There are many overlooked design gems that are woefully ignored because they are so ubiquitous and quotidian (my favorite multisyllabic words). Although I am a stationery store maven, I focus mainly on pens and pencils, paperclips and binders—even staples and staplers—but have neglected rubber bands.
According to Gizmodo, vulcanized rubber gave way to various common uses for the remarkable material. “In 1819, Englishmen Thomas Hancock was in the stagecoach business with his brothers when he attempted to figure out better ways to keep his customers dry while traveling. He turned to rubber to develop elastic and waterproof suspenders, gloves, shoes and socks. He was so enamored with the material that he began to mass produce it, but he soon realized he was generating massive amounts of wasted rubber in the process. So, Hancock developed his ‘Pickling machine’ (later called a masticator) to rip up the leftover rubber into shreds. He then mashed the malleable rubber together, creating a new solid mass, and put it into molds to design whatever he wanted. One of his first designs were bands made out of rubber, though he never marketed or sold them, not realizing the practically of rubber bands. Plus, vulcanization hadn’t been discovered yet … so the bands would soften considerably on hot days and harden on cold days. In short, these rubber bands simply weren’t very practical at this stage of the game, in terms of many of the types of things rubber bands would later be used for. Hancock didn’t patent his machine or the shreds of rubber it produced, instead hoping to keep the manufacturing process completely secret. This would end up being a rather large mistake.”
Yes it was. Rubber bands became essential to homes and businesses. A month or so before the COVID-19 lockdown, illustrator/designer Naomi Otsu returned from a trip to Japan (the ground zero of stationery supplies) with this box.
Although I liked its pop-modernist simplicity, I paid little attention at the time. Now, holed up in my home, it has become a focal point of my package and product design collection as well as a daily ritual. (After all, it is neater, quicker and cheaper than string.)
I empty the box of its contents and separate all the permutations. After a day of working online on the computer, it is a zen-like respite. Incidentally, only yesterday did I realize that the circle on the front is perforated, so when removed it provides a handy dispenser for this band of rubber bands. Thing is, I like it just the way it is. What a gem!