12019-03-12T23:56:19+00:00Stanford University Pressaf84c3e11fe030c51c61bbd190fa82a3a1a1282415gallerypublished2019-08-21T11:24:18+00:00AnonymousOn March 5, 1969, the Los Angeles Sentinel carried an advertisement from Bell Plastics for plastic slip covers. The ad promised that the custom-made slip covers, which came in crystal clear or pastel colors, would make your sofa “100% child proof.” This advertisement caught my attention because it reminded me of how my grandmother used to cover her couch with a plastic slip cover. When I searched for Bell Plastics in the database of historic issues of the Los Angeles Sentinel, I found dozens of other advertisements that revealed a surprising amount about the marketing, consumption, and economics of sofa protection.
The earliest Bell Plastics ad I found, from November 1963, touted that the plastic slip covers were “expertly made in our own factory.” It is not clear if this factory employed black workers or where this factory was located (the original store front was 4966 Whittier Blvd. in East L.A.). While I did not find any references to Bell Plastics in Josh Sides’ L.A. City Limits: African American Los Angeles from the Great Depression to the Present, my hunch is that production of these slip covers relates to the manufacturing opportunities that were available to black workers and which declined in the late 1960s and 1970s. In November 1967, Bell Plastics opened a second location in Compton at 241 East Compton Blvd., and in 1966 Bell Plastics advertised in the Sentinel for experienced salesmen.
An April 1964 ad promoted a “Credit Sale”: “When others want cash, Bell Plastics will cover your fine funiture on your willingness to pay and PAST CREDIT RECORDS!!” This meant that customers could get a plastic cover for their sofa for $6.32 down and $6.53 monthly.
Why would a customer pay for a sofa cover in installments? A January 1965 ad made the case to Sentinel readers: “Child Proof Your Furniture! School time and fall weather are here again. The children are back in the living room with their studies and T.V. (Big Adult Kiddies Too!!) Protect Your Fine Furniture from the Ravages of Milk and Cookies, Jam & Jellies, Scotch & Soda. Hoping and praying that your living room set will not be RUINED, is fine. BELL PLASTICS custom made plastic slip covers are INSURANCE. CREDIT TERMS CAN BE ARRANGED—CASH TOO!!! CALL TODAY FOR FREE ESTIMATE!”
Finally, a November 1971 ad promised customers would receive Blue Chip Stamps, an early customer loyalty program where stamps could be redeemed at a range of participating stores. (An interesting side note: Warren Buffett’s investment company Berkshire Hathaway began investing in Blue Chip Stamps in 1970).
All of these advertisements taught me more about what it meant to make, buy, and invest in plastic slip covers, and they made me think about my grandmother and her pristine plastic-protected sofa in new ways.