Enamelled iron plate signs were the first permanent form of advertising poster. They are both waterproof, heatproof, easily washable, and are free from fading. In the late nineteenth century, and for much of the twentieth century they were produced in vast numbers.

The process was developed by Benjamin Baugh in Birmingham, and patented in 1859. He ran Salt’s Patent Enamel Works in Bradford Street, Birmingham. The company displayed several signs at the 1860 Trade Exhibition in London, and produced signs for a number of prominent buildings. In 1889 he opened an enamel sign factory at Selly Oak, Birmingham, under the name of The Patent Enamel Company Limited. This was thought to be the world’s first dedicated enamel sign factory, but evidence has come to light which proves that the Chromographic Enamel Company Limited, at 531 Dudley Road, Wolverhampton, began producing signs three years earlier.

The Chromographic Enamel Company Limited was founded in May 1886 in a rented factory on the corner of Dudley Road, and Frederick Street, Wolverhampton. Initially there were just six people working in the factory, but within twenty years the workforce had grown to around 200.

The following, is part of a letter received by the company secretary, Mr. Singleton on July 19th, 1906, in readiness for a Board meeting. It includes a reference to the company's start date:

July 19th, 1906

Dear Sir,

With regard to your Board Meeting tomorrow, I wish to bring to your notice a point which has not properly been thought of, and no doubt will be of interest to your Directors.

It is just 20 years since this Company commenced business (May 1886) in a comparatively small way, and it speaks highly for the Managing Directors; Mr. Singleton, yourself as Secretary; and the staff at the works for the splendid development of the business during this time. I myself certainly take credit for some little portion of the work that has been done in building upon sheer merit alone, a business starting with half a dozen workpeople and which now finds employment for 200.

Another reference for the early starting date can be found in the 'Illustrated Towns of England Business Review: Wolverhampton' published in 1897 by the Industrial Publishing Company.

The Chromographic Enamel Company, Ltd., Dudley Road.

This important business was established some twelve years ago. The works and offices in Dudley Road provide all essential accommodation, while the plant, etc. is equally satisfactory. A new works has just been erected in Church Lane for manufacturing enamelled stove plates for lining the interior of gas stoves. This firm carries on the manufacturing of every description of enamelled iron advertisement plates, in any colour or design, and employ a large number of hands.

The Chromographic Enamel Company, Limited are contractors to Her Majesty's Government, while they embrace as patrons most of the large and leading firms in the country. Samples of the work of this firm may be seen at all the principal railway stations. Their productions generally are of world-wide reputation. Telephone No 7027. Telegrams:-" Chromo, Wolverhampton."

The company's July 1888 catalogue.

Chromographic specialised in all kinds of enamelled iron plates and signs for many applications, including advertising, municipal signs, park notices, lavatory notices, tram notices, railway signs, railway station names, railway wagon plates, railway caution plates, street name plates, door number plates, cab fare plates, cabmen's badges, ships' door plates, hearth plates, stove linings, clock dials, pit notice plates, coal mine regulations plates, decorative plates for ceilings, walls, and grates, ornamental wrought iron with decorated plates for use as fire screens, ornamental wrought iron signs, skeleton letters, and enamelled iron reflectors and cones for gas and electric lighting.

From the 1888 pattern book.

The location of the factory, based on the 1901 Ordnance Survey map. The company rapidly grew during its first fifteen years, as can be seen by the size of the factory.
Many of the firm's products were sold throughout the world. By 1895 weekly deliveries were made to customers in New York. Orders were frequently received from Montreal, Holland, Germany, New Zealand, and India. One of the largest customers in New Zealand was the General Post Office which ordered all kinds of signs. In 1892 the company received an order for 450 gas engine plates from Stockholm, 1,500 plates for Messrs. Reckitts, and a large order from brewers in Nottingham. In 1898 the Thames Conservancy ordered 310 launch pass plates, 172 lock toll plates, and 3,000 private pleasure vessell plates. In the same year large numbers of crown plates and door plates were sold. Orders were also received from the railway signalling company Saxby and Farmer of London, for iron signal arms and plates.

A price list from an export pattern book dating from around 1890.

Some of the plates in the export pattern book.

An advert from the late 1880s which includes the address of the firm's London office.

The staff annually raised money for local good causes. In 1891 four guineas was donated to Wolverhampton Eye Infirmary, and four guineas was donated to Wolverhampton Women's Hospital.

The cover of the July 1893 catalogue.

Entries in trade directories.

The remainder of the story is told in the following sections:
Part 2. The later years
Part 3. Pattern Books
Part 4. Advertising Signs

Return to
Enamel Signs

Proceed to the
Early 1900s