Friday Guest Post - The Beadin' Path's Heather & Her Phenominal Stash of Vintage Lucite!
One of these days (maybe when she's not wiped out from moving her entire store!) I will see if I can wrangle her into being the subject of a Thursday interview post. Until then, I offer you a post from last summer she wrote that simply fascinated me. It's an inside peek into the bead store owner's world and a simply wonderful tale! It's the story of how they acquired their huge supply (over 40,000 lbs!) of vintage Lucite as well as information about its provenance and how it has been used.
Learn Where We Got Our Vintage Lucite Beads
by Heather DeSimone
Friday, 18 July 2008
It could be because when one walks into our store at The Beadin' Path, they're greeted with a 18 foot wall full of it. It's colorized from left to right and spans almost the entire back wall of one room in our store. We try to merchandise our entire store & our website in color blocks so that each room or page is a virtual palette of beads. I think those who ask, expect a quick or secret answer. However, there's a much longer & more interesting story to how we acquired over 40,000 lbs of vintage Lucite.
We were approached 2 years ago in the early Summer by the manager of a plastics company in Rhode Island via. email. (You've got to love that world-wide-web). They did a search for vintage Lucite & saw on www.BeadinPath.com that we stocked and LOVED vintage Lucite beads. They were looking for a buyer to come and clean out a couple of rooms in their very large warehouse. We get approached all the time by exporters, manufacturers or companies that are liquidating jewelry components. Yet this contact really intrigued us. You see this company had not manufactured beads or jewelry components since the late 1970's and early 1980's. They simply had a 10,000 + square foot room stocked floor to ceiling with these pesky beads and hoops and cabochons that were just in their way.
Currently the company (Plastic Development) is one of the leaders in the industry for manufacturing earring cards & other plastic-based merchandising for jewelry and accessories. When you order these from many well-known companies that distribute them, chances are they're made by these folks in R.I. Because they had the need to expand their business and move some of their less physically-able employees to the first floor space, currently housing all of 'those beads,' they needed them moved out and moved out fast.
My mother Jan & I decided it would be worth a trek down I-95 South to at least check this stock out. And if it was a wash, we'd head on over to Providence Place & do some shopping (they have an H&M and a Restoration Hardware there!). Well we never made it to the mall! When we met with the manager of the company we learned more about vintage Lucite than we had ever known before. He had worked at the same company for over 30 years and was there when they had actually made these great beads & parts.
They had been commissioned by well-known companies such as Avon, Coro, and Trifari to custom-create colors and shapes for their seasonal lines of jewelry. The quality of these 'plastic' beads was just unmatched. (Yes, I too used to be a 'plastic-bead-snob'!) He explained to us a little about the process where the beads are actually made in a relief process or 'carved' from a rod or cane of Lucite. They were not press-molded like many plastics that show seams and are lighter-weight. So, when they had overstock, slightly off-color beads from the special order, or simply orders that were not picked up, they stashed them in 'the bead room.'
After some research and much number crunching [we] decided to bring a group of helpers down to Rhode Island the following week with 2 20' UHaul trucks. Wow! We had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into. We worked a 12 hour day with 10 people we brought down as well as many of the warehouse workers who chipped in to help us.
A week or so later, Jen our store manager came to me and told me that her Uncle was a licensed trucker and could drive a big old, not sure what they're technically called, 'semi' type truck. And her dynamo of a mother Sue, who also worked for us was inspired to ride down there with him and get the semi loaded up if we could get down there in the days before & get the rest of the warehouse packed up. We were so overwhelmed by the first trip that (and I can't even believe this now) we had been contemplating just leaving the rest of the stock down there and having a rubbish company come & remove it. It was costly to move beads! So with Sue's encouragement, we made another trip down to RI and packed & boxed & stacked our little hearts out once again. Sue & her brother drove the 'semi' down a day later & filled it from front to back!
