Wednesday 29 December 2021

Input 14 ice bucket, Martin Roberts, 1973

I love the vibrant green colour of this ice bucket (AIBDC : 008800), a rather appropriate object for this time of year as we get ready to toast in 2022.

Image ref: The ice bucket, showing the white, removable liner (right).
Image credit: Katherine Pell

I also love the design of the lid. It has three indented circles for finger grip and reminds me of a button.

Image ref: External and internal view of the lid.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Designed by Martin Roberts for Conran Associates and manufactured by Crayonne Ltd, the ice bucket was part of a range of 21 brightly coloured, heavy-duty plastics containers sold through Habitat. First launched in 1973, the Input series was created to be interchangeable, with the same height and diameter used throughout, and included trays, bowls and vases with an assortment of lids and insulating liners.

Image ref: The Input series consisted of 21 different numbered, interchangeable, containers.
Image credit:

Originally available in red, yellow, green or white, additional colours were added later and none of the pieces were named but instead given a number. The ice bucket was referred to as Input 14 and is made from polished acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), chosen for its scratch and shatter resistance, with a polyethylene (PE) liner. Injection moulded, the bucket wall was designed to be almost twice as thick as comparable products on the market (refer image below).

Image ref: The robust wall of the ice bucket (left) and the manufacturer’s mark on the underside (right).
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Crayonne was a subsidiary of Airfix Plastics, set up in 1972 to try to improve the image of the plastics material. They approached Conran to apply high design principles to everyday homewares with the successful Input range going on to win the 1974 Design Council Award for Contract and Consumer Goods – the entry description is provided below.

Image ref: 1974 Design Council Awards, Containers by Numbers.
Image credit:

1974 Design Council Award for Contract and Consumer Goods.

Containers By Numbers Input Range heavy duty abs resin containers. Made by Crayonne Ltd, 81 Windmill Road, Sunbury-on-Thames, Middlesex. Designed by Conran Associates. Approximate retail price: 85p to £4 05 ex VAT.

Two years ago, Airfix Plastics, one of Britain's biggest injection moulding companies, initiated a design programme aimed to give plastics the kind of improved image already well established on the continent. The company approached Conran Associates, design subsidiary of Habitat, with a view to jointly producing a range of products for the home or office. A happy association between the two companies was soon formed and in May 1973 the Input range was launched, designed by Conran Associates for Crayonne, a newly formed division of Airfix.

Research had shown that everybody needed 'something to put things in' and these things could be anything from fruit and flowers to pencils and paper clips. The Input range consists of 21 such 'containers', all made from heavy duty abs plastics. This material was chosen for its strong, solid finish and its scratch and shatter resistance. A particularly low-rate injection moulding cycle enabled the units to be made nearly twice as thick as other abs products, adding to the impression of solidity.

The range is built up logically, all units being based on the same diameter and height ratios, which gives them an integrated quality. There are bowls, dishes, trays, vases, pots, and an ice bucket; some have lids and some are open; they are fitted with different ceramic, melamine and insulating inserts. None of the units is named; each is simply given a number, so that the buyer can use it for whatever purpose he wants. Colours are bright red, yellow, green or white. All items are packaged for the gift market: each one comes gift-boxed, according to the corporate image created for Crayonne by Conran Associates, which includes packaging, graphics, point-of-sale and catalogue material.

One order of which the company is very proud came from the Royal Free Hospital which wanted a large supply of Inputs to be used as vases to brighten up their wards. The Input range is only the first of a series of products planned by Crayonne. Soon to be launched is a range of bathroom fittings this time in pastel colours. Input has already won the Living Award for Good Design (sponsored by Living magazine in conjunction with the Design Council).

Image ref: The launch of Input, left to right: Ralph Ehrmann (Chairman and Chief Executive, Airfix Industries), Terence Conran (Chairman, Habitat) and David Sinigaglia (Managing Director, Airfix Industries).
Image credit: Forty Years of Airfix Toys by Jeremy Brook

MoDiP has another example of this ice bucket in
red, a smaller container, the Input 10 (essentially the Input 9 vase/storage tub with a lid), a bathroom jar that was part of the second range of colours introduced by Crayonne, as well as some of the bathroom fittings referred to above. These were all recently donated to MoDiP by Zack Wyse and I shall be including other objects from his collection in future blog posts soon.

