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.
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