General Plastics Ltd (Beauclaire)

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.

Sydney Morning Herald, 20th July 1919 page 14.

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.

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

Government Gazette of the State of NSW, 9th July 1920. Note that his name was sometimes spelt incorrectly with one R.

Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, 25th October 1921 page 8.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 30th August 1921 page 12.

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

The Australian Jewish Herald (Melbourne), 21st September 1922 page 21.











Herrman Co.

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 had 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 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. 

Sunday Times, 14th August 1910 p 24. This is the only photo of Otto I have found.

Government Gazette of NSW, 10th June 1927 page 2795.

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.

The Sun (Sydney) 10th September 1931 page 4.

These buttons were also on  cards marked ‘H’. Both designs were used on Beauclaire cards.



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.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 5th December 1929 page 2.

Daily Commercial News and Shipping List, 24th May 1933 page 4.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 22nd October 1937 page 14.

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.

Commonwealth Government Gazettes, 17 June 1948.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 25th October 1941 page 24. War time regulations affected the ability to employ needed staff.

Pacific Islands Monthly 18th Sept 1944 page 38. 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 Tribune (Sydney), 9th August 1945 page 1.

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 page 6. The chairman is Arthur George Randolph Griffiths (1898-1952), a brother -in-law of the Rheubens.

The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 11th August 1946 page 16.

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

The Herald (Melbourne) 31st July 1946 page 10.  114-117 Flinders Street. General Plastics had their Melbourne warehouse here around 1948-1955.

Sydney Morning Herald, 27th November 1948 page 27.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 29th September 1950 page 6. Import restrictions were imposed, to the benefit of General Plastics.

Smith’s Weekly (Sydney), 26th August 1950 page 5.

The Australian Women’s Weekly, 28th October 1950 page 22.

The Sun (Sydney) 7th August 1951 page 15.














In the November 1950 Sydney telephone directory, the trade 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 new 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 by the time it had become General Plastics Ltd in 1946 he was the chairman and managing director. Perhaps his rheumatic heart disease caught up with him in 1952 when he suddenly died. 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.

Mr George Montgomery Stafford in 1953.

Australian Women’s Weekly, 2nd June 1945 page 24. Maurice at his marriage to Janice Rose.










The Sun (Sydney), 9th September 1953 page 35. Maurice is now the General Manager. The pearl shell business would soon fail.

Construction (Sydney), 17th March 1954 page 2. Note the card of Beauclaire buttons in his hands.

Mr Peebles: The Australian Women’s Weekly 28th July 1934, page 18.

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 items.

The Argus, 19th July 1956 page 12. Unfortunately, despite his efforts, the company’s profits would slide over the following years.

They continued to supply the military until 1959. In 1963 Beutron Australia Limited bought out the firm.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 15th June 1963 page 8.


Branding on cards

The brand name of Beauclaire came into use for their buttons and buckles late in 1950.  As composition or plastic buttons were being produced from the 1930s, some other branding must have previously been used. I have a few cards with no branding, but marked “made in Australia’. They may have been made by Herrman & Co, or O.C. Rheuben, or General Plastics, but this cannot be confirmed.  See the Mystery Buttons page for their images.

To identify brands as belonging to this company, I have matched the buttons appearing on the cards with those on GP/Beauclaire branded cards.

“Vine-leaf” Borders

On various cards of buttons, a border of ‘vine-leaves’ was used, including some that carried buttons later found on GP/Beauclaire cards, including the ‘Excusive’ line below. If you find cards with these borders, you can be confident that they were Australian made by General Plastics Ltd or its predecessors. The cards are variously labelled  “Fashion H buttons”, “plastic buttons”, “Exclusive”, “the Coquette”, and “Boil-proof”. They come in small, large and perforated varieties.

For the ‘Exclusive’ buttons, see further done this page.

Scored/perforated to allow for the cards to be separated.


Possible partial Coquette card due to the gold border.

These cards are headed BOIL PROOF, and have ‘MADE IN AUSTRALIA’ on the bottom.

Plastic Buttons

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.

The card below has ‘A GP Product’ on the bottom of the card.

Examples found on these cards ( and other vine-leaf cards) are shown below:



The Sun (Sydney) 12th June 1949 page 39. In the illustration, a vine-leaf bordered card can be seen under the top Beutron card.


Exclusive Buttons

This brand uses the vine leaf border on the larger cards. Some buttons match directly with General Plastics buttons, and some indirectly. Some are overprinted “boil proof”.

The yellow button: a border of overlapping leaves. This button is also found on a “Modern MIss” card. I have placed buttons on the left card to show two sizes, and also two differing backs. Perhaps the button were made at different factories, or at different eras.






This design is also found on Beauclaire cards.











Latest Fashion

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  GP indirectly, in that the design for a button seen in advertising is a match for one found on Coronet cards ( a direct match).

The yellow starfish are falling apart. I would love a replacement.

The card on the right is a hybrid: ‘Fashionable Buttons’ with the fancy edges of ‘Latest Fashion’ cards (see below).


Fashion Buttons

These cards have fancy cut edges, which surely must have been more expensive to produce.

Advertising showing the cards below  date from 1942 – 1946.

The Daily News (Perth), 14th Jan 1942 page 5.

The Daily News (Perth), 23 Sep 1943 page 6.

The Sun (Sydney), 14th February 1946 page 13. The card on the left shows a button design also seen on Coronet cards: see below.


Hollywood/American Styled

The Hollwood Style may be an earlier version of the artwork for American Styled.

