Inside the Collection

Boring plastic flowers

Poppy flower, artificialFluorescent plastic ‘Rhodoid’ flowerFluorescent plastic ‘Rhodoid’ flower stem

BORING…was my first thought when I saw these flowers in the Museum’s basement when I was researching our collection of early plastics. They looked sad, and like they had been sitting on a shelf for about 100 years.

BUT wait… further reading in the old Museum Archives uncovered something interesting!

These plastic flowers were purchased by the Museum in 1939, because they were an exciting new type of plastic (Rhodoid) that had just entered the market. They went on display, to show industry how they could use this new plastic in manufacturing and advertising.

So what was so special about these kind-of ugly plastic flowers?

They are fluorescent! Further reading discovered they were displayed in the Museum for a few years under a black-light, which allowed them to fluoresce, and probably looked quite amazing.

And with the help of talented photographer Kate Pollard here are the flowers restored to all their original glory…

Fluorescent plastic ‘Rhodoid’ flowers
Photography by Kate Pollard © Powerhouse Museum all rights reserved

This project brought up some interesting museological issues. Using UV light to photograph the flowers in this way is a museum conservation ‘no-no’, as it damages the plastic. It would be safe to say these flowers will never be displayed in the Museum under this kind of light, however their ability to fluoresce is the reason they were acquired in the first place.

So while we may have damaged these museum objects by taking this photo, the digital image will now become one of the only ways we can see these flowers in their true glory.

4 responses to “Boring plastic flowers

  • Wow… I scrolled slowly as I read this article and the colour picture came as an impressive shock.

    Was the image tweaked at all or is this how the flowers appear once black-lit?

    • Hi Nathan,

      I have to admit that my photographic skills have only recently peaked at mastering the ‘red eye’ reduction button. One of our talented conservation photographers (Kate Pollard) took this image, I will get her to post the technical details for you, and others. The flowers really do give off an amazing colour under the UV light though. I’m glad you enjoyed seeing them, they are something special that visitors to the actual museum will never see.


  • No mate no tweeking what so ever just a black cloth and the uv light
    10 sec exposure at f10 at 200asa
    Its amazing the colours you get from that uv light it just takes a while to get the light even as you are waving a hand held light slowly over the flowers while your taking the exposure

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