Vitreous enamel is strong and hard wearing.  It retains its bright colours far longer than paint or print.  In Victorian times it became very popular for advertising signs.  They were produced by enamelling sheet iron or steel.  The companies who had the equipment to do this could also use it for making other items where enamelled sheets were useful and they provided a range of such things, including panels which imitated ceramic tiles, fire surrounds and fire screens.  Likewise companies that were mainly engaged in enamelling other sorts of goods could turn their hands to enamelled signs, dependant on the size of their furnaces.

Thus in Wolverhampton the producers of general domestic enamelled ware, Macfarlane & Robinson and Orme Evans both offered advertising signs and similar articles in their range.  But they were two major, specialist local producers of enamelled advertising signs:  Chromo in Wolverhampton and Jordans in Bilston.  They both have exhibits here.

The Wolverhampton Red Book for 1914 lists, under the heading "Enamelled Sign and Tablet Manufacturers", three companies:

Chromographic Enamel Co., 531 Dudley Road
Enamel Sign Co., Ablow Street and Nelson Street
Orme, Evans and Co., Gt. Brickkiln Street.

Their next heading is "Enamellers", which lists the same three companies and:

Clark, T & C Co. Ltd., Horseley Field
Harrison Enamelling Co., 3b Garrick Street
Lacon and Co., Salop Street
McFarlane and Robinson, Stafford Street
Smith, Fred, 38 Powlett Street

Under this heading Orme Evans' address is given as Great Brickkiln Street, Dudley Road and Temple Street. This all suggests that Orme Evans and the compilers of the Red Book saw a distinction between enamel sign making and other enamelling activities.  Orme Evans were doing  enamelling of domestic goods such as pots and pans as well as making signs.  Jordans, in Bilston and so not appearing in the Wolverhampton Red Books, were large scale producers of signs but also enamelled other goods under contract with other manufacturers.  From about 1930 to about 1960 these included fire grates and all sorts of hearth furniture.  In Ettinghshall, at the same time, Cannon were doing their own enamelling of a similar range of goods.  The Bilston Foundry was also enamelling cast iron baths, to such good effect they were even sold to Hollywood stars. Vitreous enamelling was a versatile and useful finish which these manufacturers were adapting to new needs.

The heyday of enamelled signs was not long.  Some place the start of their decline from popularity at about the time railways stopped expanding.  It seems that a general downturn was being felt in the 1920s when there were attempts to merge the three biggest companies, Chromo, Patent and Imperial (of Birmingham).  This came to nothing.  The Great Depression did not help.  Then in the Second World War the use of steel for advertising purposes was prohibited.  After that war the amalgamation of companies, the rise of supermarkets at the expense of small shops, and changes in advertising tastes and practices, not to mention advertising control laws, all contributed to the demise of the industry.

For general information on this sort of enamelling reference may be made to two books, both of which contain references to Chromo and Jordans:

Christopher Baglee and Andrew Morley, Street Jewellery: a history of advertising signs, New Cavendish Books, 1978

Christopher Baglee and Andrew Morley, Enamel Advertising Signs, Shire Books, 2001

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