Image ref: Other MoDiP examples of the Crayonne Input series.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Christmas closure

The museum will be closed from Thursday 23rd December, opening again on Tuesday 4th January.  Our team will be taking a well earned break and will not be available during the closed period.  Find out more about our opening times on our visiting us pages. 

Bulb holders
1930s bulb holders, PHSL : 340

We would like to wish you all a restful Christmas break, and hope you have some jolly lights up to bring cheer to these dark evenings.

Louise Dennis (Curator) and the MoDiP team - Susan, Katherine, Pam, and Reanna

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Friend and Faux

We have just opened our latest exhibition Friend and faux, which explores both the historical and contemporary use of plastics materials in replacing animal products.

Right from the beginning of the story of man-made plastics, this material group has been used to imitate the natural world. Because plastics have no intrinsic colour, form or texture, they can be made to replicate precious and expensive materials such as ivory and tortoiseshell, both looking and feeling like the ‘real’ thing, but at a fraction of the cost.

As a consequence, plastics have played a positive role in the conservation of both wild and farmed animal populations. They have also had an impact on conserving resources such as energy and water, with manufacturing methods often providing a lower environmental impact than that needed to process the natural materials they are seeking to emulate.

Left to right, AIBDC :
008788 and 008815
Image credit: Katherine Pell

One of my favourite objects from this exhibition is this CC41 Utility slip in Celanese (cellulose acetate). Dated to 1942-1952, it is a good example of a synthetic silk and was widely available throughout that period of austerity when real silk was in short supply. Other examples of artificial silk on display include the sports hijab, which can be seen in the bottom, right corner of the image above. Made of a Tencel/polyester/elastane mix, Tencel is a brand name for Lyocell, first developed in the 1970s, that uses a more sustainable way of producing wood-based semi-synthetic fibres with non-toxic chemicals that are recovered and reused.

Left to right: AIBDC : 006045 and 008798, PHSL : 258
Imager credit: Katherine Pell and MoDiP 

I also love the embossed detail in this M&S bag which imitates the colour and texture of snakeskin. It is made from polyurethane and offers a way to respond to fast changing fashion trends in a more accessible and considerate way. It looks very realistic and the graduated size of the ‘scales’ provides a convincing, cruelty-free copy. It is displayed alongside some examples of real skin objects, for comparison, as well as other synthetic imitations such as the Pinguin K55 radio and the umbrella handle.

The Islander Uke, AIBDC : 007874.1
Imager credit: Katherine Pell

This ukulele, designed and developed by Mario Maccaferri in 1959, was extremely popular in 1960s America (more than nine million were sold throughout that decade). The Islander Uke uses DuPont nylon strings that were first introduced in 1948, providing an effective alternative to catgut which would have been traditionally used. Gut strings produce a warm, rich tone but are expensive and affected by changes in humidity. To counter this, Maccaferri launched his instrument at a trade show, displayed in a water-filled glass case to demonstrate how the polystyrene body and nylon strings were unaffected by moisture!

Left: AIBDC : 008819, right: AIBDC : 008818
Imager credit: Katherine Pell

These objects illustrate two different approaches to the problem of how to replicate a feather. The t-shirt on the left hints at the concept by using a translucent polyester material that has been cut into feather shapes, each then having a silver vein printed down the centre. It certainly conveys the appearance of feathers in movement. The dress on the right mimics ostrich feathers using polyester again, but this time as a shiny yarn with each ‘feather’ consisting of a plaited core from which individual threads have been teased out, at interval, to protrude and drape downwards. It provides a great texture and is very tactile.

Cooper desert boots, AIBDC : 008812
Imager credit: Katherine Pell

These lace-up boots are made from a vegan leather called AppleSkin™, a bio-based alternative made with waste recovered from the fruit juice industry. Essentially, leftover peel and pulp is dried and ground into a powder which is then mixed with pigments and binding agents. The mix is then spread out onto a canvas and dehydrated, resulting in the apple fibre drying into a leather-like sheet. Finally, this is combined with polyurethane and coated onto a polyester/cotton backing to create a very soft and supple material. There are also some samples of Pinatex on display in the same case, made from the waste leaves of the pineapple plant mixed with polylactic acid and, again, polyurethane.

