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Industrial Transfers and the Art of Decalcomania

Each One Identifies a Product…

“Each one of these Canada Decalcomania Transfers identifies a product. You simply dip them in water and slide them off the paper onto the article” — so Canada Decalcomania promoted its merchandise in 1931.

Indeed, the transfers not only adorned common objects, but also expressed and reinforced among customers the corporate identity of the company. These corporate coats of arms, monograms and trademarks constitute the most artistically interesting part of the transfer collection. In the nineteenth century it was customary for institutions to have a coat of arms. Railway companies, for example, acquired a heraldic design when they incorporated, as a seal for legal documents.

A china set used at the Chateau Laurier was decorated with transfers depicting the Canadian National Railway logo.
(CSTM/CN Collection X15146)

The coat of arms of the Great Western Railway (750129.361)

Designs were assembled from the designs of the towns they served, or simply by placing the company’s name in a garter. The coats of arms in the Museum’s transfer collection include, among others, arms of the Great Southern Railway, Great Western Railway, North Western Railway, Barranquilla Railway & Pier Company, East Indian Railways, Egyptian State Railway, and Kenya & Uganda Railway, royal coats of arms and monograms, and numerous devices of cities that were placed on public transportation.

The coat of arms of the Great Southern Railways (750129.636)
The coat of arms of the County Donegal Railways Joint Committee (750129.351)

The collection also includes examples of images made for shipping companies as well as trademarks of businesses and manufacturers. Among the most interesting trademarks are the images designed by Canada Decalcomania for Pierre Thibault, and placed on fire trucks produced by his company; ACME Decalcomania’s decals for the Canadian Fire Chiefs Association; and, transfers made by Tearnes for Wagon Repairers Limited; Pinckering Stock; Robey & Company; Marshall, Sons & Company; and, Huntley and Palmer to name a few.

A decal made by the Canada Decalcomania Company for Pierre Thibault Canada Ltée, a manufacturer of fire trucks (990132)
A bull’s head made for Wagon Repairers Limited in 1938 and used on the company’s vehicles (750129)

Some of these companies used a simple design that implied an association with a product, but most examples included in the collection show a heavy armorial influence and manufacturers’ preoccupation with the overly ornamental designs that dominated Victorian times and apparently were still very popular in the first decades of the twentieth century.

The trademark of the Birmingham Carriage and Wagon Company is armorial in character. The transfer was produced by Tearne & Sons in 1925. (750129.316)
The image of a galloping horse on a deep gold background, made by Tearne & Sons for John Marston & Company, reveals the skill of the Tearne craftsmen, but also reflects Victorian taste for exaggerated ornamentation. (750129.412)

The industrial transfers blended aesthetics and utility. Signage for wayfinding and warnings was designed in simple lettering, but was enriched by colours and shadings. Some notices for colonial railways, for example, Central India Railways, were printed in three languages: English and two local dialects. Images that often replaced signs, such as a face of a woman designating “ladies only” compartments, were nothing but schematic; their design was elaborate, and colourful, and it was obvious that the artistic value of these transfers was, in some cases, more important to railway companies than the price of decals.

A face of a woman designated the “Ladies Only” railway cars. (750129.418)

A highly decorated sleeper car, ca 1890 (CSTM/CN Collection 37399)

Railway companies also devoted much attention to enhancing the interiors of rail cars, and the collection contains many examples of silver and gold interior decorative ornamentation: borders, corners, crowns and monograms, all intended to adorn the first-class cars.

Many decals from the Museum’s collection evoke interesting stories associated with the clients who ordered the art work. A good example is a simple crest produced for the SS Yoma in May 1928, as the ship was being built by W. Denny & Brothers. The ship was owned by the British & Burmese Company and operated as a part of the Henderson Line servicing the route from Glasgow to Rangoon. During the Second World War, the Yoma served as a troopship in the Mediterranean and was part of a convoy when she was sunk on June 17, 1943, by a U-81 near Derna. Out of 1 670 on board, 389 crew members were saved by marines from HMAS Lismore, many of whom dived into the sea to help their colleagues.

A crest made by Tearne & Sons for the SS Yoma, 1928 (750129.315)