In 1933, various unrelated events were taking place that would unexpectedly lead to the development of the very first hard-backed coaster. Firstly, the prohibition of alcohol was lifted in the USA and the shipment of whiskey from Scotland to the USA commenced. Secondly, Will George lived in Edinburgh with his wife Ruby. Thirdly, Will George had an association with a group of people who were in the whiskey business. They were encountering many breakages during the transportation process. Will suggested using plywood, cut to the same size as the box, with holes cut out to fit the base and the necks of the bottles.
This solution proved successful for the whiskey company but resulted in many circular off-cuts of plywood going to waste. Upon seeing these off-cuts, Will George had an inspired idea – they would make the perfect coaster – and so the hardboard coaster was born. Will George borrowed £100 to start his company ‘Celluware’ in an old First World War army hut in Cowley Mill Road, Uxbridge, Middlesex. He later renamed his company Pimpernel.
During this time many people from Europe were migrating to the UK and the USA bringing with them the skills to modernise the furniture manufacturing process. This ‘knock down’ priced furniture was made in pieces and then assembled – the birth of flat pack. The wood used was coated in a shellac finish which looked nice but had no heat resistance when hot plates were placed on it leaving marks on the furniture. As a result, Will George expanded the coaster manufacture to include protective placemats which were coated in tougher cellulose and finished with green baize at the base which was trimmed by hand by Will’s wife Ruby.
The first picture on a mat was ‘The Hunting Scene’ which was commissioned in 1954. It was recognised that the artwork on placemats and coasters was incredibly important. Speaking to Tableware International, Roy George (the son of Will George) said “In the 1950’s and 60’s, investment was directed towards establishing quality and exclusivity of design. Design is what we sell. I felt somehow it was an insult to our customers to offer images that could be purchased from any publisher, by any manufacturer, on any product”.
Following the acquisition of Pimpernel, Portmeirion Group are committed to the development of this premier British brand building on its exclusive design and quality product ranges.