Wednesday 29 June 2022

Re: cycling

The 2022 Tour of Britain bike race takes place from 4th - 11th September, with Stage Seven seeing the riders pass through MoDiP’s local area. In anticipation and in celebration of this exciting event, we have put together a pop-up exhibition exploring the increasing role of plastics within the cycling industry.

Here are some of my favourite objects:

Image ref: The San Marco REGALe saddle on display.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

The REGALe racing bike saddle, manufactured by Selle San Marco in 2012, was first introduced in 1984, then called The Regal. It proved very successful amongst the professional racing community, in part due to its weight but mainly because of its comfort. This successor, the REGALe (e = evolution), retains the classic shape of the original but provided an opportunity for the company to introduce more modern materials. Released in 2010, it features a carbon fibre base making the saddle even lighter than before. We always enjoy putting this object on display because viewed in profile, it reminds us of Concorde!

Image ref: A 1950s mudguard extension.
Image credit: Katherine Pell/MoDiP

This lovely object is a clip-on mudguard extension with a rear reflector, made of cream coloured, thermoformed, cellulose nitrate and dated to circa 1950s (although it may date earlier). It was featured as part of our 10 Most Wanted project through which we hoped to find out some more information, such as who designed it and which company manufactured it. All we know is that it was ‘British Made’ from moulding details on the front. 

Rear reflectors were made a legal requirement in 1927 and, in response to the increasing number of road accidents, in 1934 the government introduced new requirements for bicycles to improve their visibility at night by carrying a white 12 sq. inch panel as well. Contemporary images show rear bike mudguards often painted with a white tip so obviously people were aware that this was a good idea, even before the legislation came into force. Could this object be an enterprising manufacturer's safety accessory from around that time?

Image ref: The Rehook on display and my mucky hands!
Image credit: Katherine Pell

The Rehook bicycle chain tool is designed to help cyclists get the chain back on to their bikes quickly, easily and without the mess of oil and dirt on hands and clothes. It is something I definitely needed the other day on my morning commute to work, when my bike chain came off – refer image above, on the right!! Designed by Wayne Taylor, it is made from glass-reinforced nylon, and has an adjustable high-grip silicone strap to attach the tool to the bike frame for easy accessibility. Weighing only 20g, the handle incorporates a honeycomb structure to assist with weight reduction and using plastics materials helped to keep production costs affordable, whilst providing strength, durability and a good range of colours for the tool. Rehook was pitched on the BBC programme Dragon's Den in 2021 successfully resulting in a £50,000 investment in return for a 25% share of the company.

Image ref: The undershorts with a D3O insert on the right.
Image credit: MoDiP

Developed by British engineer Richard Palmer in 1999, D3O is an innovative material with intelligent molecules that protect against injury. The putty-like substance has free-flowing molecules which lock on impact, absorbing and dispersing energy before instantly returning to their flexible state. Here, D3O is used to provide impact protection at the hip in the Race Face cycling shorts. It has been moulded to shape and is held in place in strategically located pockets so that it can be removed prior to washing.

Also on display is a carbon fibre composite road bike wheel, a fold-your-own polypropylene sheet mudguard, a stretch silicone LED light, and knee/shin pads with Kevlar®: a variety of synthetic materials that assist cyclists in staying aerodynamic, comfortable and safe.

Re: cycling will be on display until 12th September 2022, on the first floor of the AUB Library.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Wednesday 22 June 2022

OXO kitchen utensils, Smart Design, 1990

Last week I finally completed the catalogue records for a number of OXO kitchen utensils that MoDiP received as part of a generous donation back in November 2021. A total of 163 objects made their way into the museum’s collection, and I have already written a couple of blogs about some of the other items that were gifted and caught my eye, such as the Rotaflex lampshade and the Input record and cassette racks. Now it is time for the OXO range (refer image below), which it turns out have some rather nifty design features.

Image ref:
Some of MoDiP’s OXO range.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Sam Farber, a retired housewares executive, founded OXO in 1990 after observing his wife experiencing difficulties in holding a vegetable peeler, due to arthritis. She asked him if he could make something better and, rising to the challenge, he approached the agency Smart Design to help him develop a range of utensils.

