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Alan Griffiths Soap Box Collection

An inventory of his collection at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Griffiths, Alan (Plastics engineer and designer)
Title: Alan Griffiths Soap Box Collection
Inclusive Dates: circa 1950-2000
Quantity: 3 linear ft.
Abstract: Collection of plastic containers for soap
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

Alan Griffiths was a British plastics engineer, designer, and consultant. Educated at Enfield Polytechnic, he began his career as a designer of plastic toys, games, and optical products for J&L Randall Ltd. He went on to establish and manage the vacuum forming division of C.F. Taylor Plastics Ltd., worked as a "white goods" product designer for Kenwood Manufacturing, and was product development manager for ITW Ltd., where he was responsible for the design, development, and tooling for thermoformed and injection molded plastics products. For nearly forty years he ran an independent consulting business, Alan Griffiths & Partners, Ltd., which offered services ranging from component design and project management to raw material audits and expert witness testimony.

Griffith was a founding member of the Plastics Historical Society and a Fellow of the Plastics and Rubber Institute (later the Institute of Materials, Minerals, and Mining). As a Fellow of the Institute of Materials and chair of their Plastics Design Committee he was involved with a number of design competitions in the United Kingdom, which brought him into contact with young engineers and designers just entering the field. He amassed a considerable reference collection of more than 500 soap boxes over the years which were "used to assist young product designers to appreciate all aspects of plastics product design...[and to] learn the fundamentals of design, tooling and manufacture by observing and examining familiar objects." He was an early proponent of recycling, stating that "Recycling is all about energy conservation...We should ask ourselves is consumer packaging necessary in the first place, rather than 'how can it be recycled?'"

[Sources: "Soap story breaks mold," Plastics and Rubber World, 15 Apr 1994; "Man with keen eye on materials of the future -- and of the past," Plastics and Rubber World, 1 Dec 1990]

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Alan Griffiths Soap Box Collection consists of 40 traveling soap containers collected by Alan Griffith, a British plastics engineer and designer. The boxes are a wide range of sizes and designs -- some are hinged, for example, while others are two separate pieces; some are decorated using various techniques, others are plain. A variety of types of plastic are represented, including celluloid, phenolic, cellulose acetate, polystyrene, and polypropylene -- some are thick and rigid, others rubbery and flexible, while still others are paper-thin and rather fragile. Each item has an identification number on a sticker on the bottom; these were present when donated and correspond to a provided inventory list (see files).

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Arrangement of the Collection

Ordered according to the numbered sticker on the bottom of each item.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Subject Headings


Griffiths, Alan (Plastics engineer and designer)


Industrial design.
Plastic containers.
Plastics industry and trade.
Product design.

Genres and Forms

Artifacts (object genre)
Plastic (material)
Soap boxes (container for personal grooming)

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Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Alan Griffiths Soap Box Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Gift of Glenn Beall, 2018.

Finding Aid Information

Created by: MRC
Date: 7 Sep 2018
Revision history: 21 Sep 2020 - processed (MRC)

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Soap boxes
Box 1 Items 1-12 - celluloid, phenoformaldehyde (aka phenolic or Bakelite), cellulose acetate
Box 2 Items 13-15 - cellulose acetate, polystyrene
Box 1 Items 16-17 - polystyrene
Box 2 Items 18 - polystyrene
Box 1 Item 19 - polystyrene
Box 2 Items 20-25 - polystyrene, polyethylene
Box 1 Items 26-29 - polyethylene
Box 3 Items 30-40 - polypropylene

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