Two gilt vases by Alexander Parkes, 19th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Made by Elkington & Co. Parkes (1813-1890) was a founder of the plastics industry and a versatile metallurgist. He took out 46 patents during his career, most of them related to electroplating proceses, one of which would have been used to 'gild' these vases. Parkes was also the inventor of xylonite, a form of celluloid which he patented in 1855. He called the material 'Parkesine' and exhibited it at the Great International Exhibition in London in 1862. Parkes believed that the material was an ideal substitute for increasingly scarce materials such as ivory and tortoiseshell, and in 1866 established the Parkesine Company to manufacture it commercially. Unfortunately the company soon went into liquidation as Parkes sacrificed quality to reduce costs.