General Plastics (Beauclaire)

Berthold Herrman 1885-1972. After selling the button moulding business, he started the successful electrical company still trading today, HPM (Herrman Plastics Manufacturing).

Berthold Herrman 1885-1972.  After selling his button moulding business, he started a successful electrical components company still trading today,  HPM (Herrman Plastics Manufacturing).

In 1914  a Jewish, Austrian-born 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 to 1922 the ‘Herrman, Hatfield and Company’ advertised as button and button mould manufacturers and metal pressers.

Government Gazette of the State of NSW, 9th July 1920.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 5th July 1921.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 25th October 1921.

A. V. Hatfield: from a group photograph of the 46th Australian Infantry Battalion, 1918. He returned from the war in  February 1920,

 Around September, 1922 Hatfield retired. Herrman continued the business with his wife as the Herrman Company, in the same location (Oxford & Victoria Streets, Darlinghurst).

Dun’s Gazette for NSW, September 1922.

By 1926 they moved to 2 Hill Street, Darlinghurst, into 2 of the 4 stories of a purpose built ‘Herrman Building’.

The Herrman Building still stands in Hill Street, Surry Hills.

The HPM logo on the Building wall.

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. 

From the Powerhouse Museum: Plastic buttons made in Australia c.1920. Possibly this was the Herrman Company; as I am not aware of other plastic button manufacturers at this date.

Sunday Times, 14th August 1910. This is the only photo of Otto I have found.

Government Gazette of NSW, 10th June 1927.

The Sun (Sydney) 10th September 1931.

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.  The company was still being run from 2 Hill Street.In 1934 he was reportedly interested in the production of casein buttons.

Published in the Daily Commercial News, 15th May 1933.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 5th December 1929.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 22nd October 1937.

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 1957.

Commonwealth Gazettes, 17 June 1948.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 25th October 1941. War time regulations affected the ability to employ needed staff.

‘GP buttons 1936-46’ : Powerhouse Museum collection. (NB: the name General Plastics actually dates from 1941.  During 1936-1941 the company was still ‘O. C. Rheuben & Co.’) The buttons on the far right can also be seen in colour on one of the sample cards donated to the Powerhouse Museum in 1950 (see down the page).





From the MAAS collection: buttons made from casein made in Taree, NSW in 1944.

Pacific Islands Monthly 18th Sept 1944. Note the variety of plastic goods being made by General Plastics.

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. Otto Reuben may have retired by the late 1940s. He died on the 7th January, 1953.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 26th February 1946. Neville R Rheuben, a brother of Otto, is listed as one of the directors. He resigned in 1951. The chairman is Arthur George Randolph Griffiths (1898-1952), a brother -in-law of the Rheubens.


Published in the Tribune (Sydney), 9th August 1945.

National Advocate (Bathhurst), 24th May 1948.  A resolution to request boil-proof buttons!

Sydney Morning herald 27th November 1948.

Sydney Morning Herald, 27th November 1948.

The Sun (Sydney),  22nd February 1950. This article explains why women would put up with the poor pay rates.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 30th September 1949.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 29th September 1950.

Article from Smith’s Weekly, 26th August 1950.

Published in The Australian Women's Weekly, 28th October 1950

Published in The Australian Women’s Weekly, 28th October 1950.

The Sun (Sydney) 7th August 1951.

The pictures below are from the MAAS (Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences) collection, donated to the museum in February 1950:

The above card shows available colours.

In the November 1950 Sydney telephone directory, the name ‘beauclaire was used for the companies buttons for the first time.

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.

Mr George Montgomery Stafford in 1953.

Maurice in 1945 at his marriage to Janice Rose.

Maurice in 1945 at his marriage to Janice Rose.

The Sun (Sydney), 9th September 1953.  Maurice is now the General Manager.

Construction (Sydney) 17th March 1954

Construction (Sydney), 17th March 1954. Note the card of Beauclaire buttons in his hands.

Colin Peebles in 1934, The Australian Women's Weekly

A photo of Colin Stewart Peebles from 1934 in The Australian Women’s Weekly.

The Sydney Morning Herald had a 'Plastics Suppliment 'on 20th August 1954. C.S.R. here is advertising the cellulose acetate it produced for the production of Beauclaire buttons, amongst other things.

The Sydney Morning Herald had a ‘Plastics Supplement ‘ on 20th August 1954.  C.S.R. here is advertising the cellulose acetate it produced for the production of Beauclaire buttons and other things.

