Plastic Passion


Have you guessed that Kuladot loves a bit of vintage plastic? A quick glance at our Instagram page and our websites probably gave you that impression… and you’re right! If you too have a passion for preloved plastic, or just want to know why we’re so mad about it, then read on for some personal insights and the odd tip or two.

Plastics and the Environment

Of course, plastics play a big part in the decline of our beautiful Earth (especially when it comes to single use plastics and non-recyclable forms). It would be wrong to lavish praise on this material without acknowledging that producing or buying plastic pieces should be done responsibly. Apart from giving vintage plastic a longer life away from landfill or (in the best cases) recycling, Kuladot also takes specific steps to be kind to our planet. Do please check out our blog (coming soon) on how Kuladot manages environmental issues and also head over to the Museum of Design in Plastics (MoDiP) website (Ref 1) for ideas on how plastics can be used in sustainable and environmentally friendly ways. (Actually, if you get the chance to actually visit MoDiP, in Bournemouth, then do so. It’s brilliant!)

Now, before going headlong into the aesthetic appeal of vintage plastic stuff, it might be fun to explore what plastic is.

The Science Behind It (You are well within your rights to skip this section if you wish.)

I’m not a scientist and I have to admit that researching for this little section sent my head into a mad spin - as you’ll see in a bit - but I’ve managed to create a brief description gleaned from all the sources listed at the bottom of this blog. (If there’s a scientist out there reading this and thinking ‘misinformation madness!’ do let me know – I live to learn.)

So - as I understand it - there are many forms that plastics can take but they’re all long chain polymers. That is, they’re all chains of carbon and other atoms in different combinations that determine the properties of each type of plastic.

Takeaway quote “all plastics are polymers but not all polymers are plastic” (Ref 2)

A nice simple definition for plastic is one givenby the Science Museum who state that:

“Plastic is a loose term for describing materials that can be formed and moulded under heat and pressure.” (Ref 3)

So that’s the definition sorted, now let’s group those plastics! MoDiP (Ref 4) classifies plastics into one of 3 types:

Natural - Semi-synthetic Synthetic.

They give materials such as amber, rubber and tortoiseshell as examples of natural plastics - those which can be moulded in their original, natural form. Semi-synthetic plastics, such as casein, cellulose and rubber, are chemically altered natural materials, whereas laboratory made plastics, such as the many poly-plastics, are classed as synthetics. Added to those are composite plastics which are those which have been mixed with fibres of another material such as glass.

Yay – we’ve grouped plastics!
But wait…
there’s more.

We can also group plastics in terms of their properties.

Charlotte and Peter Fiell, in their dreamy book ‘Plastic Dreams’ (Ref 5), define three groups:

Thermo-plastics, such as polypropylene, which can be repeatedly heated and remoulded (yay in terms of recycling, I think)

Thermosets, such as melamine and bakelite, which undergo permanent chemical changes when heated so cannot be re-moulded and…

Elastomers (can be thermoplastics OR thermosets by the way) which spring back to their original shape after being subjected to distortion under pressure – they give the examples of natural and silicone rubbers.

OK, we’ve had some basics on what plastic is (or might be if I got any of it right) - now let’s consider some history.

A Wee Bit of History

The Science Museum website article ‘The Age of Plastic: From Parkesine to pollution’(Ref 6) highlights how natural plastics, such as horn, tortoiseshell, amber, rubber and shellac have been worked with since antiquity. They point out, for example, how animal horns, malleable when heated were used for a range of products from medallions to combs and cutlery.

Of course, they then go on to describe how the impending extinction of animals such as elephants and turtles because of the demand for their ‘natural plastics’ led inventors to tackle this environmental (and economic) problem. They share with us how inventor Alexander Parkes created the first semi-synthetic plastic from cotton fibres, nitric and sulphuric acids and vegetable oil in 1862. He called it Parkesine and it was used as a substitute for ivory and tortoiseshell.

Further research though (Ref 7) tells us that the first semi-synthetic plastic material was polystyrene, derived by distillation of a vegetable resin in 1839 (Is that the same thing then?).