The Friend and faux exhibition is open until 11th March 2022 and does contain some objects and descriptions which some may find distressing.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Wednesday 8 December 2021

MoDiP's new Museum Assistant

Hello, you may be wondering who I am. So, first a bit about me…My name is Reanna, I grew up in a relatively large family and I went to college and studied photography for 4 years. I joined MoDiP in November 2021 as Museum Assistant. I decided to join MoDiP to develop my knowledge on everyday plastics and because of my general curiosity with this material.

When most think of plastics the first thing that might spring to mind could be crisp packets, water bottles, yoghurt pots and many more food packaging products, right?

Image ref: clockwise from top left: AIBDC : 005662, 007994.1, 007145 and 005677
Image credit: MoDiP

Well, what if I was to tell you that the clothes you are wearing could be plastic? Mind boggling! How can clothes be made of plastics? These are the sorts of things I would like to learn more about.

Image ref: clockwise from top left: AIBDC : 003686, 005965, 004256 and 001720
Image credit: MoDiP

So many of us lack a real understanding of plastics and that’s why I am here, to broaden my knowledge as well as my workplace experience. I am positive that during my time here I will learn many new things and I hope that by reading this post you might be inspired to find out more too.
Reanna Butcher
Museum Assistant

Wednesday 1 December 2021

MoDiP’s letter to the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

MoDiP’s letter to the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, in response to the current government consultation on banning single use plastic cutlery and plates. 

A public consultation has recently been launched by the UK government to consider banning commonly littered single-use plastic items in England (the Devolved Administrations are also considering similar regulations). This is MoDiP’s response, which has been emailed directly to Boris Johnson:


Image credit: plastics by the numbers

Dear Prime Minister

It is certainly good to be thinking of banning single use plastic plates and cutlery but why just single use plastic things? Single use most things are unnecessary and therefore bad for the environment. Many, for example, paper cups and plates, consume more energy in their manufacture and transportation than their plastic counterparts. The problem with plastic things begins mainly when they are disposed of inappropriately.

Plastics are now essential materials in our lives that we will never again be able to do without. Indeed, in many ways, they make the world a better place. They have transformed healthcare: think of their impact on sterilisation, pill packaging or heart surgery; they make transport less damaging: over the lifetime of the average car, lightweight plastic parts save around 3,000 litres of fuel; and they have helped to democratise the world, transforming for example public engagement with photography, music, and sport. We need to learn how to live well with plastics, not denigrate them.

You have seemed to downgrade recycling, stating actually correctly, that every time a plastic is recycled it loses a bit but that ignores the fact that any plastic can be beneficially recycled, if only for its calorific value.

Plastics are too valuable to be disposed of carelessly. You need to lead on this. We need a proper recycling system - it needs to be global but we can start it off in the UK, built not, as we have now, on the commercial value of the particular recycled plastic but as part of the Government’s drive to create a carbon neutral world. Plastics are a material group that can help us achieve that. They are being blamed for something that we, all of us including you, as users of plastics, are doing: that is not disposing of them appropriately. We are all at fault but mainly because the facilities to enable us to do so do not exist. You can change that. I would welcome the opportunity to talk to you about this in more depth.
Professor Susan Lambert
Chief Curator, Museum of Design in Plastics:
Arts University Bournemouth

If you would like to take part in this consultation, visit the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs website to complete the online survey. Closes 12th February 2022.

Wednesday 24 November 2021

CC41 Utility blouse

A recent workshop provided the opportunity to look a little closer at a number of synthetic garments in MoDiP’s collections, and this blouse (refer image below) particularly caught my attention.

AIBDC : 000824
Image credit: MoDiP

It is very popular and gets used for research by students and teaching by staff every year but we know very little about it. The original catalogue record simply stated:

A Utility mark labelled blouse with three-quarter length sleeves, popper front fasteners and shoulder pads. Size 44. The fabric is a multi-coloured print based on the traditional paisley design.