With a brief to produce an affordable product line that could be used by everyone (not solely for those with arthritis), the designers decided to develop one handle that could be used with each of the different tools. As a result, it might be pulled (eg. a vegetable peeler), pushed (eg. an apple corer) or twisted (eg. a lemon reamer), and it needed to be easy to control regardless of the size/shape of the hand or strength of grip. They conducted extensive research and tested and adapted their prototypes alongside volunteers from the American Arthritis Foundation.

Image ref: Handle form study (left) and grip study (right).
Image credit:

They chose a material called Santoprene (a thermoplastic rubber - TPR), because it is robust, durable, soft-to-touch, non-slip (even when wet) and easy to blend with other materials. It was originally developed as an alternative material for injection moulded tyres (for which it was unsuccessful) and had begun to be used in seals and gaskets within the automotive, household appliance and construction industries. The manufacturer, keen to explore other applications for this polymer, offered their support to the project.

Image ref: The first tool developed was the swivel head vegetable peeler; finalised design on the right.
Image credit:    

In designing the finger grip, Farber wanted it to be tactile, something to engage the consumer and encourage them to pick up the utensil and try it out. A bicycle handle provided the inspiration and from that the flexible 'fins' evolved (refer image below).

Image ref: The development of the finger grip flexible ‘fins’.
Image credit:

Looking unlike anything else on the market at that time, initial sales of the first 15 OXO Good Grips kitchen utensils to be released were disappointingly slow. Smart Design persuaded the retailer to introduce in-store demonstrations so that customers could come and interact with the range, and from that display the brand began to achieve success and win awards. In 1991, annual sales had achieved $3 million (USD), and the following year Farber made the decision to sell the company in order to retire again.

Image ref: Smart Design drawing for the universal handle.
Image credit:

Now iconic, the striking, inclusive design of the ergonomic handle has found its way into a variety of other OXO homewares including kettles, salad spinners, cleaning tools and gardening equipment (the range has expanded to over 800 items). My favourite? Well, that has to be the pastry brush which has a unique silicone head consisting of a series of bristles with three flat sections in the centre, each possessing four holes to grip and transfer liquid (refer image below). Designed to be clump resistant and easy-clean, the head is angled to keep the brush elevated from worksurfaces. What's not to like?

Image ref: OXO Good Grips pastry brush.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer


Wednesday 15 June 2022

‘Plastics Ware’ from British Industrial Plastics

MoDiP provided the perfect solution to my ’90 year plastics quandary’!

My late father, Graham Shelswell, was born in 1932 and was brought up in Wellington Street, Oldbury, which is only a stone’s throw from the British Industrial Plastics factory site.

He lived there with his father and mother, William and Ethel Shelswell, and his maternal grandmother Harriet Hall (nee Horton). Harriet Hall was a widow and worked at BIP Oldbury as a cleaner. Her husband John Prestwood Hall was fatally injured in a ‘boiler accident’ in 1915, at BIP Oldbury where he also worked; I believe it was then called British Cyanide. As Harriet was widowed in 1915 (approx. 40 years old), she had to bring up her six daughters as a single mother (see image below).

Harriet Hall and her six daughters.
Image credit: Robert Shelswell

As a cleaner at BIP, when the factory produced new pieces such as Beetleware and Bandalasta-ware, they would give Harriet some of the experimental items to take home. These have stayed in the family ever since.


Harriet’s collection from BIP.
Image credit: Robert Shelswell

As I grew up in the 70s, I remember visiting my grandma and seeing these plastic items on display in her cabinet. They were so unique and varied in shape and a mixture of colour, so vibrant and different to the rest of her home furnishings. On occasions, I was allowed to carefully take them from the cabinet and look at them a little more closely, with the eyes of an inquisitive child.

Bandalasta-ware and Beetleware.
Image credit: Robert Shelswell

They were then, and still are today, in excellent condition. I have been told that my great grandma treasured them because of their uniqueness back in the 20s and 30s when they were originally made. They were then handed down to my grandma, who had them on show for many years as she lived in to her 90s, and then to my father, who stored them away safely as they held memories of his childhood and hometown of Oldbury.

