Cole & Son Wallpaper14th January 2019
Where Cole & Son Started
Cole & Son was founded in 1875 by John Perry, son of a Cambridgeshire vicar. The company was then called John Perry Ltd and was originally situated in a wallpaper mill in Islington, North London. The area was famous for the 200 hand-block printing companies working there in the 18th and 19th centuries.
More recently, Cole & Son’s head office is based in London. Plus, Cole & Son wallpaper is available worldwide from F&P Interiors.
The first pattern book in the Cole & Son archive dates from 1875. It contains eight hand blocked designs that are reminiscent of Christopher Dresser’s work.
In the 19th century, papers were printed for all the large well-known companies of the time. These include Jeffrey & Co, Sanderson, and Shand Kydd.
In addition to high quality block printing, the company was renowned for supplying stripes and jaspes to the trade. John Perry’s inspiration for jaspe came in France when he saw long lengths of silk thread hung up to dry. This allows the dye to run down the length of the fabric and create a streaked effect.
Over the years, John Perry accumulated a large collection of hand carved wooden printing blocks. He acquired them from old established manufacturers as they closed down.
(Left: Block prints from the Cole & Son archive.)
Silk and Flock Wallpaper
The most historical innovation that John Perry contributed to the wallpaper industry was the creation of a process to imitate silk. Real silk on walls was expensive so he developed an alternative using mica.
He was not, however, interested in the newest technological developments of the late 19th century to achieve new effects. He built machines in the style of the early 19th century. Perry re-introduced the process of pan coating.
He also revived flocking which was first invented in Holland in 1680. It imitates the cut and stamped velvet. This method is still created in the factory today and has been passed down from master to apprentice. Cole & Son is now the only company in the world producing hand-made flock wallpaper in the traditional way.
The Birth of Cole & Son Wallpaper
When John Perry died in 1940, his family decided to sell the factory and wooden printing block archive. In 1941, the company was bought by A. P. Cole, a successful wallpaper merchant. He had started his career working for Knowles & Co, a wallpaper and paint company in London’s Kings Road. Then, with Albert and Lionel Hill, he formed Cole & Hill. After the retirement of Lionel Hill the company became Cole & Son (Wallpapers) Ltd.
A few years earlier a highly respected decorating company Cowtan & Son of Grosvenor Gardens put their collection of printing blocks up for sale and Coles bought these. Blocks included those produced by J. C. Crace & Son to furnish many stately homes, palaces, castles, and theatres throughout Britain and overseas. This includes the wallpaper designs of A. W. Pugin for the Palace of Westminster. The amalgamation of the two businesses in 1941 meant that Coles owned the most significant collection of wooden printing blocks in Britain.
In 1949, Cole & Son's Design Director created one of the first screenprint studios in Europe. It was situated in the heart of London’s West End, at 18 Mortimer Street. This was in response to the revolutionary new design movement which gave birth to the wild wallpaper designs of the 1950s and 1960s.
The studio printed designs for Lucienne Day for the 1951 Exhibition of Britain, as well as many other contemporary artists including Peggy Argus, John Drummond, and Eduardo Paolozzi.
The company retains the same original spirit in the 21st century. Skilled craftsmen combine traditional processes invented by John Perry on some of the original machinery with the latest modern technology.
Cole & Son Today
Today, the Cole & Son archive consists of approximately 1,800 block print designs. There are 350 screenprint designs. Plus, there's a huge quantity of original drawings and wallpapers. These represent styles from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. Amongst them are some of the most important historic wallpaper designs in the world.
Cole & Son is now the prime source for entirely authentic period wallpapers printed by the original method and has provided wallpapers for many historic houses. These include Buckingham Palace and the White House.
The magnificent archive is the major source of all Cole & Son’s new collections. Designs are carefully selected, adapted and coloured by the Design Studio and printed by craftsmen to produce wallpapers faithful to the character of the original document yet contemporary in feel. The company has worked on wallpaper collections with top international designers such as, Tom Dixon, Piero Fornasetti, and Vivienne Westwood.
Cole & Son Fabric
Cole & Son continue to innovate and build on tradition using their archives and new forms of production. In January 2018 they then launched Cole & Son fabric, named ICONS Fabric.
The collection sees their most famous designs re-created on textiles for interiors. The 12 stunning palettes were purposefully chosen to allow for complementing, coordinating, and contrasting.