This brand matches indirectly with General Plastics, 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 had 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.

An oddity: Below: The same  button as above on an ‘Exclusive’ card.


Untitled Lady

Another, possibly later, branding was ‘Modern Miss’. Perhaps this lady, or the one on the American Style cards, was the original ‘Modern Miss’?

Detail of the buttons on this card. it was also sold on Beauclaire cards.

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. Some of the blue cards are over-stamped with ‘Boil Proof’.

Below are examples from partial ‘Modern Miss’ cards.

These buttons from Modern Miss cards are all found on Beauclaire cards.

This button is a match to one on an ‘Exclusive’ card above.

‘Modern Miss Accessories’: a different card.



Ryders were clothing manufacturers c.1951. These appear on modified Beauclaire cards.


Beauclaire: 1950-1958

This  link leads to pictures in the MAAS  collection, of buttons donated to the museum in February 1950 by General Plastics:

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.

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.

These medium sized cards may have been specific to these pearl-like beads.

This advertising from The Sunday Herald (Sydney), 16th August 1953 page 16, shows how to use the beads to make a “jewelled stole”. It required “about 100 ball pearl buttons” to decorate the stole, costing about £1.

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

General Plastics used the technique of mounting a button within a (?) lucite mount to make a new button. There are multiple examples of this kind of button from circa 1950.

Examples of buttons found on large card (or remnants thgereof) are shown below:


The design directly above was sold on a Roger Berry branded card, indicating that General Plastics supplied at least some of this distributor’s stock.

The 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.

Weekly Times (Melbourne), 26th April 1950 page 37.


Small cards

Cursive script, blank oval at the bottom, backs blank.

A curiosity: A small card used as a sample card for 2 variation of crown buttons.


“A GP Product” in the oval, blank backs.

“Guaranteed Boil Proof”, printed backs.

Circa 1953 onwards

The artwork changes. The white oval on the background is replaced with a “free-hand loop”. The name Beauclaire is no longer cursive, but written as separated letters.

Larger cards

There were 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. There were also had cards printed ‘Present(ing) the Precious Metal Look’ and ‘Take a button, make a fashion.’ Further, there were large (and small) cards with Beaclaire encircled by a loop, and ‘A GP Product within a ribbon at the bottom.

“Presenting From New York”

This printing is on the back of the “Presenting …” cards. This dates them to pre 1954.

Glass in metal base.


“Presenting From Paris”


“The Precious Metal Look”


“Take a button, make a fashion”


Large cards with the ‘ribbon’ containing ‘A GP Product’ a the bottom.

Small cards

A ribbon containing with ‘A G.P. PRODUCT’ is placed at the bottom of all the smaller cards.

Pink/no prices.

“Boilproof” top of card

Price printed/printing on back of card changes








Moonglow: 1954-55.

Around 1954 the printing on the front of the cards was changed. They now proudly stated that the buttons  were “Approved by the Federal Council of Dry Cleaners of Australia”.

Pink/no prices.


The button style shown in green appears on foreign cards, so probably would have been made under licence.

Blue/no prices/ “boil proof”.

Prices printed. 1’3 up to 1’9.

Superglow: 1955-57

As well as the smaller cards, there were larger examples perforated into pieces so that they could be sold in smaller quantities. Some were all pink, some beige with a green border. Why so many card variations?

These were also sold on “tiny Tots” cards.

Some examples of buttons found on these pink cards are shown below.

These non-matching buttons have been placed together to give an idea of the original larger card.

Large cards coloured cream/grey/ orange and marked ‘Beauclaire The Budget Button. Dryclean Perfectly.’ may have replaced the large pale blue cards in the mid 1950s. There was a version that had “Fashionably yours. Beauclaire” printed across each third of the cards, and some that didn’t. A third variation on the large cream/grey/orange cards was printed  diagonally with “boilproof”.

Examples found on these cards are shown below.



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.


Tiny Tots

See the Children’s page:


Towards Leda Branding

General Plastics started producing Leda buttons at the end of 1957 (The name Leda had been trademarked in September 1957).  There was a gradual changing from the styling and branding. First the styling of the Beauclaire cards was changed to be similar to the new Leda examples, then  during 1959-9 the name ‘Leda-Beauclaire’, or ‘Leda by Beauclaire’ was used. After that the name Beauclaire disappeared, although Leda buttons continued to be sold until the late 1960s.

The ‘Superglow’ buttons below are very much like Beutron’s Opal-Glo, and obviously in direct competition.

A re-order card showing the transition to Leda branding.


Excerpts from Tariff Report 1958


1963: General Plastics is taken over.

In 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.

The Australian Jewish Times (Sydney), 14th June 1963 page 4.
















The Bulletin, 30th May 1964. A 1964 article about F. W. Williams Holdings Limited .



The first mention of “Beauclaire” in advertising is for buckles at 7½ and 10½ pence each during August 1951. They were probably initially mounted on the square cards, with similar graphics to the early 1950s cards of buttons, then later on  mounted onto the standard sized  buttons cards, large and small.

These blue squares are the earliest design, c.1950.

The pink and blue cards with the ‘ribbon’ at the bottom date from c.1953

Partial large cards          

I’m not sure how pastel plastic buckles with diamantes qualify as “the precious metal look?”

Examples of Beauclaire buckles:







Storage boxes







These boxes show that Beauclaire (i.e. General Plastics) was involved in the manufacturing and/or marketing of both Leda and Delphi buttons.








Sample cards