The Argus, 19th July 1956. Unfortunately, despite his efforts, the company was soon to be taken over.

Other Branding:

The brand name of Beauclaire came into use for their buttons and buckles from late 1950.  Perhaps General Plastics (and their predecessors O. C. Rheuben and Herrman Co) did not distribute their own buttons until the 1940s when cards marked “A GP product” appeared. However, it is possible that they distributed their own buttons on otherwise branded cards.

In the 1940s that some GP cards were labelled simply as ‘plastic buttons’ and ‘boil proof Buttons’. 

No, this is not 2 seperate buttons, just a 2-sided design stapled differently onto the cards.

This is not two separate designs,  just a double-sided button stapled to show both sides.

So I went back to my lot of loose buttons and found all these double sided examples like those on the card.

I went back to my lot of loose buttons and found all these double sided examples like those on the card.













General Plastics designs appear on ‘Exclusive’,  ‘Lovely Lady’,  and ‘Modern Miss’ branded cards (see below). It is not clear whether these were distributed by GP itself, or by other companies. Later they  produced buttons for Woolworths and Embassy branded lines. They probably supplied buttons for such distributors as Terries, Demetre, and Coronet/Roger Berry.

‘Exclusive Buttons’:

‘Lovely Lady’:

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Above: from Carol’s collection.













‘Modern Miss’:

The white buttons are on a partial “Modern Miss” card. They are the same pattern as those on the Beauclaire card.

The cards are larger than the average 1950’s type (approx 8×10.5cm);  perhaps they are from the late 40’s ?

Thanks again to Marion Clark.

Thanks again to Marion Clark for sharing the above.

In Helen’s collection.

This design is also found on Beuaclaire cards.



The graphics shows a hand placing a shirt into soapy water. They're fashionable and washable!

The graphics shows a hand placing a shirt into soapy water. They’re fashionable and washable!

And yet another different design card (from an ad from NZ):

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The 3 photos below (from NZ auction site Trade Me) show how the branding of the company’s buttons possibly evolved:  ‘Pearl-Sheen’ becomes ‘Pearl Sheen Belle-claire’ becomes ‘Beauclaire Pearl Sheen’.

From an auction.

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A packing box for Beauclaire buttons.

A packing box for Beauclaire buttons.

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From Carol’s collection.


Some loose examples of the same styles as the blue and grey buttons are below.


From Lois's collection.

From Lois’s collection.  A darker blue version is to the right. Yellow and green versions are up the page.

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Two more versions of the rose button.

The rose button was a popular one, appearing in several sizes as well as multiple colours and finishes.


Thanks to Carol F. for this pictures


From an online advert.

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A sales sample card.


Gold examples of above style.


The complete card states ‘ Beauclaire PRESENTS FROM New York G.P. PRODUCT’. G.P. is General Plastics. Perhaps these buttons were imported and carded here? There also exists cards that state ‘From Paris’. See on the left for more colours and sizes of the white buttons.


Rounded pyramids.

From Lois's collection.

From Lois’s collection: Strange, the card on the right is a much plainer style. More examples of the gently ruffled style from my collection are below.



These cards are blank on the back.

These ‘Moonglow’ cards are blank on the back. Later examples had printing.

Diamente buttons from Helen.


 Perhaps the American reference was to allow for export?

Perhaps the American reference was to allow for export?

Moonglows from Lois.

Moonglows from Lois.

The top 3 have mottled colours. The bottom are 3 sizes of the same colour and style.

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?

A change of card style: The font and design are now the same as for Leda, with which the Beauclaire line were merged.

Leda cards overprinted/reprinted as Leda Beauclaire.

Leda cards overprinted/reprinted as Leda Beauclaire.

Thanks to Carol F. for this picture

Thanks to Carol F. for this picture.

BEAUCLAIRE ‘TINY TOTS’: Children’s line

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Glass buttons (probably German) on a Beauclaire Tiny Tot card. If the buttons were not just sewn onto the card for safe keeping, then General Plastic must have been importing buttons.

Below are more buttons and buckles:

A beautiful and complex button.

A beautiful and complex button.


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Details from 1953-4 adverts. The name is ‘Pearl Blossom’.







From Buttonmania.

Pearlised buckles from Buttonmania.


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Buckles from Carol’s collection.

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Thanks to LOis.

Thanks to Lois.

From Buttonmania’s historical web page.

See also the page of gorgeous Beauclaire advertising and also posts showing my latest finds.