Plastics – and a new world

identifier: 20140908 PLASTICS MAGAZINE


Plastics, May 1945 – vol. 2. no.5. Ziff-Davis, Chicago. 153 pages. Size: 217 x 283 mm. Colour and b/w illustrations.

Norman H. Finkelstein starts his 2008 book in the series Great Inventions with a quote from The Graduate (1967) ….

“I just want to say one word to you. Plastics.”

As with most movie quotes, that’s contracted from the original, which is here, if you have a minute (well, just 57 seconds) to watch that great scene.

By the ‘60s, it wasn’t clever for Benjamin’s adviser to be prescient about the potential for the ‘new’ materials. The huge future for plastics had been evident for many years, given a spur by the special difficulties of the 1940s. Finkelstein explains:

‘The way plastics successfully answered the material needs of World War II not only improved the material’s image and reception but demonstrated that plastic products could have unique qualities that made them even better than the natural materials they often replaced. Before the outbreak of the war, the plastics industry produced a limited array of products – radio cabinets, decorative buttons, toys, and other consumer items. A May 3, 1943, Life magazine article on plastics heralded “war makes gimcrack industry into a sober producer of prime materials.” Gimcrack means showy, worthless, and flimsy, a description not totally without merit for the pre-war period when plastics were not often respected by consumers and manufacturers. Wartime technology changed that impression and turned plastics into a respected family of unique materials.’ [Plastics: Norman H. Finkelstein. Marshall Cavendish 2008.]


Plastics magazine had many functions. Chiefly promoting – presumably to a wider industry rather than the general public – the idea of plastics as the underlying fabric of a new world, it was also a promotional platform for the various manufacturers established in, or just entering, the industry.


Some articles and advertisements reflect the thinking that these new materials required new design, while others seem to be peddling the same unambitious plastic domestic products – combs, trinket boxes – that had been around since the first days of celluloid in the late 19th century. But all the areas that these wonder materials were affecting are here: defence (mostly aircraft), kitchen utilities, photography, the young medium of television, clothes and shoes – though little evidence of toys, which would soon be a huge plastics market. The magazine seems to have lasted for only a few years.


The British Library seems to have no issues from the war years, only those from 1947-49. Worldcat shows no copies in any other library in Europe.  There are currently no copies of any original issues for sale on Abe. You might be able to read it online, or buy a black & white POD reprint – but where’s the fun in that? This copy is a rare collectable that’s also very useful reference material.

Condition: Wear to cover, with some cracking of the laminate at the edges, and new acid-free restoration to the top edge and bottom right corner of the front cover (both sides). Pages firm and bright, with very few marks. Now in a custom folder comprising boards covered in red buckram.

Price: £35.00 plus postage.









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