In the second installment of our Plastic Fantastic series Natasha talks to vintage plastics collector, enthusiast and dealer Naomi Thompson.
Naomi Thompson’s vintage plastics hoard has grown so fast in the last three years – even she doesn’t know how many pieces she has. Her collection spans the earliest versions of plastic (think jet, gutta-percha and horn) right up to modern day designers such as Bill Schiffer, Marion Godart and the coveted Shultz.
The former personal shopper, vintage stylist and book author describes herself as a “costume jewellery collector with an interest in plastics, both natural and man-made.”
A London refugee now residing in sunny Southsea, she’s now bringing up her daughter seaside style, in a life full of car boots, church sales and maritime history.
Her desire to collect plastic jewellery is fuelled by discovery and learning, as well as the escapism involved in searching for the perfect piece.
Read on to see some of the incredible pieces in her collection…
What is it about vintage plastics that attracted you in the first place?
Bright colours, big shapes and timeless design. I find them both accessible and mystical. ‘Vintage’ was becoming a twee parody of itself and buying, collecting and then selling plastics allowed me to continue searching and discovering new things in a different less clichéd direction’.
What do you like most about them now?
How did you get learn so much about them?
I was lucky. Someone was kind enough to show me many ropes, and I will forever be in gratitude. If anyone is good enough to share their knowledge with me, I make a mental note of what they like and try and find it. I look for stuff, all day, every day and I never tire of it. Discovery and learning is what drives me, as well as the escapism. And helping people find things they love.
The rest eventually came from handling, being nosy, asking suppliers lots of questions about provenance. Especially if someone has a lot of old factory stock. I would love to know how to do proper academic research, like my friend Liz…
I also started off by doing crib sheets of different properties. I still know relatively little but I can generally spot Bakelite from sight. Especially French pieces.
When did you start collecting them?
Properly, about three years ago. I took a break from all things vintage and went to work at Laura Ashley. Then, when my daughter turned one, I decided to find a way to rekindle my love of old, timeless design that would be sustainable full time. After having to battle to get her first birthday off I decided to go back to working for myself.
Can you describe your particular taste/ aesthetic? What sort of designs draw you most?
Anything that is hard to date: sleek laminates; bold colours and shapes; stripes. I think there is about to be a huge market shift in this direction. I’m not so fond of twee and novelty but there is a huge market for this, especially in the United States. I don’t buy a huge amount of carved stuff these days as so much is faked.
Do you have any favourite hunting grounds for plastic treasures?
France! Brocantes and vides greniers in particular. I am fortunate that my mother lives in southern France – though she has now got in on the act and I am constantly appraising her finds!
Can you tell us about your personal vintage plastics collection? How vast is it? And what plastics does it include- is it everything from jet and horn to Bakelite, Celluloid, Lucite and more modern artisanal pieces?
It’s quite big now and it bothers me somewhat that I don’t quite know how many pieces I have. However, I am in the process of cataloguing them. I would like to find a way, one day, of presenting them as a collection.
It spans from the earliest versions of ‘plastic’ right up to modern day designers.
I notice you are often de-stashing and listing pieces for sale online, given that Bakelite etc. is a finite source do you ever worry about the supply drying up?
Yes and no. There is without a doubt less available and prices are going up but I spent quite a while fostering relationships with other dealers in other countries and this seems to be paying off for now!
What are some of the favourite pieces in your collection?
My carved galalith cicadas.
Do you have a favourite type of plastic? Why?
Wavy marbled French Galalith, totally underrated! I am currently trying to find out how/where it was made. I’d like to know the specific factories. It doesn’t ‘turn’ or dull.
What are your Holy Grail pieces that you dream of finding?
An Atelier Papillon artisan piece. I’m saving for the right one. There is fluidity to his work that is mesmerising.
Do you have any tips for shopping for Bakelite and Celluloid etc.?
Don’t believe anything you read on eBay. People can be at best ignorant and at worst down right dishonest. Someone told me last week they had tested a piece with simichrome. Of course they handn’t, and when probed it turned out they didn’t even know what simichrome was…
Any pitfalls to be wary of?
Avoid anything warped or weeping or smelling of vinegar! Or anything that looks dried out. Also, anything that goes sticky under water (Bakelite, especially).
SO MUCH eye candy! What is your favourite piece?