Harriet Hall continued working for BIP Oldbury until she retired. She was one of the company’s first pensioners (see image below) and, as such, BIP continued to look after her financially as she had lost her husband in an accident on the company site.

Harriet Hall (centre).
Image credit: Robert Shelswell

And so, four generations on, the BIP Plastic Ware came into my possession. I did not want it to sit in a box in a loft for decades to come; I wanted it to be seen, to be valued, to be studied, and to be appreciated by a wider group of people. The collection is around 90 years old and in searching for somewhere who could take care of it for another nine decades (and more), I came across MoDiP. I studied their website, which I thought engaging, academic and educational, and yet it also had a sense of energy and enthusiasm with a passion for ‘plastic’. I contacted the museum and they accepted the collection of these 26 pieces. They will take over their stewardship and continue the story of these plastic ‘originals’.

Robert Shelswell

Wednesday 8 June 2022

Plastic: Remaking our world

As you may have seen on our Instagram feed, MoDiP has had the great pleasure of loaning objects to an international exhibition curated by Vitra Design Museum, V&A Dundee, and maat.  The exhibition Plastic: Remaking Our World, which will be hosted by all three museums (Vitra Design Museum in 26.03.2022 – 04.09.2022, V&A Dundee 29.10.2022 – 05.02.2023 and maat, Lisbon spring 2023), examines the history and future of this controversial material: from its meteoric rise in the twentieth century to its environmental impact and to cutting-edge solutions for a more sustainable use of plastic.  Exhibits include rarities from the dawn of the plastic age and objects of the pop era as well as numerous contemporary designs and projects ranging from efforts to clean up rivers and oceans to smart concepts for waste reduction and recycling through to bioplastics made from algae and mycelium.

The case at the front of this picture displays objects from the Worshipful Company of Horners, whose collection we look after. © Vitra Design Museum, Photo: Bettina Matthiessen

Dr. Jochen Eisenbrand, Chief Curator, Vitra Design Museum stated that the Museum of Design in Plastics has been most supportive of our exhibition and we are most grateful for this support. During our research and preparations for the show – all of which coincided with two years of COVID pandemic – MoDiP’s excellent online collection and the wealth of information it provides proved to be a most valuable asset and resource that the curatorial team of the exhibition kept coming back to again and again.’

Vitrac picnic ware and Sputnik jam dish from the MoDiP collection. © Vitra Design Museum, Photo: Bettina Matthiessen

He goes on to say: ‘Among the many wonderful and important loans that MoDiP is generously supporting our exhibition with are a Hawker Sear Fury cockpit canopy as the largest historic exhibit we are presenting and also some of my personal favourite exhibits: the Hax and Flip squeeze bottles from the 1950s and 1960s in the shape of a lemon, a banana, or a strawberry.’

Military lamp, Plasfort helmet, and fighter plane cockpit canopy from the MoDiP collection. © Vitra Design Museum, Photo: Bettina Matthiessen

Sqezy bottle BXL image, hax bottles and Sqezy washing up liquid bottle from the MoDiP collection. © Vitra Design Museum, Photo: Bettina Matthiessen

As a whole, the exhibition offers a critical and differentiated reassessment of plastic in today’s world. Interviews with designers, scientists, and activists underline the importance of an interdisciplinary approach in which politics, industry, science, and design collaborate closely to tackle the plastic problem.  While it is true that each of us is a catalyst for change, there will be no simple remedy to this issue. For this reason, the exhibition aims to address the bigger picture of plastic and its complex role in our world: by analysing how we came to be so dependent on it, by reassessing where the use of plastic is essential and where it can be reduced or replaced, and by reimagining possible futures for this contested material.

I am looking forward to visiting the exhibition when it comes to the UK and I am sure I will share more about it in another blog post in the winter.  In the meantime, find out more on the VitraDesign Museum website.


