Irmi & Nursery Plastics: Vintage Icons

Even if the names Irmi and Nursery Plastics don’t ring a bell, no doubt you’ll recognize their vintage iconic look. Many of us have admired the whimsy and detail of this company’s handpainted wooden lamps, wall hangings, switch plates, nursery mobiles and more.

I love learning a bit of history about vintage nursery pieces and the companies of long ago that created them. And the story of Nursery Plastics is by far the sweetest I’ve heard in a long time. It was hard to track down even this much info about the company and the founders. I hope you enjoy the history as much as I did. It will give you a new-found love for the products they created…

On his 15th birthday in 1936, Fred Bering got a note from his father:

“If you should ever find yourself in a position where you have more than you need for yourself, think of those who are less fortunate,” the note said in part.

The Bering family lived in Stuttgart, Germany. At the time of his birthday, Adolph Hitler had been in power in Germany for three years.The Berings were Jews, and they could clearly see what was ahead.

“It was very obvious they were going to do away with us,” Bering said. Just before his 17th birthday, Fred Bering got out of Germany alive, going from Germany to France, and then to live with an uncle in New York.

He never saw his father again. Years later, Bering found his father’s note in his files. The words reverberated with him. To live by the message of that brief handwritten note, Bering gave $2 million to a hospital in New York in 2008. The donation was also a way for Bering to honor his wife, Irmi, who died in 2005.

Irmi and Fred escaped Germany within weeks of each other but didn’t meet until 1948, on a tennis court. By then Fred Bering had become an American citizen and was serving in the U.S. Army.

Fred and Irmi married in 1951. They ran Nursery Plastics, a New York company they founded together and ran profitably until they sold it in 1971.

“I came to this country with $9 in my pocket,” he said. “Through hard work and opportunity, I made enough money to share it with people.”

In 2008, when asked about his late wife, Fred Bering said, “Sometimes you don’t have a full appreciation of what a wonderful wife you had until she’s no longer here. Everyone who ever met her would tell you what a wonderful, original person she was.”

Images courtesy of sweetlilystudio.etsy.com

Incredible story. If you don’t have your own Irmi or Nursery Plastic vintage collectible, it’s not too late to drink the kool-aid. These pieces can be found pretty easily around the internet, in antique shops and even in thrift stores if you’re lucky. Prices can range from very inexpensive to moderately ridiculous. Here’s a few adorable pieces currently for sale around the internet:

Irmi Humpty Dumpty Night Light

Irmi Angel Crib Mobile

Irmi Snow White Music Box

UPDATE: Lisa at Sweet Lily Studio had the rare and wonderful opportunity of interviewing Fred Bering in 2012. Read her inspiring interview here.

  1. I love these. Thanks for the info. I’ve got a nightlight and a light switch cover from my childhood and they’re two of my most treasured pieces.

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  2. Loving your blog! I had a mobile when I was a kid with these little people. I distinctly remember the little guy on the lion! My mom repurposed them into Christmas ornaments after. Thanks for the history — love these!

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  3. Hi – I just found your blog while searching for Irmi lamps. I’ve owned a humpty-dumpty and a jack-and-jill lamp for a while, but I’ve never been able to find much information about the Irmi brand. Thanks so much for educating your readers about Irmi & Fred!

    I’m looking forward to reading your blog and checking out your shop…

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  4. Interesting article. I have collected and sold Irmi for some time (those appear to be my photos of the little girl and cowboy lamps). The company seems to have been run from New York, but the items were manufactured in Rhode Island. For a time, they went by the name Nursery Originals. I believe the Gerber Company also bought them at some point.

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  5. i LOVE these lamps (i still have mine from my nursery!) and i am really liking this blog!

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  6. My mother, Gaby Fisher, was Fred and Irmi’s designer. She hand painted many of the items pictured in your blog and drew the original concept artwork for the items before they were produced. When I was a little boy in NYC, I used to sit in my mother’s studio in Nursery Originals factory on 24 street in NYC and watch Mom paint while I did my homework. Fred and irmi lived in the same building we did in lower Manhattan with their dachshund who they named Mickey Mouse. Later they sold their company to Nortel in Rhode Island. My mother continued to work for the new company, now called Nursery Designs even though Fred and Irmi were now in competition with them. Mom and the Berings never spoke after that. I was sorry to read of Irmi’s death on your blog.

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  7. Tom, thanks so much for the added history. It’s great information.

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  8. Thank you for posting the company history. I’ve had the angel mobile hanging above the crib for 3 of my daughters. So many people comment on the mobile when they visit and are surprised I found it in one peice with the original box at a junk store for $2. I’ve always wondered about the original owners of the company. It is great to know how they started and where they ended up. Thank you again for the research and info.

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  9. Thank you so much for the great information. I have a wooden music box with no name tags but it looks so much like this designs. I saw a switch plate at a thrift store and got the name from them as it looked so much like the music box I have. The music box has three little children on a metal plate, when the music goes it spins them as if they were dancing, and in the front it says “Candy by May” or something like that. I have not found any information about it, but do you know by any chance if it might be part of the Irmi designs? Just wondering. Thank you!

