Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Ackermann Goes Holographic!

Okay, not really. But this is really cool—you’ll see.

As well as publishing the Repository of Arts, we know that Mr.Ackermann designed carriages and owned a print store where he sold prints, paper, and art supplies. He advertised his paper goods at times just as he did those delicious fabric samples we look at occasionally, but most of those ads seemed to occur in earlier issues of the Repository (both of the ones we’ve seen were from 1810.) So imagine my delight when I ran across this paper sample page featuring BRUNELL’S PATENT METALLICK PAPER.

Shiny, isn’t it? It doesn’t scan very well—it looks more like metallic camouflage than anything else—but it was evidently pretty snazzy stuff for the time.  The gold and bronze-colored papers at Nos. 1 and 2 have help up quite well, but the red one at No. 3 evidently didn’t get along well with the tissue paper covering this plate—it more or less dissolved the paper, which in turn left a cloudy haze on that sample. No. 4, in dark brown, also survived well and bears a good resemblance to tortoise shell.

So what is this stuff?  Happily, the original text is present, and reads:

The ornamental crystalization [sic] on tinned surfaces, exhibited in many shops, being confined in its application to articles of the japanner’s trade [japanning being a European form of Asian lacquering], it became a great desideratum to have a similar result elicited on a substance, which, like paper, could be easily employed in covering articles of almost any description.

The metallic paper which is now offered to the public, is the produce of a new discovery made by M. J. Brunel, Esq., F.R.S. &c.

The matchless beauty of this substance, the character  and variety of its crystalization, exceed in effect and brilliancy what has yet been obtained on tin plates, over which it possesses an additional advantage in the dimensions of the sheets, which can be made as large as 4 feet by twenty inches.

It has already met with a most favourable reception on the Continent, where it is likely to open a new channel for British industry. The Report made before the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, &c. in Paris, on the 10th Feb. last, by their Comité des Arts Chimiques, is evidence of the opinion entertained there of this discovery as an article of trade....
This metallic paper is now used by skilful artists with great success in decorating apartments and furniture. R. Ackermann, at his Repository of Arts, has introduced it with great taste into a variety of fancy work, where it displays an uncommonly novel and rich appearance. It is sold, in various shades, as seen by the annexed patterns, in sheets of the following sizes and prices: Large, 23 by 19 inches, 6s.; small, 19 by 11 ½ inches, 3s.—Nothing but a strong paste made of good flour is required to fasten it to wood, paper, &c. &c.

It’s fun, isn’t it? But what’s even more fun—and interesting--is the man who invented this pretty stuff. M. J. Brunel was Marc Isambard Brunel, a French engineer born in 1769 who fled France during the Revolution, went to New York and became an American citizen before returning to France to marry his English sweetheart and moving with her to England. He was responsible for all kinds of engineering feats—from inventing a machine that could make pulley blocks for the British navy to, eventually, building a tunnel under the Thames (on which project he was aided by his 18-year-old son who would become an even more famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel.) 

Queen Victoria would eventually knight Papa Brunel for that feat, but it was still in his future...he would first work on a series of not-very successful ventures and wind up in debtor’s prison for a couple of months (and was bailed out by the government when they heard that he was negotiating moving to Russia to work for the Tsar.) I can’t help wondering if this paper might have been one of those projects that led to his stint in King’s Bench Prison...but I also can't help wondering if the enthusiastic crafters of 1819 weren't head over heels with it.

What do you think?

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