Wednesday, April 27, 2011

For the Love of Beetleware, England, and the Conspiracy Theory

The London Beetleware Backstamp! These lovelies available at Palaver! 
In the 1930's Beetleware, a thin plastic type material was used for just about everything here in the States.  But just what was it?  Beetleware, was a division of American Cyanamid out of New York. The "urea formaldehyde powder" had actually "technically" originated in London (therein called Beatl, or Beetleware) circa 1925.

The Beetlware American backstamp.  You may just see the tiny "B" in the shield more often than not.

It's use here in the States should be credited to Christian A. Kurz, Jr. (of Kurz-Kasch Company, Dayton Ohio) who was traveling in England, and saw this in use. He was a custom molder here in the states, and it was he who convinced American Cyanamid to start the licensing, and import of it here.  If Kurz-Kasch sounds familiar, it's because they are still in business today and have a long industrial history here in the States!  Read how it came to be here, in Jeffrey's book.
Dish Samples from my collection. Note the one on far right has wood in it!
So it was that back in the late 1920's and early 30's London was using Beetleware everything.  Their designs were so mod and you'll see so many neat mustard pot and egg cups. Talk about upscale plastics - the Brits had some amazing stuff!  I especially want to mention they made a lot of mottled colors, the confetti type blues and greens, quite lovely.  Check out these pudding bowls to see how lovely and well made they were!

Gorgeous Pudding Bowls , $15.27 bargain priced at Palaver (price subject to current exchange rate)

Here in the States, circa 1933, just about any color of Beetlware was available! Note, no mottled or confetti colors in this ad! From Beetleware President's lips, a customer was happy with her lavender toilet screws!!!
A New Yorker ad from 1930 boasts about the "new Beetleware" having unbreakable cups, tumblers, and mugs. Some of the colors mottled and translucent.  By 1933, more bold brights were introduced.  Americans adored and embraced the bold colored picnic ware, knobs, electric components, travel trailer dishes, and premiums! Ahhhhh the was boasted in a 1934 article by RS Childs, then Beetleware President that sales in 1933 of Beetleware mugs, tumblers, measuring spoons and PREMIUMS alone accounted for 16,000,000 pieces being made.  So how many pieces were really produced? Plastic was BIG! 
Post Grape and Nut Flakes Cereal Premium Bowl, with Mickey Mouse, $28 at TheFarmersWifeInIowa

This lovely premium features Orpan Annie, and is a steal at $6 from Carols Threads. 
Note how Beetlware states who is giving the premium, in this case Ovaltine! Photo: CarolsThreads

The rumors go that Melmac was introduced as a solution to the dissatisfaction of earlier picnic plastics, which would indicate that Beetlware could be a culprit of breaking, cracking, or snapping in half.I have to say the plates I have are very thin. Perhaps thin flimsiness wasn't appreciated in the long run, contrary to the 1930's claims of this super duper plastic being unbreakable, it certainly WAS.
United States Beetlware Dish Samples- Flimsy or not,  I love the Dishes!
People laugh at my theory that MELMAC was just the new and improved Beetlware . It's my personal opinion from years in Marketing, that American Cyanamid was smart in many ways--seeing how well Beetleware's reception initially was, (arms wide open) but knowing they had to improve upon it they wanted an out. During this time, in 1937 melamine powder was very inexpensive and quite honestly, another plastic with some similar components as it's successor Beetlware.  Many will tell you I'm wrong, but I say to them, they were both urea formaldehyde plastics were they not? Beetleware was said to be Unbreakable in 1930 and Melmac unbreakable also were they not? Both were marketed and sold by American Cyanamid were they not?  YES THEY WERE! Recipe for Marketing Success: One cup Beetleware Powder, add some of this a pinch of that and voila, new and improved super duper plastic called Melamine, or Melmac if produced by American Cyanamid. Just my should know however both were produced by American Cyanamid over the years. In 1940's you could buy either Beetlware or Melamine!  MONOPOLY ANYONE?

If only the plastic can talk, this cup at RetroChalet.


Beetleware on Etsy
BBC Beetleware Powderpuff Dish

Read Excerpts in Jeffrey Miekle's Book

British Plastics Federation

View or Buy Bakelite and Plastics (Find Beetleware Here) From Vanished Eras.

See My 100+ Plastic Items  for sale!
Sources :
Plastics Products VOL10-11, 1934 Int,

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