The CC41 Utility label
Image credit: Katherine Pell

The blouse has a CC41 Utility label (refer image above) that includes the number 1051/2. I found a book that explained that the four-figure number denotes the material as rayon (numbers 1000-1206) with the 2 indicating that the blouse was originally sold as part of a two-piece set. However, a conversation with AUB’s Sarah Magill (Course Leader BA (Hons) Costume and BA (Hons) Performance Design and Film Costume), provided some additional information. She was able to show me a page from the Statutory Rules and Orders for cloth 1942, that listed the rayon specifically as Marocain (crepe) and explained that the suffixes were brought in to differentiate between finishes: /1 referring to a dyed fabric; /2 referring to a printed fabric.

Statutory Rules and Orders for cloth, 1942
Image credit: Sarah Magill

Although clothing from this period is often thought of as being drab, it is evident by this blouse that there was still lots of colour. The busy pattern could be easily joined together without matching up, thereby reducing material wastage which was important in those times of austerity. Interestingly, one of the shoulder pads has a completely different material patch on the underside (refer image below).

The unmatched patch can be seen at the top of the shoulder pad.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

The blouse has three-quarter length sleeves, with popper front fasteners beneath five false buttons. I was able to find out that the Civilian Clothing (Restrictions) No. 6 Order (dated 20/06/1942), introduced rules that blouses could have no more than seven buttons and buttonholes on a full-length sleeve style or five on one with shorter sleeves. Whilst the number of buttons on MoDiP’s example met this requirement, the spacing of them is incorrect and false buttons were actually prohibited within the restrictions of 1942 – 1946. 

Furthermore, press-studs would likely have been unavailable during that period as the metal would have been diverted for military use (as it was for zips). It is possible that old stock might have been used or alternatively, the blouse could be post-war, dating from 1946 – 1952 when the Utility clothing scheme ended. To further complicate matters, Sarah advised that evasion of the rules was rife!

We think the blouse is poorly stitched, not particularly straight in places and the tension is not good either. This leads us to believe that it is inconsistent with being factory made for sale in a shop, which is what we had originally believed. It possesses clear 1940s styling through the fit and the roll collar, with the shoulder pads providing the square silhouette that was popular at that time, but the seam allowances appear too generous.

The more we examine this object, the more questions we have about it so I can’t wait for Sarah to come into the museum to study the construction (she has kindly agreed to come in and help us). We have a sneaking suspicion that it may have been altered from a different original garment, but whether that was during the era of ‘make do and mend’ or post-war we are not sure. Hopefully Sarah will be able to answer some of these anomalies.

If you want to view this blouse and let us know what you think, contact us to arrange an appointment.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Wednesday 17 November 2021

BIBA clothes hanger, Braitrim, 1998

A few weeks ago, I was reorganising the MoDiP store when I came across a box containing some garment bags and clothes hangers that had been previously used to store the museum’s textile collection before we had our roller racking drawer units installed, back in 2010. In amongst these, right at the bottom of the box, was a hanger that looked quite ordinary, except for the fact that it bore the iconic BIBA fashion brand logo. 

Image ref:
AIBDC : 008787
Image credit: Katherine Pell

We have several BIBA related objects in the collection already and I thought this might make an interesting addition, particularly since we did not currently have an example of this type of hanger yet either. I started to do some research to see if I could find out anything more about it. 

Image ref:
AIBDC : 0_2733
Image credit: Katherine Pell

We have this lovely BIBA dress in the collection and we surmised that the hanger probably originally came into the museum accompanying its purchase in 1998, the two becoming separated when the dress was laid flat in the roller racking drawer. 

Image ref: Manufacturer’s details moulded into the hanger.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Some key information was very helpfully moulded into the underneath surface of the hanger, including its name (Classic), the plastics resin identification code (polystyrene), the manufacturer’s details (Braitrim) and a registered design number (2036699). This helped me to track down an approximate date for the object as the patent was applied for in 1994 and we know the dress was acquired four years later. 