I read that the first true plastic is ‘vulcanised rubber’ invented by Charles Goodyear in the same year (Ref 8)


Maybe the invention really belonged to Thomas Hancock and his masticator as explored in the book Fantastic Plastic by Susan Mossman (Reference 9)

AARGH! Life was so much easier when I thought that Bakelite was the first plastic.

Indeed, as pointed out in Sylvia Katz’ book, Classic Plastics (Ref 10), in 1907 Belgian born chemist, Leo Baekeland, succeeded in converting phenol formaldehyde into the phenolic resin known as Bakelite – the first fully synthetic plastic.

Yay! I was right (to an extent).

Wait a minute… I just read somewhere that Celluloid was the first synthetic plastic – isn’t (semi-synthetic) Parkesine a celluloid?

My head is hurting. So, let’s keep it simple and just talk about where Kuladot’s plastic obsession began. (Good idea, I hear some of you shout.)

EDIT – Can’t believe I’m 5 minutes away from publishing this and I’ve just found the best guide going! Check out the Plastics Historical Society website (Ref 11) for a much clearer guide to the science and history of plastic.

The History of Kuladot’s Obsession (This is much easier to write ‘cos it’s about us).


My own passion for old plastic started with Bakelite, back in the 80s, when I developed a long-lasting crush on art deco. My identification of Bakelite back then meant that I rubbed it to make it warm and, if it gave off that tell-tale smell, I’d found vintage, plastic treasure. (The Bakelite treasure was even better if it had mottled colours such as red and green rather than the usual brown). If you’ve never rubbed and sniffed a bit of Bakelite, and you have some handy, then feel free to take a break and go and experience that. If you don’t notice that musty, chemical scent of formaldehyde it might not be Bakelite (though a quick internet search will give you other tests you can try).

Anyway, my little collection grew to include lidded pots, razors, picture frames and (because no bakelite collection would be complete without one) a darning mushroom* or two. Alright, so back then it took me weeks to work out what on earth this funny mushroom shaped thing was. No quick Google image search back then! When I also found that the top came off to reveal a little storage space for needles and pins, my life seemed complete. (OK maybe a little exaggeration.)

Meeting new colours

In the mid 80s we had a ‘vintage’ stall at Alfie’s Antique Market. There we encountered, for the first time, the true beauty of pretty coloured plastics via the lovely Helena and Ted (where are they now?). Their ultra-cool unit featured an array of pastel plastic delights from the 1920s through to the 50s. When I first started writing this blog, I swear I could have named the type of plastic those gorgeous things were made from but now, after trying to educate myself I’m way too scared. Seems a lot of dealers are confused – I see so many vintage items, no matter their colour, density, properties, etc. sold as ‘Bakelite’ when they could easily be something else. Ted and Helena used to call some of their items celluloid or resin if I remember rightly. I’m going to play it safe and say that they sold really cool ‘early plastic’.

(By the way, MoDiP’s fabulous identifying plastics toolkit can help you sort your Caseins from your Polyesters.)

Anyway, they sold trays, toast racks, picture frames, powder puff pots and an eye watering array of napkin rings. The napkin rings were available in all sorts of pinks, lemons and mint greens plus of course the amber or butterscotch coloured Scottie dog. The only thing close in our unit at the time, were some pastel blue hexagonal napkin rings which had belonged to my nan – faded, scratched and chipped. That’s when I realised that we had a way to go and oh, how we hankered after the stock offered by Ted and Helena. We formally thank them for sending us into the heady world of colourful plastic.     


At this time, we also had a thing for 50s atomic – so whenever a plastic scooby-doo decorated wire wall vase, bin or similar was found at a remarkable price, it would have pride of place in our ‘50s’ spare room back in Hackney, along with an array of wire pieces with plastic bobbles, such as magazine racks, umbrella stands and the fabulous palette plant pot holder.



Another plastic obsession I developed was with art toys. After more than just a fling with vintage robots (metal and plastic) during the 80s and 90s, I discovered vinyl figures.