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  10. I am trying to find out some information about a music box given to me by my Great Grandmother, whom died two months before I was born, in 1971. You have a picture of it here on your site but when I click on it, it has been removed. I find no information elsewhere on the entire web!! The music box is Snow White (center) and the seven dwarfs (in a circle around Snow White) and it plays, oddly, “when you wish upon a star”. It has a lable on the bottom “Original by “IRMI” Nursery Plastics Inc:. ANY help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

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  11. I have a nursery lamp left over from my childhood, that is a little girl watering some flowers in a little container. She has a pretty little dress and hat on. Looks like Mary Mary Quite Contrary. Has a label on the bottom that says Nursery Plastics, Inc. Very sweet and looks like an IRMI, but haven’t been able to find any pictures or prices on it. I would like to put it in an auction, but need more info first.

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  12. We found a lamp a few years ago in a garage sale with a boy playing guitar to a girl. This lamp has remained in my daughters room and I have always been fond of it. Until today I never knew anything about.

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  13. My mother gave me a few things she has saved for me from my baby days. I am so happy to learn about their history. I was going to touch them up, but they still look in fairly good condition. I have the circus mobile and a lamp that I could not part with anyway. Thanks for doing the research.

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  14. Where can I get the music box in my zoo animals crib mobile fixed. It was overwound and a small plastic ring inside is broken in half. I bought the mobile in 1983 and want to use it for my grandchildren.

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  15. I love this! I am 8 mo pregnant with our first, a boy, and have saved my most treasured childhood items. Three of which are by Irmi! I have the Zoo Mobile in its box and just did a little touch up paint and cleaning, a pumpkin lantern (nightlight) with full lamp and the Jack and Jill switch plate!
    It always makes me smile to know happy endings with families! My Mom scored on these jems!

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  16. Hi,
    A number of years ago, 41 to be exact, I received a Musical Angel Mobile M813. I kept it because I love it, so my grandchildren could use it and now when I need it , the Music box that turns the Mobile is immobile. You wind it up and it quickly springs down. Anyway, I’m wondering If I can just purchase the Angel music box mobile alone?
    Lorna Kadlec

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  17. My sister had the Irmi musical zoo mobile which you have pictured here. I had one that seems to be harder to find. It was the Hey Diddle Diddle mobile with dish and the spoon. My mom turned them into Christmas ornaments and to this day we still put them on the tree. I am expecting a baby in June and am trying to get my hands on a Irmi Moble. I just love them and want my son to be raised with one.

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  18. Does anyone know where to repair or buy the musical box that runs the blue music circus mobile #811. My daughter had this mobile and now she is expecting a boy this summer.

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  19. I have been infatuated with Irmi items for years! My “Cinderella” lamp from my infant days sat on top of my bedroom dresser until my teen years. When my daughter was born, my mom presented me with the same lamp for the nursery. It has since been packed away (my daughter is now 13 years old) until I become a grandmother! Knowing I had conveted our cousin’s Jack & Jill light switch plate while growing up, my sister found and purchased one from a tag-sale for me, too. Thanks for the website!

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  20. I’m excited to find your site. I’m getting married soon and in our effort to clean out and organize, I was going through my childhood boxes and saw my light switch cover. I’m so thankful to have a sticker on the back so I could track down this piece of art and learns its origin and history. Thank you!

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  21. In noting Tom Fisher’s post about his mother Gaby Fisher, I’m hopeful that he may have some knowledge as to whether his mother created the framed collage I have – I can find nothing about such an item with my Internet searches.

    The collage is stamped on the back of its original frame:

    ANOTHER
    “YOUNG IDEAS”
    ORIGINAL BY IRMI
    NURSERY PLASTICS, INC.
    137 EAST 25th ST., N.Y.C.

    The collage depicts a kneeling baby (side profile) with its hands folded as in prayer. The “hair” is cut-out yellow felt with with charcoal definitions. The face, hands and a peek-a-boo portion of the baby’s bottom are cut-outs of a flesh colored peach fuzz-like paper with ink and pastel definitions for the closed eye (singular due to profile rendering) and rosy cheek. The baby’s “onesie pajama” is fabric that appears to be laid upon thin cardboard backing and is patterned with tiny blue hearts. A single shell button (the real thing) is applied as the “snap” closure for the onesie. This collage is mounted on what appears to be white-washed board (not paper) and is bordered with a milky turquoise painted outer border (about 1/2”) and dotted with tiny stars of the same color that encircle the kneeling baby.

    This piece is just the sweetest, most adorable piece of nursery art, but I have not been able to uncover another such piece in any image search on Google, Bing or Yahoo – absolutely nothing on Ebay or Worthpoint.

    Thank you for any additional information you may be able to share about such a piece.

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  22. Sadly we have just returned from cleaning out my husband’s parents’ home One of the many finds is the #815 Musical Mother Goose Mobile. It is in great shape except for the music box which just doesn’t wind any longer. Now it adorns the bassinette of our new granddaughter. We would love to know when this particular item was for sale so that we could try to discover exactly who may have originally owned it.

