Pop beads or pop-it beads were one of the most ubiquitous fads during the 1950s. Made out of plastic, each bead connected to the next by a knob that pushed the bead into the next making a popping sound. The appeal of these beads was that they could be arranged into single or multi-strand bracelets and necklaces then taken apart to make different styles and colors. After first introduced as a fashion novelty, they soon became plastic play baubles for young girls.
When pop beads first came on the market, colors were directed more for the fashion world and included shades such as metallic gold, amethyst, pumpkin, turquoise, pearl, red and navy blue. Soon many adult pop bead enthusiasts preferred pastels such as lavender, soft yellow, delicate pink, white, baby blue and mint greens. Once the pop bead popularity reached young girls, bright colors, like bubble gum pink, and sunshine yellow, were offered. Some beads came in packets of multi-colored beads.
Pop beads were made from polyethene and other soft plastics, and by 1956, 40,000 pounds of resin was used every month to produce them. Although many of the cheaper pop beads flaked and chipped after a while, the better brands used a thermoset technique that baked the color into the bead.
Pop beads were a world-wide fashion. The New York jewelry company Richelieu patented a lucite plastic bead in 1941 and manufactured many of the popular plastic bead jewelry during the 1950s. These pieces resembled pearls and other gems. Hong Kong made unusual celluloid pop beads during the 1950s that were fashioned in openwork with tiny beads inside each larger bead. They also offered beads covered with even tinier beads.
Adult pop-bead necklaces ranged from about 48 to 59 inches, and many sets came with matching earrings and bracelets. The beads themselves came in three sizes. The large beads were ½ inch in diameter; the medium ones were 2.5 beads per inch and the small sizes were three beads per inch. Smaller beads, a 1/4 inch in diameter were also manufactured.
The first pop beads, introduced as women’s fashion novelties, had pearly lacquer finishes. As time went on, pop beads were available in elegant satin finishes, also. Cheaper pop-its beads were available in matte finish.
One of the most unusual additions to pop beads during the 1950s were colored discs that could be inserted between beads. Connectors held multiple strands of beads together. They came in gold, silver, or metal colors, and each connector accommodated either two, three or four strands of beads.
- The Bead Site: Pop Beads
- "American Plastic: a Cultural History;" Jeffrey L. Meikle; 1995, p. 190
- Jewelry Patent Project: New York Times 1941Richelieu Patent Controversy and Discoveries
- Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images