new student digs. 

Led by William Hernandez Abreu, Gallery Technician, this project has warmth, a designer’s eye and the well-being of Freshers students at its heart. 

William Hernandez Abreu and Julia Pulman

Together, we worked up the idea of showing new students that their health and well-being are of utmost importance through the selection of bright, uplifting and student-friendly kitchen objects, that could easily be included in a Fresher’s ‘Home Starter Kitchen Kit’ to help making meals a pleasure, with great health benefits both for body and soul. 


The objects selected, demonstrate how plastics are crucial in the design of kitchenware for example the ‘Chop2Pot chopping board’: a lightweight, easily cleaned and most importantly folding chopping board incorporating the innovative ‘living hinge’.

Chop2Pot chopping board

Another object that could only do its job by being made of plastics is the Tupperware ‘Small Wondelier bowl’: lightweight and strong but also translucent - for ease of seeing what’s inside - and incorporating the infamous, resealable (burpable) lid.

Small Wondelier bowl

And all plastics kitchenware can of course be made in any colour of the rainbow, and as bright as you like, as the very building blocks or ingredients (pardon the pun!) of plastics, can take on their desired colour completely ie if you chopped the ‘Chop2Pot chopping board’ in half, it would be bright yellow through and through – how sunny is that for a Fresher’s kitchen?


Julia Pulman, Digital Communications Officer, MoDiP.