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H4703 Display of spectacle frames (27 parts), cellulose acetate, made by the Commonwealth Moulding Pty Ltd, Australia, 1945. Click to enlarge.

Collection of cellulose acetate mouldings for spectacle frames

Made 1945
The first plastic spectacles, made from cellulose acetate, were produced in France, 1922 (IPTF). The use of plastics in spectacle frame manufacture had a profound impact on the wearing of spectacles. Earlier spectacles made from luxury materials such as bone, horn, tortoiseshell and ivory, combined with glass lenses, were heavy to wear and expensive to make. Moulded frames meant that spectacles could be produced en mass, at a reduced cost and lighter weight, and in a wider variety of styles and colours.

These spectacle frame mouldings are part of the museum's plastics collection, which began in the 1930s with the acquisition of specimens of plastic raw materials and finished products. This 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 1927 until 1955. Concerned with the technical and commercial development of local industries, in particular Australia's plastics industry, Penfold believed that the museum was 'destined to play a conspicuous part in bringing Science to the aid of industry', through both research and display (Penfold 1948). Penfold acquired various specimens from Commonwealth Moulding Pty Ltd between 1941 and 1945, many of which relate to the use of plastics in the defence industry.

Along with various spectacle frames, this collection of objects includes an advertising flyer for 'Australian-made frames by Marquis'. The flyer promotes the spectacles as: 'an outstanding product of quality...incorporat[ing] all features previously only available in imported frames'.

The spectacle frames form part of a large and significant collection of plastics and plastic moulding powders acquired by the museum throughout Arthur Penfold's career. This collection gives insight into a period of great social, material, technological and scientific development, and reflects some of the museum's collecting practices and research focuses at this 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.

REF:

International Plastics Task Force, 'Plastics History', available http://www.ecologycenter.org/iptf/plasticinhistory.html, accessed 27/08/07

Penfold, A. R., personal correspondence, addressed to A. W. Baker, Commonwealth Moulding Pty Ltd, Arncliffe, 17/2/1942, museum archives

Penfold, A. R., personal correspondence, addressed to A. W. Baker, Commonwealth Moulding Pty Ltd, Arncliffe, 31/3/1942

Penfold, A. R., paper, 'The Influence of Science Museums on Industry', read at the first Biannual Conference of International Council on Museums, 1948

Summary

Object No.

H4703

Object Statement

Display of spectacle frames (27 parts), cellulose acetate, made by the Commonwealth Moulding Pty Ltd, Australia, 1945

Physical Description

Display of spectacle frames (27 parts), cellulose acetate, made by the Commonwealth Moulding Pty Ltd, Australia, 1945

An exhibit illustrating the manufacture of cellulose acetate spectacle frames.

Production

Made

1945

Notes

The spectacle frames were made in Australia by the Commonwealth Moulding Company Pty Ltd in 1945, listed by the 1943 Australasian Manufacturers Directory as operating from 242 Princes Highway, Arncliffe, New South Wales, Australia. The company is listed as producing such wares as aircraft parts, electrical appliances and parts, jewellery, furniture and interior decorations, household and kitchen appliances, industrial equipment, and optical equipment (Plastics Institute of Australia 1947).

The first plastic spectacles, made from cellulose acetate, were produced in France, 1922 (IPTF). Penfold's publication, 'Plastics and Synthetic Fibres' describes cellulose acetate as being: 'made from cotton, which is...treated with acetic acid and acetic anhydride, and the resulting syrup is converted into a white powder. This is mixed with other chemicals when a plastic dough results. From this material sheets, rods or moulding powder can be made at will...It is a particularly attractive material, for it is comparatively safe and easy to use, being non-inflammable compared with celluloid' (Penfold 1956).


REF:

Manufacturer Publishing, Australasian Manufacturers' Directory, A.A. Tighe for the Proprietors, The Manufacturer Pub. Co., 1943, p651

Penfold, A. R., 'Plastics and Synthetic Fibres', A.H. Pettifer, Government Printer, Sydney, 1956

Plastics Institute of Australia, 'Australian Plastics Trade Directory', Sydney, 1947

History

Notes

It is often perceived that plastics are a material of the twentieth century; however, its beginnings go back to eighteenth century Europe and conditions created by rapid industrialisation, scientific curiosity and opportunities to create great wealth through innovative and entrepreneurial ideas. Many of the semi-synthetic plastics of the nineteenth century and the synthetic plastics of the twentieth century were influenced by earlier manufacturing methods of making products out of natural plastics such as horn and tortoiseshell. The development of synthetic plastics, however, allowed for a product that was not subject to availability and fluctuating costs.