Image ref: The registered design.
Image credit:

A little bit more digging and I was able to find out that Braitrim was a UK based plastics company that specialised in making garment hangers but, in addition, they developed a system for re-using them. By charging stores to collect and then return their used hangers, Braitrim would clean, re-pack and re-distribute them from a depot in Sheffield. It was the first closed-loop hanger service processing some 425,000 hangers every day in peak operation. 

By 2019 the company claimed to have re-used nine million hangers, at a time when retailers were being petitioned to stop giving hangers away free with purchases due to their potential for environmental damage; clothes hangers were being considered as harmful as plastic bags, straws and bottles. Furthermore, at the end of their usable life, Braitrim would recycle the hangers in order to re-use the raw materials. 

Image ref: The Sheffield factory.
Image credit: Braitrim

I started off thinking the hanger was notable due to its connection to BIBA, but ended up thinking it was quite remarkable due to the sustainable credentials of its manufacturer. Braitrim stopped trading in 2020 when the business was acquired by Tam Hangers who have taken over the re-use programme. Today, they claim to save 300 million plastic hangers and accessories from landfill every year. 

Katherine Pell 
Collections Officer

Wednesday 10 November 2021

Gardening in Miniature

Originally posted on 12/05/2018 by the Gardens Trust on their blog. Reproduced here in edited form with kind permission from Dr David Marsh, the author and a trustee of the Gardens Trust.

Sorry to disappoint you if you thought you were going read a post about gardens in bottles, on saucers, mini-flower pots or bonsai. Instead it’s a potential walk down Memory Lane for everyone who grew up between the wars and had their first chance to turn their hands to gardening. But not the hard way. You didn’t have to get your fingers dirty, you didn’t have to do any backbreaking digging or weeding. You didn’t have to deal with marauding slugs and snails, your plants didn’t get munched by greedy caterpillars and you didn’t have to encounter any stinging or biting bugs or noxious plant diseases. Indeed, you could garden on the kitchen table or on your bedroom floor.

The opportunities stopped during the war when you really did have to dig for Victory, but started up again for another generation in the 1960s and 70s, although once again it didn’t last that long.

How come all this gardening the easy and blisterless way was possible? It was originally all thanks to a man named William Britain whose company created the first mass-produced models that allowed children (and consenting adults!) to create a miniature version of their parents’ back gardens and to rearrange it all at will.

A gardener with his barrow from the Britains Miniature Gardening range, c. 1930s.
Image credit:

William Britain (1828 – 1906) was a Midlands metal worker who moved to North London in 1847 to work as a ‘brass clock maker’. By the 1880s he had started to manufacture a range of clockwork metal toys and a decade later, turned his attention to the toy soldier market, then largely dominated by German imports. In 1893 his eldest son, William Britain Junior (1860 – 1933), invented a new production process of hollowcasting in lead which enabled the company to both increase their output and sell their figures at a lower price than their competitors. W. Britain was soon established as a household name for toy military figures.

Foreward to a 1958 Britains company catalogue.
Image credit:,_1828-1906_(Britains_1958).jpg

The horrific effects of World War I saw demand for toy soldiers decline dramatically and to stay in business, Britain’s responded by increasing its ‘domestic’ and ‘civilian’ ranges. In 1921 they introduced their Model Farm, which was quickly followed by their Zoo. Over the next few years they added more and more new lines: emergency services, horse racing, circuses, cars and road traffic and, lest you think I’ve forgotten the topic of this blog, in 1930 they began Britains Miniature Gardens

I should explain at this point, just in case you think my punctuation is a bit awry, that the company name had what Brighton Toy Museum call “a roving apostrophe”, as its name changed from W. Britain to Britain’s to Britains’ when there were more than one member of the family running it, before eventually settling on Britains without any apostrophe at all!

Miniature Gardens were, according to the sales catalogue, designed to enable “the gardener, amateur or professional, to plan out his garden in a thoroughly practical manner from the laying out of the beds, paths, crazy paving, arches, pergolas, etc., and last but not least filling it with a large variety of plants in full flower and in Nature’s gorgeous colourings, arranging and rearranging his design in miniature until a satisfactory one has been achieved.”

