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October 11, 2011

Cole & Son, a London-based wallpaper manufacturer established in 1875, recently launched its collection of autumn wallpapers, including a particularly striking harlequin pattern of overlain colors called "Circus" that proves the 136-year-old company can do modern with as much depth as the historical. These papers are manufactured—"manu," by hand, being the operative root—barely north of central London in Haringey, where the tiny Cole & Son factory rolls out a quarter of a million meters of high-end wallcoverings per year. On the ground floor of the two-floor warehouse, a 130-year old machine sits beside a shinier digital printer of a mere 30 years. Though they don’t look old enough, some workers have been there for decades and have children working there too. “It’s like anything you do,” says a screen printer named Jason who has been mastering his craft for 25 years. “You just get used to it and then it’s easy.”

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Circus is part of an uncharacteristically geometric collection that Cole & Son is debuting this fall.
Circus is part of an uncharacteristically geometric collection that Cole & Son is debuting this fall.
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Looking down on the street-level factory floor, new and very old printing machines sit side by side.
Looking down on the street-level factory floor, new and very old printing machines sit side by side.
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One of the older machines on the factory floor.
One of the older machines on the factory floor.
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Vast, 300-meter-long rolls are threaded into the machine to begin the printing process by applying a solid base coat.
Vast, 300-meter-long rolls are threaded into the machine to begin the printing process by applying a solid base coat.
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Printer rolls are carved with a particular pattern and inked by being rolled against a woolly felt, rubber-backed pad that is constantly drenched with ink.
Printer rolls are carved with a particular pattern and inked by being rolled against a woolly felt, rubber-backed pad that is constantly drenched with ink.
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Flocking is an extremely labor-intensive process. After receiving their base coat and moulding, papers are coated with a patterned adhesive and then flocked with a powdery rayon in a slough that resembles something a gold miner might have used. In the old
Flocking is an extremely labor-intensive process. After receiving their base coat and moulding, papers are coated with a patterned adhesive and then flocked with a powdery rayon in a slough that resembles something a gold miner might have used. In the old days, sticks were used to agitate the tarpaulin beneath the paper to ensure proper coverage as the flock was shaken through a sieve above. It takes about two days for the glue to dry.
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Shelves hold rows and rows of print rollers. The wider the roller, the longer the repeat of the pattern will be; the narrower it is, the shorter the repeat. Repeats can range from about 10 cm to 75 cm or more.
Shelves hold rows and rows of print rollers. The wider the roller, the longer the repeat of the pattern will be; the narrower it is, the shorter the repeat. Repeats can range from about 10 cm to 75 cm or more.
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In the paint mixing area, colors are concocted by eye, not by precise formulas. Their recipe depends in part on the climate of the day.
In the paint mixing area, colors are concocted by eye, not by precise formulas. Their recipe depends in part on the climate of the day.
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Like a wine cave or a vintage humidor, this archive contains about 3,000 numbered, carved pearwood pattern blocks used for block printing by hand. Some, despite the company’s relative youth, are over 300 years old because the founder, John Perry, acquired
Like a wine cave or a vintage humidor, this archive contains about 3,000 numbered, carved pearwood pattern blocks used for block printing by hand. Some, despite the company’s relative youth, are over 300 years old because the founder, John Perry, acquired patterns from older companies.
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Each patterned wood block costs between 3-5,000 pounds sterling to replace. To prolong the life of a block, it may be soaked in water in order to swell the wood and thereby diminish cracks.
Each patterned wood block costs between 3-5,000 pounds sterling to replace. To prolong the life of a block, it may be soaked in water in order to swell the wood and thereby diminish cracks.
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The archive also contains some print rollers, as well.
The archive also contains some print rollers, as well.
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Upstairs are stations for block and screen printing that are separated by “festoons,” swagging ribbons of printed paper drying on T-shaped hangers that reach nearly from ceiling and floor. These kinds of printing are precise processes completed by extreme
Upstairs are stations for block and screen printing that are separated by “festoons,” swagging ribbons of printed paper drying on T-shaped hangers that reach nearly from ceiling and floor. These kinds of printing are precise processes completed by extremely skilled and experienced hands.
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During screenprinting, ink is applied over a gauze-y screen patterned with very fine holes and then forced through the screen with a wide squeegee-like device that is pulled across its surface.
During screenprinting, ink is applied over a gauze-y screen patterned with very fine holes and then forced through the screen with a wide squeegee-like device that is pulled across its surface.
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During block printing, color is applied under the pattern. The carved wooden block patterns are inked by pitching and rolling them against a thick wool-felt pad and then pressed (using pressure from both the hand and foot, by standing on a wooden pedal) a
During block printing, color is applied under the pattern. The carved wooden block patterns are inked by pitching and rolling them against a thick wool-felt pad and then pressed (using pressure from both the hand and foot, by standing on a wooden pedal) against the paper. An extremely skilled printer can turn out about 25 10-meter rolls per day.
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A gorgeously cluttered archive of rolls and remnants can be used by designers or to match old patterns that clients would like to replace. In the factory’s previous location in north London, an arsonist was responsible for the destruction of part of this
A gorgeously cluttered archive of rolls and remnants can be used by designers or to match old patterns that clients would like to replace. In the factory’s previous location in north London, an arsonist was responsible for the destruction of part of this library although the tightness with which they were wound saved many of the rolls.

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Circus is part of an uncharacteristically geometric collection that Cole & Son is debuting this fall.
Circus is part of an uncharacteristically geometric collection that Cole & Son is debuting this fall.

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