Originally, and in the Wolverhampton and Bilston trades in their hey day, enamelling meant only one thing: covering a metal, usually copper, iron or tinplate, but also gold and silver, with a coating made of finely powdered glass, then firing the whole lot until the glass melted and fused, providing a hard, durable coating to the metal. By "painting" with enamels of different colours, a rich decorative effect could be obtained. (Other techniques, such as cloisonné and champlevee do not seem to have been used here). This sort of enamel is known as vitreous enamelling.

In the 19th century the word enamel came to be used also for any finish which could be applied to wood or metal and which was claimed by the manufacturers to be harder and more durable than their usual paints. Sometimes this sort of enamel could be made harder by baking it. This is the sense in which the word enamel is used when coach and carriage makers and our early bike, motorbike and car makers spoke of their products being enamelled: the material is not vitreous enamel at all.

In this section of this Hall we display some items of vitreous enamel. The uses of vitreous enamel could range from small, purely decorative items represented by the Bilston enamels, to the large enamelled iron or steel plates which could be made for both decorative and utilitarian purposes, such as the products and the Chromographic Enamel Company, to the almost purely utilitarian enamelled domestic ware, from milk pails to baths.

You can see a representative selection of this enamelled domestic ware, from the catalogue of Macfarlane and Robinson, of Glasgow and Wolverhampton.

View the Catalogue

Here is an example of how the use of vitreous enamel has persisted - and it is still much used today.

This advert, from the 1950s, for a vitreous enamel bath, shows how far Bilston enamelling had come since the days when they made pretty painted patch boxes and the like.

Would anyone knowing the present whereabouts of this company or their successors in title, please contact us.


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