Table of Contents
Herrman & Hatfield
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.
A half share in a button factory was advertised in Sydney in 1919. This was probably Herrman looking for partners. He was probably only the second person in Australia, after Frederick Dalton in 1917, to manufacture plastic buttons.
Around February 1920 he was a button manufacturer along with partners Albert Victor Hatfield and Hans Hagen. Hagen left the partnership soon after. From 1920 to 1922 the ‘Herrman, Hatfield and Company’ advertised as button and button mould manufacturers and metal pressers.
Around September, 1922 Hatfield retired. Herrman continued the business with his wife as the Herrman Company, in the same location (Oxford & Victoria Streets, Darlinghurst).
By 1926 they had moved to 2 Hill Street, Darlinghurst, into 2 of the 4 stories of a purpose built ‘Herrman Building’.
The business was described as metal stamping and electroplating. He sold the concern to two of his brothers-in-law, Otto Clyde and Percy Edmund Rheuben, in May 1927.
The Great Depression caused a ‘National Emergency’ to be declared in 1929. To try to protect local industry, import tariffs were raised. In 1930 further taxes were imposed on ‘luxury items’, which included buttons. A series of inquires into altering tariffs started in August that year. In September they considered buttons, buckles, claps and slides. O. C. Rheuben, of the Herrman Company, claimed the change proposed would cover £150,000 of the £500,00 worth of these articles being imported in 1930 duty free. He claimed that in consequence he could increase his employees up from 22 part time, to 120 workers. The changes to the relevant tariffs were approved. A year later the firm’s output had increased by 400%, and a German engineer was coming out to oversee the installation of new machinery. The company was described in 1931 as makers of galalith (a.k.a casein) buttons.
O. C. Rheuben & Co. Pty. Ltd.
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.
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 unlikely that 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.
General Plastics Pty. Ltd.
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, then company was absorbed into G. Herring Pty. Ltd.
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.
Smith’s Weekly, 26th August 1950 page 5.
This link leads to pictures in the MAAS collection, of buttons donated to the museum in February 1950 by General Plastics: https://ma.as/241720
In the November 1950 Sydney telephone directory, the name ‘Beauclaire’ was used for the company’s 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 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).
Arthur George “Randolph” Griffiths
Managing Director General Plastic 1946-1952.
Randolph was born in Suva in 1898. His grandfather had started a Fijian newspaper, which was a challenge to distribute to remote islands by boat in the 1860s! By 1912 his parents had moved the family to Sydney. Randolph enlisted in WW1 and served for 3 years, but was deemed unfit for active service as he had a history of rheumatic heart disease. He was at that time working for the Perdriau Rubber Corporation (later Dunlop-Perdriau Ltd) and by 1935 had become the sales manager. He resigned to work on his own business, possibly Grifko Auto Accessories Ltd, which he started in 1924 but had folded by 1936.
In 1920 his parents moved to California, which was perhaps a reason he travelled to America often, enabling him to research plastics and button designs. In 1921 he married Florence Rheuben, sister of Otto and Percy who had bought the pioneering Herrman Company from yet another brother in-law, Berthold Herrman. I wonder if this was a cause for concern, as he was Anglican, and they Jewish. None-the-less, he acted as the honorary treasurer of the Emanuel Temple. He became vice-president of the Bondi Life Saving Club where he would save 4 lives. In 1932 was elected to the local council. He enlisted again during WW2, reaching the rank of Major. At some stage he joined the family firm of O. C. Rheuben & Company, as when it became General Plastics in 1946 he was the chairman and managing director. Perhaps his rheumatic heart disease caught up with him in 1952. He was remembered for his work in the Welfare Guardian Society, the Bondi Lifesaving Club, and for his ongoing concern for Fijian natives living in New Zealand.
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 Sydney Morning Herald had a ‘Plastics Supplement ‘ on 20th August 1954. C.S.R. Here the company is advertising the cellulose acetate it produced for the Beauclaire buttons and other things.
Branding on cards
The brand name of Beauclaire came into use for their buttons and buckles by late 1950. As composition or plastic buttons were being produced from the 1930s, some other branding must have previously been used. During the 1940s cards marked “A GP product” appeared, labelled simply as ‘plastic buttons’ and ‘Boil Proof buttons’, or not branded at all.
To identify brands as belonging to this company, I have matched the buttons appearing on the cards with those on GP/Beauclaire branded cards directly or indirectly.
Vine leaf Borders
On some cards, a border of vine-leaves was used, including some that carried buttons later found on GP/Beauclaire cards, including the ‘Excusive’ line below.
These cards are headed BOIL PROOF, and have ‘MADE IN AUSTRALIA’ on the bottom.