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  23. I purchased the circus mobile for my daughter’s crib (Katrina Deanne Conner) in October of 1972 at Houston, Texas. It was the most beautiful thing I found, well made and perfect. It needs a bit of work, but the music box still works. I want to preserve it and thought of making a shadow box; haven’t done it yet. I am going to search E-Bay to see what may be on the site. I loved finding this site. Thank you, Susan Smith

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  24. I purchased the angel mobile in 1977 for the birth of my daughter. The music box plays Ten Little Indians. I have kept it in the original box and it is like new.

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  25. I found a Nursery Plastics lamp at a thrift store for $4. It is in perfect working order. I paid more for a new shade! It is pink with a little angel playing guitar to another little angel who is looking out of the window of a little house. I love it and use it often. I was so happy to read more about the people behind my lovely little work of vintage art. Thank you.

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  26. I don’t know what happened to my Nursery Plastics lamp from when I was growing up but I clearly remember the indian tee pee on it and the little night light behind it. Yesterday while at a local thrift shop I happened upon a wonderful Nursery Plastics lamp with original shade (complete with pom poms hanging from the rim!). It is a music box lamp with a lion in a cage that rotates (looking out at the two kids outside of the cage) as it makes music! I was looking for a special present for a friend’s daughter who is expecting in March but now that I have found it, I don’t know if I will be able to part with it!

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  27. Thanks for sharing this. I’ve purchased a couple of the lamps at thrift stores. It’s great to know some of the history! Thanks for your great research!

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  28. I am a grandmother of twelve and saved all the Irmi items from my children and created a “grandchild” room for my grandchildren when they spent the night with us. For the boys, I had the toy solider lamp, the collage which always hung above their beds and two switch plate covers and a small toy soldier which held a toothbrush.
    For my daughter, I had the angel lamp, the angel collage and the switch plate cover.
    Now, my grandchildren are growing up and all but two are in school so passed these items on to their parents. They treasure them and who knows, will probably pass them on to a third generation. The company was so wonderful – when I had my daughter I could only find the lamp and switch plate cover, so I wrote to them and asked them to mail order the collage to me. They said they never sold their items directly but because I loved their items so much and had searched everywhere unsuccessfully, they mailed the collage to me. That’s how great this company was. By the way, that was in 1972. My sons were born in 1965 and 1968. Too bad, there aren’t companies around like this now. I love their products too!

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  29. I also have the mobile,light switch cover and lamp from my son who was born in 1973 at Ft Riley Ks. My husband was an army officer and through all the moves we made it never went missing. Now that my husband is retired and our son and daughter in law are expecting our first grandchild in Feb. IRMI will adorne her room! I too was going to touch up the lamp but I think it has character. The lampshade is still in good condition with a tint of yellow. I will let mommy decide it she wants a new one. The mobile still works. When everything is set up in the nursery it will bring back so many wonderful memories!

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  30. I have the vintage irmi’59 step stool from my grandmother. It reads: Wash your hands and face and do it well when you step on this carousel. Also has the picture of the carousel with children and balloons. My husband is making step stools for our grandchildren and we would like to know if anyone makes this picture or the the written words to add to our stools? Any information would be wonderful. Thank you

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  31. I just got the Irmi angel mobile #803 in original box with factory note insert from the Goodwill for $1.99. There are 5 blond angels on it with other woodcuts. For those of you missing the inserted factory card, mine has black cute birds and flowers around the edges and says “Important: Please Read – This mobile has been inspected and tested at the factory and is guaranteed against all manufacturing defects. This mobile should be attached at, or near the foot end of the crib so baby can watch the mobile, but does not play with the figures. As baby grows older, move mobile to a different area out of baby’s reach. We hope Baby will really enjoy the mobile and have a lot of fun watching it. IRMI Nursery Plastics, Inc. 137 East 25th Street New York NY 10010 Sincerely ‘Irmi’” – Theresa in Maine

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  32. I just purchased an ” Irmi” circus mobile at an estate sale for our first grand child. I was so delighted to find your information.
    There is one figure missing. I have the clown with a balloon,a seal with a red hat, a pony, a lion, a sea horse,and a bear dancing on a red ball. Would anyone know what figure am I missing?

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  33. I purchased an Irmi Zoo Mobile in 1973 for my daughter. It survived 2 other childern but unfortunately with the last child he pulled at the hanging angels. Since my daughter is expecting I thought it would be nice to surprise her and have the mobile restrung and put on the crib for her first child. I am looking for someplace to have this restrung and any help would be appreciated. Sincrely Cathy from Ottawa, Canada

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  34. Hi my name is melissa and I have a original by irmi on the bottom it says portable lamp issue no. 97,258 I’m just trying to find out what its called and what year it was made in

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  35. Irmi and I were great friends since1978. I took care of her mother when she became ill. After I moved to Vermont we spoke on a daily basis but she never forgave me for moving away. She gave me many pieces of her creative works. I have a music box lamp with a lady knitting in a rocking chair, she said to me this will be a collectors item one day. I always said she was my very best friend, and I talk about the crazy things we used to do in our travels. I will always miss her and Fred who was my math teacher when I changes careers and went into Real Estate thanks to them both I moved on with my life. They will always be in my thoughts.

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