…and that's how it all happened. That's how we acquired over 40,000 lbs of vintage Lucite beads & parts. Surprisingly, two years later we have sold almost half of the stock. When we first brought it home to Maine, I made the comment that I would be that little old lady at 80 years old with a barn full of rotting boxes full of beautiful beads. I guess I was wrong… nah, I'll be that old lady who dies with the most beads yet.
For the last couple of years, a really fun gal named Danielle has been purchasing lots of our vintage Lucite stock for her very funky & successful line of jewelry. She has a great business and sells her wares mostly over in Europe (smart chic, considering the plight of the US Dollar right now). Anyway, this lady knows her plastics. She was teaching me a thing or two about our very own stock. And as we'd discuss the differences between Lucite and other vintage plastics, she kept using the term 'Best New England Warehouse of Vintage BeadsPlastics' to describe where our beads had been made.
I kept thinking "What is she talking about?" but I didn't say anything because I was afraid that maybe she'd misheard something that I said or maybe I'd misheard her. After all: the company we purchased the beads from was called Plastic Development in Warwick, Rhode Island. And Norm, the man who sold them to me had worked for that company for the last 45 years and knew his stuff. He told us all about making the beads himself back in the 70's and 80's. So for the first couple of conversations I didn't say anything to Danielle.
Finally, when I KNEW that I had heard her say very clearly "…and the beads that came from Best Plastics in Providence…" I interrupted. "What a sec, WHAT are you talking about? You keep dropping this name and I thought I was hearing things. I've never heard this name before. As far as I know, these Lucite beads were made by Plastic Development in Warwick, not Providence." There's always this veiled mystery that many vendors like to perpetuate. She was buying a lot of beads from us and I didn't want her to think I had anything to hide about where they were from and where we got them. Danielle's answer was "Geez, I don't know. I thought YOU told me about Best Plastics." I said "I'd never heard the name until you mentioned it." And we moved on.
Fast forward a few more weeks. I was at one of our favorite job lot warehouses where I had not been for over 2 years! And evidently I've missed out in the last 2 years too because we didn't find a whole lot. Between being pregnant and having a newborn, it's hard to travel a few hours each way, dig through dirty boxes that are 15 feet in the air, etc etc to do your buying. So we've been doing a lot of buying via our manufacturers overseas lately, because I can simply send an email from home and viola! Beads!
Anyway, I was talking to Anthony who has been in business in the Rhode Island area for many, many years and his business was handed down to him from his Father-In-Law so he knows the industry. I mentioned Best Plastics and asked him if he'd heard of it. He said "Yeah, that's that warehouse you bought out!" I nearly fell on the floor. I said "But that company was called Plastic Development…" And now you're about to hear a thing of fables… bead myths from years past.
Best Plastics had been manufacturing beads for years, right across the street from Anthony's warehouse in Rhode Island. In the early 1980's, Best decided to shift their focus to manufacturing pressed plastic earring cards and other merchandisers. You know the type: when you go into WalMart and you see tacky earrings on a rounder, they're hanging on these grey plastic earring cards with a patch of velvet on them that read "Fashion New England Warehouse of Vintage Beads Earrings."
No matter what part of the world you're in, when you see these, they're probably made by Plastic Development in Rhode Island. Anyway, when they decided to shift their focus, they moved their company from a warehouse in Providence to a warehouse in Warwick and you guessed it, changed their name to Plastic Development. Anthony said "you know, they offered me that lot of beads and I just had too much plastic." We purchased over 40,000 lbs so I can only imagine how many thousands of pounds they had offered him.
So, thanks to Danielle, I learned the real name of our beads' manufacturer. And thanks to Anthony, we have thousands and thousands of pounds of Lucite beads to sell. These are the things that intrigue me still after all these years in this business: the lore of the beads. The history. Sometimes you hear these things from vendors and you think "They must have made that up to get me to buy this strand of beads, but it's cool." But the great thing about buying anything vintage, is that it has history. And the most mundane story can seem so riveting when it's told in the context of something you love. Like beads.