These larger cards (14×21 cm) are labelled ‘plastic buttons, iron proof, boil proof’. All but the first example have the same vine-leaf border as the examples above. Some have ‘A GP Product’ on the bottom of the card.
This brand uses the vine leaf border. Some buttons match directly with GP buttons, and some indirectly, e.g. the design for the yellow button below is also found on ‘Modern Miss’, a direct match to GP. A white button (below) also matches directly with a Beauclaire design.
Latest Fashion/Fashion Buttons
Both ‘Latest Fashion’ and ‘Fashion Buttons’ used a silver and red palette with similar thick and thin stripes. The printing is not consistent, e.g. the words “Fashionable Buttons” can be printed in red or silver.
This brand matches indirectly, in that the design for a button seen in advertising is a match for one found on Coronet cards, a direct match.
The illustrations below are from advertising dated between 1942 and 1946.
Immediately below are 4 variations of the same design.
This brand matches indirectly, in that the design for a button seen in advertising is a match for one found on Modern Miss cards, a direct match:
Until the restrictions of war time scarcity and rationing were lifted, designing and fashion stagnated. Then came, in reaction, Parisian glamour, as typified by Dior’s ‘New Look’ with exaggerated femininity and luxury. Alternatively, there was the ‘American Style’ with the emphasis on simple, casual and practical sportswear, including the pants that women had got used to during the war.
Possibly earlier versions of the artwork:
More common artwork:
Another, possibly later, branding was ‘Modern Miss’. Perhaps this lady, or the one on the American Style cards, was the original ‘Modern Miss’?
These styles match Beauclaire buttons multiple times, as well as with the other brandings already discussed. The cards come in pink and blue versions. The blue cards are over-stamped with ‘Boil Proof’ at some stage.
There were several different ‘Modern Miss’ graphics.
Ryders were clothing manufacturers c.1951. These appear on modified Beauclaire cards.
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.
Details from Tariff Report 1958
This report noted that “General Plastics Ltd produce buttons fabricated or stamped from casein, acrylics, polyester resins, metal (including metal button moulds) and buttons made by compression or injection moulding processes.”
When the brand ‘Beauclaire’ started in use, larger (12 x 18.5cm), medium (8 x 11 cm) and smaller (6x9cm) cards were available. At some stage during the 1950s, the larger cards were phased out. These are often found cut up into smaller portions for the customer. It would have been better marketing to make the customer buy whole cards of buttons than to be left with lots of odd scraps of cards.
I have hazarded a guess to the progression of card designs from older to newer based on details in the design and printing, as pictures of the cards did not appear in advertising until 1954.
Circa 1950 cards
These two cards below feature glazed ceramic-like buttons. Perhaps they were produced in Melbourne in 1950 by the unknown factory mentioned in this newspaper article.
Circa 1953 cards
The artwork changes. The oval is replaced with a loop and a banner with ‘A G.P. PRODUCT’ is at the bottom. The name beauclaire is no longer cursive, but written as separated letters. Large cards were sold as ‘Beauclaire presents from Paris/New York’. They included glass buttons, which would have been imported from West Germany, and plastic buttons that may or may not have been imported. The also had cards that ‘Present the Precious Metal Look’ and ‘Take a button, make a fashion.’
Most cards were blue, but there are also some pink or yellow examples.
And also green:
As well as the smaller cards, there were larger examples perforated into pieces so that they could be sold in smaller quantities.
Large cards marked ‘Beauclaire The Budget Button. Dryclean Perfectly.’ may have replaced the large pale blue cards in the mid 1950s:
For the smaller cards, there were buttons Moonglow (1954-1955) and then Superglow (1955-1957) lines:
In 1953-4 General Plastics ran a cross-promotion with Twinprufe wool. The buttons were coloured to match the wool. There was a particular card for this promotion.
General Plastics started producing Leda buttons at the end of 1957. They changed the styling of the Beauclaire cards to be similar to the Leda examples. The ‘Superglow’ buttons are very much like Beutron’s Opal-Glo, and obviously in direct competition.
Excerpts from Tariff Report 1958
The name Leda had been trademarked in December 1957. “Leda by Beauclaire” appeared in advertising in 1958-9. After that the name Beauclaire disappeared, although Leda buttons continued to be sold until the late 1960s. Around 1963 General Plastics was losing its battle to stay afloat. I wonder if the losses from the ill faited pearl button factory in Cairns had never been overcome.
See the Children’s page:
I think the pale blue (and sometimes pink) cards with the cream border of stripes and dots is the earliest style bearing the Beauclaire brand. The first mention of “Beauclaire” in advertising is for buckles at 7½ and 10½ pence each during August 1951.
These boxes show that Beauclaire (i.e. General Plastics) was involved in the manufacturing and/or marketing of both Leda and Delphi buttons.