This dessert plate is made of 'Beetle' moulding powders. These urea-formaldehyde powders first appeared in the 1920s and their light swirling colours were used to produce table ware and domestic products. In 1930 an Australian company, the Australian Moulding Corporation, used 'Beetle' moulding powders to create their colourful 'Harlequin' range of table ware that included this dessert plate.
This object is part of a large collection of plastics and plastic moulding powders acquired by the museum during Arthur Penfold's career. The collection gives insight into a period of great social, material, technological and scientific development, along with the collecting practices of the museum at the time. Plastics continues to be an area that is explored and represented in the museum's collection, however today reflects some of the more ambivalent attitudes towards plastics and their use, particularly in regards to environmental and sustainability issues.
The museum's plastics collection began in the 1930s with the acquisition of specimens of plastic raw materials and finished products. The collection was driven largely by Arthur de Ramon Penfold (1890-1980), a former industrial chemist, who worked as curator and later director of the museum from the years 1927 until 1955. In his 1945 article in the magazine 'Australian Plastics' he described plastics in Australia as " ... an industry so promising in its possibilities [it] deserves the very best quality of personnel in every grade of occupation." (Penfold, 1945)
Between 26 and 28 September 1934, the Technical College and the museum collaborated to develop what was advocated as the first Plastics Industry Exhibition in Australia. The museum contributed the majority of the exhibits, including colourful moulded objects and synthetic resin powders. A permanent display of plastics was established at the museum.
Penfold, A. R., 'Penfold reports from London', in Cooper, R. B., (ed), 'Australian Plastics', Vol1, No. 4, 1945