Thursday, November 29, 2007

History of our Vintage Lucite Beads...
Part 1

Written by Heather DeSimone

Vintage Lucite BeadsWant to know where our vintage Lucite beads all came from?
One of the most frequently asked questions when a shopper enters our store or shops with us online is “Where did you get all of those fabulous vintage Lucite beads?”

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.

Vintage Lucite Flower BeadsWe 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 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.

Vintage Lucite Flower BeadsMy mother Jan & I decided it would be worth a treck 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 and 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. Sure there were lots of us ‘bead girls’, but our group also included many big burly guys, all bagging, packing boxes, stacking boxes, wrapping and loading palettes. We finally got the 2 trucks loaded to the ceilings. But we had only packed up about 1/3 of the stock! There was still a whole room of beads & parts: it almost looked as if we hadn’t even been there.

Vintage Lucite BeadsA 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.

Last Updated ( Friday, 02 November 2007 )

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