All About Victorian Decalcomanie

The following article about decalcomanie was published in Cassell's Household Guide, 1869.

The pleasing art of Decalcomanie is a simple process of ornamenting the outsides of vases, plates, door-handles, door-plates, &c., in imitation of the finest painted china; also for transparencies on glass, equal to the stained glass used in churches, hall and staircase windows, back parlour and library windows, lamp-shades, &c. 

The method consists in transferring coloured designs, or prints, from paper onto the article to be ornamented, in such a manner that they remain so perfectly fixed and permanent that the application of water does not remove them; and white Parian vases, plates, toilette-bottles, match-boxes, &c., ornamented by this type of art, possess all the effect and almost the permanency of the most, valuable painted china. It is also adapted for white wood card-cases, screens, blotting-books, glove and knitting-boxes, silks, satins, paper and cardboard goods, and nearly every fancy article.

Articles Necessary for Decalcomanie

  • Decalcomanie fixing liquid, for fixing on the designs;
  • Decalcomanie varnish, for varnishing the finished articles;
  • Benzoin, for cleaning brushes, &c;
  • Small sponge;
  • Camel-hair brushes, a variety of sizes;
  • Ivory folders, for rubbing down designs;
  • Parian vases, toilette-bottles, candlesticks, match-boxes, white wood screens, card-boxes, Card-cases, work-boxes, chess tables, glove-boxes, &c. &c.

Directions for Ornamenting
by the process of Decalcomanie

Cover the whole of the coloured or printed part of the design with the fixing liquid, using a small camelhair brush. Should the design have a coloured background, its entire surface may be brushed over; but if, for instance, it is a group of flowers, the coloured parts alone must be varnished, and care should be taken to leave the white ground untouched. 

When the design is entirely painted over with the fixing liquid, let it stand for about five minutes to set; then place it, varnished side downwards, on the article to be ornamented, and, with an ivory folder, rub it well down, in order that the design may adhere firmly to the article, being careful at the same time that the paper does not shift. 

When sufficiently rubbed down, damp the paper with a wet sponge until the design partially appears through the paper, which must then be thoroughly wetted, particularly at the edges, for about half a minute, by the use of a camel-hair brush and water. Then remove the design, by lifting up one corner of the paper, and quickly drawing it off, when the drawing, either coloured or printed, will remain on the article, the paper coming away entirely.

The vase, &c., should now be allowed to stand for three or four hours, that the design may become quite dry, when it may be varnished over with the varnish. Should any mistake occur, or the design get shifted, it can be cleaned off by a careful use of rectified spirits of turpentine or benzoin.

Before putting away the brushes, they should be washed in turpentine or benzoin, otherwise they will dry quite hard.

The articles necessary for this type of artwork may be obtained at most drawing material repositories.

Note: This article has been edited for use online.

If you didn’t know before where the items we know as “decals” today got their name, you now do. Of course, most, if not all, of today’s decals do not require as many steps as they did back then – Thank Goodness!

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