At the same time Britains changed their sales method, switching from large boxed sets to selling single/small groups of items which could be collected over time to complete the full range. This switch was clearly aimed at a new market: children with weekly pocket-money to spend. All the models were made of lead and many of the smaller pieces were often quite crude in their modelling. The garden range included not just trees, hedges and individual flowering plants but features like rockeries, ponds and flowerbeds, as well as buildings such as greenhouses. The smaller features such as the plants had ‘pegs’ for trunks/stems which could be fitted into ready-made holes in the flower beds. Bigger plants came ‘flat’ but because the lead was soft they could be twisted into more natural shapes. Everything could then be arranged to create a whole garden.

There is no way of knowing how popular these miniature gardens were, but probably not as much as the company would have liked because the 1940 catalogue doesn’t list the range separately, with just a few pieces appearing as part of the Model Farm. Production stopped entirely soon after that as the factory was turned over to the war effort and it wasn’t revived in 1945.

So, were miniature gardens out of fashion as toys? The short answer is yes, they probably were. Certainly lead was going out of fashion, especially as a component of children’s toys, and with the introduction of plastics it was disappearing even faster. Britains stopped production of anything in lead in 1966. 

However, in 1960 a new range –
Britains Floral Garden – appeared on the market.  It was a re-imagining of the old lead range, this time in plastic and re-designed by Roy Selwyn-Smith who had had a long and successful career designing toys with another company which had been taken over by Britains. You might wonder why the garden items needed redesigning at all but the main reason was because of the different properties of lead and plastic. Whereas lead can be bent into shape and stays in it, plastic cannot be manipulated in the same way, and simply tries to revert to its original form.
Selwyn-Smith came up with an ingenious plan to get round that. Many of the plants were moulded as flat shapes – rather like a ‘net’ used to create 3-D shapes in geometry. As a result, many looked a bit like elaborate snowflakes with everything radiating around a central point/hub. This point could be pushed into a hole in the plastic flowerbed using a simple spade-like “planting tool”. When this was done the “snowflake” closed up and the “foliage” and branches bunched up relatively realistically, bringing the plants “alive”.

The moulded plastic plant laid flat, top left, and the 3D effect seen when ‘planted’.
Image credit:

The target audience was still clearly children so the principle of selling in small packs was maintained. There were a few starter sets and lots of accessory packs, with extra items available to expand and diversify the garden layout. All the pieces fitted together with relative ease, and could be reassembled and moved around allowing a lot of variety and change that ensured children did not get bored when playing. The various parts available were typical of a suburban plot of the 1950s. You could have a rockery and crazy paving, a lily pond, rustic walls made of interlocking bricks and immaculate lawns, fuzzily textured and perfectly striped. The range of plants was also very much of its day: weeping willows and mini-conifers, delphiniums and asters, standard roses and marrows.

The following year the range was expanded with the introduction of Floral Garden People. No expense spared, they were based on wax models created by a Royal Academician, Norman Stillman. This was probably an attempt to revive interest because although I can’t find any specific statistical information about sales figures, they can’t have been good because Floral Gardens ceased production in 1970.

The Floral Garden People in situ.
Image credit:

Another attempt, now very clearly aimed at girls, was made in 1976 when it was relaunched as Lucy’s Little Garden. Despite more accessory packs being released the following year, Lucy’s fared no better and in 1979 the range was deleted altogether. Britains was sold by the family in 1984 and since then it has changed hands several times and is now part of First Gear, an American manufacturer of “collectibles”, although the Britains name has been retained for some of the ranges. Sadly, these don’t include miniature gardens, and the Britains Collectors Club is only concerned with the toy soldiers rather than toy gardeners and their flower borders.

So, it looks as if gardening just didn’t work as a children’s toy. While that may be true on a mass-market scale, there’s no doubt that these miniature gardens enthralled many children. The idea was different from other toys of the period and those owners who spent many happy childhood hours, planting and rearranging their plastic gardens, are now fiercely loyal with blogposts and webpages devoted to adults reliving their gardening in miniature.

Dr David Marsh
Gardens Trust