Lucite Powder Compacts History & Heritage
This post will answer these questions:
1. What is Lucite?
2. What is the difference between Lucite, Plexiglas & Perspex?
3. Where can I find Lucite accessories?
4. How are reverse carved Lucite decorations made?
5. When was Lucite invented and who invented it?
What is Lucite?
Lucite is often used as a lightweight or shatter-resistant alternative to glass. It is not technically a type of glass, the substance has also been referred to as acrylic glass. Plexiglas, Lucite & Perspex are registered brand names for what is known as acrylic glass. The Kigu archive regularly refers to vanities having been fitted with a 'Perspex insert'.
The Kigu 'Karette' was described by the makers as - ' 2 1/2" Square "Karette" compact with "remote control" inner lid opening. Gilt E.T. (engine turned) engraved design.' The all gilt interior features an automatic opening lid. A push button which is the distinguishing feature of the 'Karette' opens the powder well lid. The 'Karette' is mentioned in the 1960 Kigu catalogue.
This 1940s Lucite and abalone gilt lacquered vanity is suitable for loose face powder or as a handbag mirror. Lucite is a thermoplastic which was used to adorn luxury accessories as well as many other practical applications. It is a highly durable material and so the lid of this vanity is still absolutely fabulous, just like the day it was made. Set atop are four tiny squares of iridescent abalone which are surrounded by black enamel and rhinestone details. Measures 7.2 cm x 4.5 cm and weighs 69.5 grams.
1950s Lucite 'Bouquet' Novelty Powder Compact
This 1950s Kigu 'Bouquet' novelty basket loose powder compact features a complex engine turned design which resembles the pattern seen on a wicker basket. Around the lid and base the 'gilt jeweller's finish' is decorated with a delightful scalloped design. The compact has a 'graceful handle', which is functional. The lid has a Lucite dome which protects the most adorable reverse carved pale pink and pearl river grey Lucite floral display. What a gorgeous colour combination!
In the 1940s & 1950s the major manufacturers of vanities saw the appeal of Lucite and made exquisite accessories to boost their sales. Even after more than half a century these adorable Lucite accessories retain their pleasing appearance and vibrant colours.
Lucite is such a versatile material that it was a natural choice to adorn the most expensive vanities, such as the novelty powder compacts. Compacts in the shape of baskets, handbags and suitcases were fitted with Lucite flowers, lucky shamrocks and eye-catching motifs.
A 1950s Mascot branded novelty powder compact in the shape of a handbag. Under a Lucite dome are seven Lucite shamrocks. This number is considered lucky in many cultures & it has been associated with good fortune since the time of Ancient Greece. The shamrocks are set atop glittering golden foil. The Lucite dome is framed with gilded brass. The handle is pretty, ornate & functional.
Functional Handle Serves As The Catch
On tilting the handle backwards slightly the lid opens to reveal the interior case. The mirror bezel is marked " MADE IN GREAT BRITAIN." The inner lid is very is signed " Mascot ASB." Measures almost 3" X 2 1/2" & weighs 103.8 grams.
How are reverse carved Lucite decorations made?
As well as the major manufacturers of accessories, some artisans made Lucite adornments at home or in their workshops. Here is an article written and illustrated by Harry A. Zoback. Mr. Zoback gives really helpful instructions about carving Lucite. Scroll down to read the enlarged text.
March - April 1947 THE HOME CRAFTSMAN
Harry A. Zoback's Article
Who invented Lucite?
Lucite acrylic was invented by the Dupont Corporation in 1931. When not coloured it is a clear material with high transparency. Lucite is a high quality product which will retain its clear appearance even when subjected to UV rays. It is expensive to produce and highly versatile. This superior quality acrylic can be embedded with many beautiful colours and carved into a wide variety of shapes. Hence its popularity with manufacturers of accessories.
The name Perspex derives from the Latin “to see through”. In the early 1930s Rowland Hill and John Crawford discovered an acrylic material whilst working for Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in England. On November 16th, 1934 the name Perspex was registered.
By 1936 ICI Acrylics (now known as Lucite International) was producing commercially viable Perspex safety glass .
By the 1940s ICI had a fully operational UK production site.
During the events of World War II acrylic glass was used for submarine periscopes, windshields, canopies, and gun turrets for airplanes.
Dr Otto Rohm (14 March 1876 - 17 September 1939) was a remarkable man. After the completion of his studies as a pharmacy assistant he attended the Munich & Tubingen universities. In 1901 he graduated from Tubingen as a pharmacist. Rohm was a prolific inventor with over seventy successful patent applications which name him as either the inventor or co-inventor. By 1907 he founded the firm Rohm & Haas with the businessman Otto Haas. This was such a successful venture that within two years it has expanded to America. In 1909 the first overseas subsidiary was established in Philadelphia.
After World War I, the Rohm & Haas company began to invest heavily into the research of plastics. Explosions often occurred and at times it seemed that the research would yield very little financial reward, especially when large competitors, such as I.G. Farbenindustrie AG were also investing large sums of money searching for viable and durable alternatives to glass. By the middle of the 1910s larger premises were needed by Rohm & Haas and they relocated to Darmstadt. Darmstadt is still a location famous for the production of Plexiglas.
In 1918 Walter Bauer joined Rohm & Haas as head of the laboratory. His role in the development of the safety glass, Luglas was crucial, as was his work on Plexiglas.
By 1920 experiments were taking place to find methods to produce synthetic rubber. Although the research team failed to make synthetic rubber they did develop Luglas. By 1928 the firm had entered into the acrylics business. Then Rohm and his team achieved a tremendous breakthrough - the chemists discovered that polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA) was a harder, transparent material than the previously researched acrylates. As with many scientific discoveries a happy accident helped them with their research……..a sample of the methyl methacrylate (MMA) monomer was stored in a bottle which was placed by a window. The polymerization reaction was triggered as daylight hit the bottle. This reaction destroyed the bottle and left behind a block made of polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). After many hours of work the scientists were able to recreate this transformation in a controlled manner. The Rohm & Haas Plexiglas was marketed as 'unbreakable glass'. In 1933 Otto Rohm decided to patent and register the brand name Plexiglas. The registered trade name Plexiglas® and the generic term plexiglass sometime cause confusion. Plexiglas® can only be manufactured using a more expensive method (cell cast), which results in tougher material which is more resistant to scratches. Cell cast acrylic sheets are said to have less flaws, such as specks.
On his death in 1939 his company, which was then known as, Rohm GmbH employed approximately 1800 people. The annual turnover exceeded 22 million reichsmark. As a tribute to his achievements several streets / public places were named after him in Darmstadt & Weiterstadt.