The origins of General Plastics Pty. Ltd. were 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 1920-2 the ‘Herrman, Hatfield and Company’ advertised as button and button mould manufacturers and metal pressers.
From 1923 he ran a successful button moulding company with his wife called ‘The Herrman Company’ in the same location (Oxford & Victoria Streets, Darlinghurst). By 1926 they moved to Hill Street, Darlinghurst, into 2 of the 4 stories of a purpose built ‘Herrman Building’. The business involved metal stamping and electroplating. He sold the concern to two of his brothers-in-law, Otto Clyde and Percy Edmund Rheuben, in May 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 1934 he was reportedly interested in the production of casein buttons.
From 1937 the company was exporting buttons. In 1938 Otto was requesting that import duties be applied to Tagua nut buttons to enable his company to expand into production of these (it is not clear whether his application was successful). In 1940 and 1941 the company supplied buttons and buckles for the military. It was by then located at Larkin and Sparkes Sts, Camperdown. In October 1941 the company name was changed to ‘General Plastics Pty. Ltd.’ then listed on the stock market in 1946. They continued to supply the military 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.’ 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. By 1949 General Plastics claimed to be the largest manufacturer of buttons in Australia.
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 company’s 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 (possibly to a General Plastics factory in Sydney) for chemical polishing and rumbling. Unfortunately, the era of pearl-shell buttons was all but over, and the business went into liquidation in 1954. It survived with another owner only until around 1956 (thanks to the Cairns Historical Society for this information).
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 until he resigned in 1955.
The brand name of Beauclaire came into use for their buttons and buckles from around 1951. Before that some buttons were labelled simply as ‘plastic buttons’. As well, there were cards with ‘Lovely Lady’ and ‘Modern Miss’ branding (see below). Later they produced Woolworths and Embassy branded lines.
The cards are larger than the average 1950’s type (approx 8×10.5cm); perhaps they are from the late 40’s ?
And yet another different design card (from an ad from NZ):
The 3 photos below (from NZ auction site Trademe) show how the branding of the company’s buttons possibly 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’.
Pearlised buckles from Buttonmania.
See also the page of gorgeous Beauclaire advertising and also posts showing my latest finds.