It was an exciting time; words like Kidrobot, Dunny, Monskey and  Bearz were music to my ears. Birthdays and Christmases, for a number of years, rewarded me with such delights as Mondo, Labbit and, later in the craze, a Darth Tater and friends. The robots were ousted from the sitting room display cabinet and plastic toys claimed the space. The coffee table book of the time was ‘I am Plastic’ over which I still drool (I’ve found out that there’s an ‘I am Plastic Too’ out – but will resist). We will be selling off a few bits from the collection on by the way – when (indeed if!) we can reach the crates that they’re safely stored away in.

What further plastic toy designer delights are out there? Well, although wooden toys were very much the thing back in the 90s for our own children (think Brio and Plan), we’d also purchased an Ambi toy or two - drawn to the beautiful, sleek forms from the designer mind of Patrick Rylands. More recently, we found a Mothercare whale at a car boot sale, which will stay on our shelf for a while, along with the Barbie dining set by Mary Quant. 

During the early 2000s, we had a mail order company called…wait for it… Kula. The catalogue was rammed with toys and gadgets but one of our most precious items of stock was the Kaleidoscope House by Bozart Toys. This doll house, designed by Laurie Simmons in 2001, is a modernist architectural beauty of connecting and sliding transparent coloured plastic panels. It came with designer furniture from the likes of Ron Arad, Karim Rashid and others.


It was during the early 2000s that we came to own our first (life-sized) piece of postmodern plastic designer furniture. Well, that’s not strictly true. In the early 90s we’d treated ourselves to some red plastic IKEA chairs for the garden. We now know the design to be Niels Gammelgaard’s  Lips chair and yes I hate myself for dumping them when we moved house.

But sweet redemption for myself some years later at the local dump. For it is there that I spotted a set of dining chairs which just seemed different. That was back in the day when you could just take stuff from the dump (no ‘vintage’ shop in the corner like now!) and Ash more than raised an eyebrow when I insisted on filling up the car that we’d just emptied. Having ‘words’ was all worth it though when a peek underneath at home revealed them to be…

Phillipe Starck
Dr Glob chairs.
Original 1980s ones.
A set of 6.
In black.
For us to take.
For free!

Our fiberglass (ok, reinforced plastic!) Arkana mushroom dining set finally gave up the ghost and couldn’t be patched up anymore so the Starck chairs were enjoyed in the kitchen for many years, until we returned to space-age with a Tulip set.

We haven’t abandoned Dr Glob though. That combination of thin metal curves with chunky, sharp edged plastic and hint of a Memphis ‘wave’ still pleases the eye, but in pastel pink and blue this time. Along with a preloved Starck Top Top table they help to complete our little postmodern corner of the office.

Bright, bright, bright

The other side of our office is very much a white or bright plastic display with a modernist-space age feel. Some things are new and some are sought after finds from charity shops and the like. This relationship with modernist and space age plastic started with Ash who’d developed an obsession with it in the early days of Kuladot. Crayonne (the range introduced by Habitat in the 70s) was high on the list of desirables, along with Karlsson clocks, Joe Columbo Boby trolleys, Stoppino magazine racks (indeed, anything from Kartell) and, most desired, the Braun Domino lighter designed by Dieter Rams.

He got 2 for Christmas a while back by the way and neither of them work (which doesn’t matter – they came in the original boxes!).

And so the world of iconic plastics, from across the globe, was on our doorstep. From German Drumbo (yes word has it that it wasn’t Colani but Bernd Diefenbach who designed our beloved elephant), Scandanavian Stig’s nutcracker and Holland’s Funky Flair to Italy’s cool designers of plastic, far too many to mention.

