The origins of General Plastics Pty. Ltd. started in 1914 when an Austrian born, Jewish engineer by the name of Berthold Herrman (1885-1972) arrived in Australia. Around 1918 he started producing casein, a plastic named after the milk protein from which it was derived. From the 1920’s, with his wife, he ran a successful button moulding company , The Herrman Company, in Hill Street, Darlinghurst. He sold the business to two of his brothers-in-law, Otto Clyde and Percy Edmund Rheuben, in 1927. Percy left the partnership in 1929. In 1933 Otto registered a new button manufacturing company by the name of O.C. Rheuben & Co., Pty Ltd.
In 1940 and 1941 the company supplied buttons and buckles for the military. In October 1941 the company named was changed to General Plastics Pty. Ltd. and listed then on the stock market in 1946. They continued to supply the miltary until at 1957.
Girls as young as 14 were employed in the Camperdown factory. In 1946 they announced that they were employing an increased proportion of male labour, and although this was more expensive, “the higher degree of performance was expected to be reflected in the quality and quantity of production.” How’s that for male chauvinism? In 1945 female outworkers were only being paid 5 pennies to sew a gross of buttons on cards, and for that they had to pick up the buttons and deliver the completed cards at their own expense.
In March 1952 a new company was formed in Cairns to deal in pearls, mother-of-pearl and trochus shells, plastics and to manufacture buttons, fancy goods and jewellery. One of the directors was Mr. A.G.Randolph Griffiths. As he was also the general manager and chairman of General Plastics, this allowed the arrangement of all marketing of the new companies buttons by General Plastics. Plant and machinery were to be imported from America with credit from General Plastics. On the 1st May 1952, Mr Griffiths unexpectedly died. However the company was established on the Cairns waterfront, with machines for trepannation, sorting, grinding, shaping and drilling. The buttons were sent south (? to General Plastics factory in Sydney) for chemical polishing and rumbling. Unfortunately, the era of pearl-shell buttons was over, and the business went into liquidation in 1954. It survived with another owner only until around 1956.
Due to Arthur’s death his son, Maurice Arthur Griffiths, took over as General Manager whilst a former chairman, Mr G. M. Stafford, resumed that role.
By 1949 General Plastics claimed to be the largest manufacturer of buttons in Australia, however they produced buttons and buckles under the brand name of Beauclaire only from about 1951. Before that the buttons were labelled ‘plastic buttons’ as well as cards with a ‘lovely lady’ illustration (see below). Later they produced Woolworths and Embassy branded lines.
The 3 photos below (from NZ auction site Trademe) show how the branding of the company’s buttons evolved: ‘Pearl-Sheen’ becomes ‘Pearl Sheen Belle-claire’ becomes ‘Beauclaire Pearl Sheen’.
In the early 1950’s their catch cry was “Take a Button… Make a Fashion!” By 1954 this changed to “Beauclaire. The Budget Button.” In 1954 they proudly introduced new plastics including polyester from the U.S. that were “Boil proof, fade proof, dry-cleaner proof and iron proof.” Wow!! In 1955 they were in negotiations with an American button company to expand production. Around this time they merged with Leda, then on 1st January 1957 they were taken over by Beutron Australia Limited. I wonder if the debt acquired in starting up Pearl Shell Industries Pty Ltd, which lasted only a couple of years in Cairns, left the company in trouble and lead to its sale?
BEAUCLAIRE ‘TINY TOTS’: Children’s line
Below are more buttons and buckles:
Details from 1953-4 adverts. The name is ‘Pearl Blossom’.
See also the page of gorgeous Beauclaire advertising and also posts showing my latest finds.