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