We live and learn

Talking of Italian plastic, one of my favourite parts of this job is doing the research. When I find out that the piece I had an ‘inkling’ about is indeed something special, it feels good. You know that if you’re a vintage hunter. I felt like this about my first piece of 1970s clear Lucite Guzzini: A pen pot/letter tray. I came across it in a charity shop years ago and although I didn’t really know what it was, I just had to get it. Ash knew straight away that it was Guzzini. It was in lovely condition. Fast forward to the summer of 2022 and I was doing my stint at a local vintage centre where we had a small unit. Sitting at the till, I noticed the pen pot. Covered in lumps of almost solid blu-tac, stickers, paperclips stuck to the insides with leaked gluey ink and rammed with scissors, biros, sharpies and the odd screwdriver, it seemed to be calling to me..

‘I’m Guzzini. I’m vintage designer plastic’

I chatted with the pot’s owner who, with an extensive knowledge of antiques but no interest in 70s plastic, thought I was mad when I suggested that this dirty old thing was probably worth a bit. I showed her the Google results and we agreed that I’d do what I needed to do to get it sold and we’d split the profit.

I was excited. Not because there was some money to be made, but because I had the chance to bring an Italian vintage beauty back to life. As soon as I got it home, I started cleaning. Bubbles, cloths, bottle brushes and lots of hot water but there was one narrow pen slot that WOULD NOT give up its inky residue. Of course, I avoided ‘scouring’ and turned instead to the modern-day miracle, the ‘magic sponge’. I squeezed a bit of sponge into the slot and rotated it forcefully with a paintbrush handle. Nope. So - to the internet and search ‘how to remove ink from plastic’. The first answer that popped up said rubbing alcohol. I was in luck as my son had recently bought a job lot of it and thought I might like a bottle (truly). I carefully poured the liquid into the inky well and went to sit in the sunshine with a well-deserved glass of something.

The next morning I came down to an Italian vintage beauty crazed with cracks. Too late, I researched properly about the TYPE of plastics alcohol could be used on – acrylic (of which lucite is a type) wasn’t one of them. Indeed, the internet then decided to tell me that…

Alcohol can cause cracks and microfractures in the surface of the acrylic. (Ref 11)

A red face joined me in handing back a clean but now cracked piece of vintage Guzzini. Its owner was brilliant though. “Fine, I’ve got my pot back!” she exclaimed, as she took pens and all sorts from an old repurposed mug and returned them to their rightful home.

There have been more positive plastic learning experiences. For instance, I discovered how to look for and read the little date markings on some plastic items (thank you again Dr Glob for this revelation). We’ve also learnt how to whiten vintage yellowed plastic with hydrogen peroxide (yep, hair bleach), cling film and sunshine. And, a final example: What’s the best stuff to remove that horrible sticky residue that can occur on soft coated plastics (such as happened to these gorgeous Karim Rashid designer lighters)?

wait for it…
rubbing alcohol!

 PS The lighters will be available for sale at Kings Cross Classic Car Boot Sale on Saturday April 15th. Come and meet us in person!

References (website addresses and links were correct at time of publication)

*Picture of darning mushrooms credit and thanks to

*Science Lab image credit and thanks to Hans Reniers on

  1. Museum of Design in Plastics Website Plastics and the Environment


  1. RSP Website Blog Plastic Molding October 2019


  1. The Science Museum Website The Age of Plastic: from Parkesine to Pollution,substitute%20for%20ivory%20or%20tortoiseshell.


  1. Museum of Design in Plastics Website About Plastic – Plastics Materials


  1. Fiell, Charlotte and Peter. Plastic Dreams. 2009 Fiell Publishing. p9


  1. The Science Museum Website The Age of Plastic: from Parkesine to Pollution,substitute%20for%20ivory%20or%20tortoiseshell.
  2. Tekcnoplast Website,as%20the%20collars%20of%20shirts


  1. Hufnagle, F. Plastics + Design. 1997 Arnoldsche Art Publishers. p14


  1. Mossman, S. Fantastic Plastic Product Design and Consumer Culture. 2008 Black Dog Publishing. p57


  1. Katz, S. Classic Plastics From Bakelite to High-Tech. 1984 Thames and Hudson. p10


  1. TAP Plastics Article – How to Clean Plexiglass







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