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Barry Copping Blog

The strange case of the gutta percha on the beach

By Barry Copping
Posted 18 October 2012
How did this end up on a Cornish beach?

Given PRW’s original full title Plastics & Rubber Weekly, we are occasionally criticised for sparse coverage of the rubber scene. I remember remarking on this at my interview for Features Editor, adding “and you don’t publish weekly either”. But I got the job anyway.

But enough of these preliminary maunderings. I was pleased and intrigued to receive a rubber-related query from a Cornish resident. Here it is:

“A few months ago, I found this block, washed up on a beach in North Cornwall after Hurricane Isaac. I wasn’t sure what it was made of (it seemed like a cross between wood and MDF!) but I was intrigued by the name. Then yesterday I found another one.

“While doing some random searching on Google into the name Tjipetir (a place in West Java and the trade name for [the natural rubber] ‘gutta percha’ apparently), I came across a photo from the Collectie TropenMuseum in the Netherlands. The picture is dated 1894-1929."

The production facility? (from the TropenMuseum, Amsterdam, dated 1894-1929)

 “This got me thinking – is the Tjipetir plant still using the same production methods from 100 years ago, or could these blocks have been in the sea a while – that is, are they from a shipwreck? How could I find out if the Tjipetir factory still exists (there are numerous sepia prints of it on Google) – and whether these are recent exports or older? Any pointers you can give would be very much appreciated.”

Can any would-be Detective Supt Wycliffes (given the Cornish location) or Jane Marples help my correspondent? If so, please click on “Send us your thoughts on this blog” below, or email me on bcopping@crain.com.

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