Cellulose nitrate, commonly known as Parkesine and Xylonite, developed in the 1850s and was the first semi-synthetic plastic. The product was used for objects such as knife handles, boxes, dental plates for false teeth, film, and billiard balls. Camphor was eventually added to the cellulose nitrate in order to reduce the volatile product's flammability, and was manufactured under the trademark name Celluloid. However issues of flammability persisted, preventing its use in mass production mouldings, and its use declined as new plastics materials were introduced.

A major development in plastics was the introduction of phenolic plastics, also known by popular names such as 'Bakelite' and 'Nestorite', which are valued for their excellent heat resistance and low electrical conductivity. The scientific achievement underpinning the product is predominantly associated with the work of Leo Hendrik Baekeland (1863-1944), a Belgian-American industrial chemist. Baekeland patented the name 'Bakelite' to the product in 1907, and it went on to become a hugely successful commercial venture particularly from the mid twenties to around 1950 (Cook 1992). In the 1930s there was a surge of interest in plastics and plastic products, particularly coloured Urea-formaldehyde laminates. These products had excellent temperature resistance but, unlike early Bakelite, could be produced in different colours.

The Australian plastics processing industry began around 1917 and grew significantly after World War Two, substituting raw materials such as metal that were in short supply. In 1939 production of plastics was around one thousand tonnes per year and fifty years later it had grown to around nine hundred thousand tonnes (Chemlink Consultants 2007). New innovations in plastics, a rising population and increasing home ownership and household consumption were major influences on this growth. Today the plastics industry is one of Australia's largest manufacturing sectors.

The museum's plastics collection began in the 1930s with the acquisition of specimens of plastic raw materials and finished products. This 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 1927 until 1955. A permanent display of plastics was established at the museum, and was described by the Sunday Telegraph as 'the best display of plastics and fibres in the world...show(ing) the complete history of plastics from first experiments to the latest developments' (Sunday Telegraph 1945).

Throughout the early 1900s the Sydney Technical College and the museum promoted similar aims and objectives regarding their roles in areas such as the promotion use and development of local manufacture, materials, commerce and industry. 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, which included colourful moulded objects and synthetic resin powders. The highlight of the exhibition was a standard hydraulic press that produced synthetic resin objects while the audience watched. This was lent by John Heine and Son and run by staff from the College's Mechanical Engineering department. It utilised dies made by College students and synthetic moulding resin powders from local plastic companies. A Conversazione was held on the evening of 26th September, 1934 'to which prominent citizens, including representatives of the Plastics Industry were invited', and at which both Penfold and Dr N H Lang gave lectures on the plastics industry (Annual Report 1934). Describing the plastics industry as 'one of the greatest achievements of our time', the event aimed to explore and promote 'the wizardry of the Chemist's Art' (Sydney Technical College 1934).

In December 1944 Penfold, along with Mr C H Hunt of Newcastle Technical College, was commissioned by the NSW Government to investigate overseas technological trends in the plastic industry, including the training of technical personnel, throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. On his return Penfold continued to promote the importance of Australia's development of a vigorous research and training program in developing local technical expertise (Penfold 29/11/1945), arguing that: 'The field is so vast and the potentialities of plastics...is so promising, that no effort should be spared to provide adequate training for all persons wishing to acquire a knowledge of these new materials' (Penfold 31/10/1945).

The first plastic spectacles, made from cellulose acetate, were produced in France, 1922 (IPTF). This set of cellulose acetate spectacles was manufactured by Commonwealth Moulding Pty Ltd and donated to the museum in 1945. Penfold acquired various specimens from Commonwealth Moulding Pty Ltd between 1941 and 1945, many relating to aircraft manufacture and the defence industry.

REF:
Cook, Patrick & Catherine Slessor, 'Bakelite: An Illustrated Guide to Collectable Bakelite Objects', The Apple Press, London, 1992, p12

Chemlink Consultants, Australia's Chemical Industry - History and development, available at http://www.chemlink.com.au/chemhist.htm, accessed 08/08/2007

Source

Credit Line

Gift of Commonwealth Moulding Co, 1945

Acquisition Date

20 December 1945

Cite this Object

Harvard

Collection of cellulose acetate mouldings for spectacle frames 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 31 May 2020, <https://ma.as/240559>

Wikipedia

{{cite web |url=https://ma.as/240559 |title=Collection of cellulose acetate mouldings for spectacle frames |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=31 May 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

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