Louise Dennis

Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday 1 June 2022


“Can I really drop it?”
“You should, it’s Boontonware”
Be Carefree with Boontonware.

“I bet she’s dropped our Boontonware a hundred times
and not a piece ever broke.”
“ – don’t worry, it’s Boontonware”
Guaranteed against breakage, it’s molded of Melmac.
Set a beautiful table and relax…so lovely, so colourful, it takes to
rugged family wear like nothing you’ve seen.
So ran the advertisements for Boontonware in the 1950s, and this was precisely what the Lewis family did when my father unpacked the tea chest of exciting, and oh so un-austere, booty that he had bought back from a three-month trip to America in 1952. We dropped the bowls, cups, saucers and plates, manufactured in Boonton, New Jersey, on our floor in Horsham, Sussex, and we marvelled. They didn’t break.

A selection of our Boontonware

Image credit: Philippa Lewis

Admittedly, I was more excited by the View-Master with its 3D pictures of St Louis Zoo than the plastic tableware; and my mother declared that the salmon pink with curious whitish flecks quite hideous. Maybe, very occasionally, it was taken on picnics. But no one ever seems to have got rid of our Boontonware.  

The company’s advertisements had a perfectly reasonable claim to truth. By the early 1950s, the use of plastic dinnerware was so widespread that Consumer Reports Magazine tested and rated the workmanship, construction and design in its January 1951 issue. Of the 12 brands tested, Boontonware was “judged superior to all others,” edging out competition from Texas Ware, Arrowhead Ever Ware and Watertown Lifetime Ware. The engineers at Consumers Union noted Boontonware’s “excellent resistance to chipping and breaking” along with its “excellent durability in washing.”

Lockdown forced many of us to take stock of our belongings. The pink plastic emerged during one clear out and bought back a memory of childhood, but little else. A chance reference somewhere to a Museum of Design in Plastics led me to wonder if they would accept it as a donation – a perfect method of de-accessioning unused possessions. I identified the Boonton trademark on the base of each piece and sent off photographs.

Bingo. Katherine Pell answered enthusiastically – the museum had no pieces by this manufacturer. They now do.

Boontonware began production in 1946, the inspiration of George Scribner who owned the Boonton Moulding Company. He had noted how successful melamine dinner ware was with the Navy during the war and rightly thought it would have a wide appeal. While researching this history the fact that has most intrigued me is the discovery of industrial designer Belle Kogan, who was employed by Scribner to create the Boonton range.

Born in Russia in 1902 Kogan’s family emigrated to Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1906; her Wikipedia entry charts her education which ended at New York University which she said ‘opened my eyes to the fact that design didn't just happen. It had to be developed. I felt that it was wonderful, like a puzzle, all the parts fitted in: the business training, painting, color study, and my interest in mechanics, machinery and production problems.’

In 1932 she opened her own design studio in New York. (the following is a straight quote from Wikipedia):

She was one of the first industrial designers to experiment with plastics. Her early experimentation included celluloid toilet sets and clocks, a chrome-plated toaster with a plastic base, and Bakelite jewelry.[6] While most designers were only experimenting with polymers she said, "In plastics the manufacturer has a material with tremendous possibilities. It is still in the active process of growth and development, but is rapidly gaining its stride. It is a material which no manufacturer, if he be alert and watchful of his competition, can afford to overlook. Radios, clocks, dishes, jewelry—all being developed in plastics today—have enormous significance."[7] Kogan believed that "good design should keep the consumer happy and the manufacturer in the black."[8] In an interview Kogan said, "Today there is probably no one group more keenly alive to the caprices and demands of the buying public as industrial designers. The designer's viewpoint, therefore, is a valuable one from the basis of manufacture as well as from the basis of merchandising and selling. It is a broad conception of the consumers' desire."[7]

Now manufactured in Ashtabula, Ohio, Boontonware evidently still meets ‘the consumer’s desire’ as Belle Kogan believed designed products should.

*George Scribner was inducted in the Plastics Hall of Fame in 1974

Philippa Lewis
(recent book: Stories from Architecture, Behind the Lines at Drawing Matter, MIT Press, 2021)