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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.


I have just found one of these TJIPITIR blocks this morning (01/04/13), on the beach at Seaton Sluice, Blyth, Northumberland. It's a long way from other finds!

- 02 April 2013 - tomvok

Hi, I found one yesterday on the beach of the island Vlieland in The Netherlands. I would love to know where it's from.

- 03 February 2013 - Debora

I'm the Cornish resident referred to in the original article and am following the journey of the shipwrecked gutta percha with interest! I've been in touch with shipwreck experts to see if they can help. In the meantime, I discovered footage of the gutta percha being produced at http://www.indonesianfilmcenter.com/pages/archive/watch.arcv.php?v=5587&title=Gutta%20percha:Pabrik%20di%20Tjipetir I am donating one of the blocks I originally found in Newquay to the Museum of Design in Plastic.

- 15 January 2013 - Tracey Williams

I found one on the Beach from Hattainville on the 3rd of January and the second at Denneville Plage on the 12th of January 2013. When we are back in Germany, we will contact the Tropenmuseum in the Netherlands for further Information.

- 14 January 2013 - Puma

My wife also found a simular block of gutta percha on januari 3th on the beach on the isle of Texel. Can someone tell me if there is a connection with a sunken ship?

- 09 January 2013 - Paul Coldenhoff

Bonjour, J'ai trouvé le 31 décembre 2012, sur une plage de Normandie, près de Flamanville, la même plaque que la vôtre. Je ne savais pas de quoi il s'agissait, grâce à votre blog ma curiosité est satisfaite. Sincèrement, Nadia

- 05 January 2013 - Nadia

Hi, I found one in Brittany, too one week ago. It was at Sainte anne du Portzic, at the entrance of the rade of Brest. On the one I found were small 'anatifes', so I guess it must have spent at least a couple of weeks in the sea... This is quite intringuing !

- 26 November 2012 - Tom Meun

Just to let you know that I found on November 12th, 2012 one board on the beach of Geeve de Vougot, not far from Guiseeny, Finistere, north Brittany, France...I would be interested to know further on this ...

- 15 November 2012 - Louise

Today, november 12 2012, I found the same tjipetir briquette on the beach near my house, in Plouguerneau ( 30 km from Brest) north Brittany France.

- 12 November 2012 - Béatrice

It may be worth investigating further with the Indonesian Rubber Research Institute (IRRI) and the Rubber Association of Indonesia (GAPKINDO) members, who will be able to track down the small-holder where the NR bale originated from. These bales are coagulated in small wooden moulds at the plantation before being transported, often in small wooden boats, to a bigger co-operative for grading and selling on. At one time it was possible to purchase salvaged rubber bales that had been netted from the sea, and I have seen bales with the horn of a swordfish stuck through it. It may therefore be that the bale you found was originally from a ship wreck in Indonesia, which had then been fished out the sea to be sold on for use in very cheap rubber compounds, but I would anticipate it hasn’t found its way to the shores of Cornwall from the Indian Ocean and is more likely to have fallen off a container being off-loaded at a port closer by.

- 18 October 2012 - Chris Wheeler

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