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Industrial Transfers and the Art of Decalcomania

Rare and Unique Collection

Although there are similar collections, both private and public, in Great Britain, the most notable at the National Railway Museum, the Canada Science and Technology Museum’s collection, with its emphasis on railway decals and company coats of arms, is unique in the North American context. Other Canadian museum transfer collections are rather small and consist mostly of decals already affixed onto another object.

Two major public decal collections are located in the United States. The Commercial Decal collection, donated to the Smithsonian Institution in 1993 by Charles Seliger, vice-president and artist/designer for the company, is preserved at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York and the National Museum of American History Archives Center in Washington. The Commercial Decal collection is closely associated with the decorative arts, especially pottery and china ornamentation.

This simple monogram of the Great Western Railway, which replaced a more elaborate design in the mid 1930s, became a universal symbol of the company, placed on its railway stock, uniforms, timetables and promotional material. (AK114.416)

The company produced ceramic decals using mostly the screen technique — a process of projecting artwork onto a screen of silk, polyester, or woven wire cloth, coated with a photosensitive emulsion. It supplied companies such as Ridgewood Fine China, Haviland, Homer Laughlin, Corning and Medalta (Alberta). The other large collection of transfers preserved in North America consists of the archival documents of the Palm Brothers Decalcomania Company, the oldest American transfer producer, first incorporated in 1868. It is kept at the Cincinnati Museum Center. This very rich collection — half a cubic metre — contains correspondence, business and financial statements, sample decals as well as information on the company’s customers and the competition. The Palm Brothers produced decorative decals for a vast range of manufacturers: Ford Motor Company, Edison Phonograph Company, McLaughlin Carriage Company, and the Lakefield Canoe Building and Manufacturing Company, to name a few. Nonetheless, in the context of the study of the history of industrial arts and graphic design as an expression of corporate identity, the Canada Science and Technology Museum’s collection of transfers remains a rare and important resource.

About the author:

Anna Adamek is Assistant to the Curator at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

For more information, contact:
Anna Adamek
Collection and Research Division
Canada Science and Technology Museum
P.O. Box 9724, Station T
Ottawa, Ontario  K1G 5A3

E-mail: aadamek@technomuses.ca
Fax: 613 990-3636
Telephone: 613 991-3077