Monday, October 24, 2016

Memories of plastic.

Where did these things come from?

And where did they go?

Someone passed along that picture, and I got that weird feeling when you see something that was extremely familiar, something from childhood that was just part of the landscape, and you didn't know it was gone until it showed up again ages later. It's like finding the key to a locked door. When I saw this picture I remembered these decorations, and not only those but the dozens of similar wall hangings that were all over the place when I was a kid. They were made of some weird plastic that looked like little pasta shells; the colors were so bright that they made vivid decorations for various holidays.

But we also saw a LOT of Snoopy.

Well, sorta Snoopy.

Some people call them melted plastic popcorn, but as I recently found out, the company that made them called them Glitter Plaques. If you were a kid in America in the 1960s through the 1980s, you saw these around. Kage, the outfit that made them until 2008, is still around, too, according to this helpful history from RetroPlanet. (Sadly, Kage no longer makes anything fun; in fact, since this MacRae's page was posted I'm not sure they're even still around.)

You can find a lot of Glitter Plaques on eBay, but since the RetroPlanet piece reported that more than 80 million of these were made, where did they all go? After all, plastic is forever, right?

The usual things happened, I guess---the girl became a teenager and redecorated her room, and out went the Sylvester and Road Runner.

Into the trash or the attic; if your attic is like mine, the thin plastic pieces might not have survived a summer. The plaques did have a tendency to bend. And kids were always picking at 'em, wondering what they were made of. Or maybe that was just me.

So why did such cheery things stop being made? They may have gotten associated with an era, like knotty pine paneling. "Oh, they're still making those?" And they were made in America, which became more expensive over time. I think they were probably also hit by higher licensing fees. While Kage made a lot of non-character plaques, you know kids would mostly have wanted plaques of Saturday morning cartoon characters. Licensing characters was a nothingburger in the early 70's compared to even ten years later. I'd wager King Features, Warner Brothers, Disney, United Feature Syndicate, and all the rest wanted a bigger slice of that small plaque pie, which would have been the beginning of the end. But I'm just guessing.

The existing plaques probably suffered over time, especially the non-seasonal ones. Plastic is not exactly forever. UV rays decompose it, and a wall hanging can get a lot of those. But the seasonal plaques would have only been out for maybe one month a year, and they wouldn't have been so tied to the age of the child, so I'll bet there's still a lot of those. The cellars of America hold many treasures, and I'll bet a lot of Glitter Plaques make an appearance every year---like Big Band music and soft jazz, they only return to the public consciousness for holidays.

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