Playing with Plastics

//Playing with Plastics
Playing with Plastics 2015-07-17T10:17:20+00:00

Playing with Plastic

Carolyn Clark

Games have been played from very early times.  Made of bone, wood, ivory, tin, metal, stone – plastic brought a whole spectrum of colour and new possibilities to the scene.  For plastic fans, the enjoyment of the game itself is doubled by the tactile quality and colour of good quality plastic pieces.

Bakelite puzzle, made for Austin of Longbridge by Resinoid & Mica, also based there

The game I have found with the biggest variation of early plastics and plastic permutations is dominoes. 

  • Plain, dark bakelite, sometimes advertising cigarettes
  • Colourful phenolic in reds, white (usually faded to yellow) and butterscotch.  If you’re lucky, two tone pieces.
  • Acrylic and Perspex in all the colours – pastels (often faded to white),  black, reds and greens.  In particular, miniature sets is their own little cases or boxes.  One box I have is made of acrylic itself, with miniature dominoes inside.  The lid slides out and, when turned over, becomes a tiny cribbage board.
  • Celluloid: I feel sure they exist, probably as mock-ivory, but I’ve not seen any.
  • Modern plastics by the ton!

Bakelite draughts set made by TSL and a promotional cribbage set from the same material.

Bakelite is also suited for draughts and backgammon pieces, and these come in a huge range of sizes and colours.  Mah Jong sets made in white, butterscotch and glorious green marbled phenolic mimic ivory, amber and jade but bring a vivacity of colour all of their own.   These also come in two tone.   Sets are often broken up nowadays and the pieces made into jewellery – bracelets threaded with elastic, pendants and earrings.

Solitaire sets, cribbage and other games using pegs are ideally suited to the plastic moulding process, giving uniformity for holes and pegs.  Some rare examples of games include "Hoodoo" (see below).  Chess pieces come in a range of plastics.  The prized chess pieces come in bright phenolic colours in both two dimensional sliced off the rod, and three dimensional hand-carved form.   My own father carried a travelling chess set of wafer thin pieces of celluloid in a leather wallet all over the world in the second world war. 

Chess set made byGrays of Cambridge.

Two bridge markers, one in acylic and one in cast phenolic resin with celluloid markers and a green bar accross.

Bridge markers, recently exploding in popularity and price, used plastics to the full:  acrylic stands similar to calendars, bakelite pods, phenolic stands on bases with swinging celluloid markers, and sometimes nutbirds, celluloid card cases like a cigarette packet with an arrow on the cover to point towards the trumps.

Roulette wheels and bagatelles, large and small, the latter including "Klikatelle", abound.  And the spectacular variety of gaming chips, including stands and bespoke containers, are a specialist area for some collectors.  Once you start looking, you’ll spot them more and more.  Not to be confused with the array of tiddlywinks – where the satisfyingly thick phenolic variety compare so favourably to the modern ones.  If you’re lucky, you’ll find a bandalasta type pot with it’s own lid and the tiddlywinks still inside. 

Boxed games bade between the 1930’s and 1950’s.
From left, clockwise: Hoodoo – made by Tryne, probably from Polystyrene , Spin-spel (bakelite), Zeezi (Bakelite made by PBA) and Klicatelle (bakelite but no manufacturer shown).

Whatever your game, bakelite’s the name to play with!