Damard Lacquer

/Damard Lacquer
Damard Lacquer 2016-12-06T05:35:21+00:00

Damard Lacquer

The Birmingham premises where Damard Lacquer production commenced The plant first used to make Damard lacquer


James Swinburne, later Sir James, formed the Fireproof Celluloid Syndicate Limited in 1904 to investigate phenol formaldehyde resins. The main outcome of this research was a hard, synthetic lacquer. This was found to be much more durable than shellac which had hitherto been used for coating brass to prevent tarnishing – brass bedsteads were very fashionable at that time.

In 1910, the syndicate was wound up and its assets transferred to a new company, The Damard Lacquer Company Limited with manufacturing premises in Birmingham, the centre of Britain’s flourishing brassware industry. Demand for lacquer in America was such that another factory was set up in Long Island, New York in 1912, although this was later closed due to difficulties arising at the onset of the First World War and because of threatened patent litigation by Baekeland.

Contact with Baekeland, however, established that the Damard Lacquer Co. could make use of his patents throughout the war and that a business agreement could be agreed afterwards. During the war considerable quantities of lacquer were produced in England for laminated sheet for electrical insulations as well as resins for brake linings. In 1920 the company moved to larger premises in Birmingham.

In 1927 agreement was concluded between Baekeland in America, the Damard Lacquer Co. and two other British companies – Mouldensite Ltd. and Redmanol Ltd. to form a new company, Bakelite Ltd. to exploit Baekeland’s phenol formaldehyde patents in England.

In more detail

In 1902, the British scientist Sir James Swinburne was shown a lump of solid phenolic resin patented by an Austrian inventor, Adolph Luft. Swinburne thought the material might have commercial possibilities and in 1904 formed a small London-based company which he called Fireproof Celluloid Syndicate Limited with himself as Chairman.

The new company undertook a series of investigations into the material at Swinburne’s laboratories in 82 Victoria Street, London. It proved to have serious drawbacks and they failed to produce a satisfactory moulding material which, had they done so, would in any case almost certainly have infringed Baekeland’s patents. What they could make, however, was a hard synthetic lacquer for coating brass and other metals which Swinburne, with typical humour, name Damarda Lacquer – a conjoining of the words ‘damn’ and ‘hard’. By 1909, the total output of lacquer was only around 35 gallons a month and it was clear that the Syndicate in its current form would never be a commercial success. On 21 March 1910, the Syndicate was wound up and its effects and personnel transferred to a new organisation, The Damard Lacquer Company Limited, with manufacturing premises at 98, Bradford Street, Birmingham.

Using primitive production plant made by a local plumber, lacquer production was concentrated in a lean-to shed at the rear of the premises which was overlooked by a doctor’s surgery who constantly complained about the foul smells. The primary reason for the relocation to Birmingham was that the city was the centre of Britain’s flourishing brassware industry – more particularly the brass bedsteads then in the height of fashion. The Damard lacquer was of excellent quality and well able to compete with more traditional shellac-based products. America, too, proved to be such a good market that, in 1912, premises were acquired on Long Island, New York and the Damard Manufacturing Company of America began production in the autumn of that year.

The 1914-18 war was to have significant effect on the fortunes of the Company. Damard were by this time producing resins for insulating sheets and impregnating brake linings. This led to a demand that could not be met by Bradford Street. At the invitation of the Custodian of Enemy Property, however, the company was asked to take over a factory at Cowley in Middlesex which formerly had been run by a German company associated with Baekeland and using his patents and know-how. The superiority, product range and sophistication of the plant was a revelation and enabled Damard to learn much about making phenolic moulding powders and casting resins.

Meanwhile, the problems of communicating with America in wartime and a threat of patent litigation by Baekeland led to the closing down of the Long Island plant. Baekeland, however, was anxious to support the war effort and friendly negotiations with him led to two important decisions: first, that the Damard Lacquer Company could continue to use his patents during the war and secondly, that he would be keen to come to some business arrangement with them after the war.

The experience gained from Cowley and a bright outlook in 1920 encouraged the Company to expand production on a new site in Warwick Road, Greet, Birmingham. Bradford Street was closed. The serious economic slump that followed almost immediately threatened survival but, thanks to Swinburn’s moral and financial support, the company held on until, by 1924, new emerging industries such as radio, electrical and automobiles created good demand for their products. At this time, too, a generation of new products, including urea formaldehyde resins, was introduced.

The Damard Lacquer Company had two serious business rivals in Britain: Mouldensite Ltd of Darley Dale were skilled moulders and held a licence to manufacture and sell phenolic materials under the British patents of the Condensite Company of America; Redmanol Limited of London was the British selling agent for the Redmanol Chemical Products Company of America. Both American companies were threatened with patent litigation by Dr Baekeland but he resolved the matter by buying all the shares of the two companies concerned and combining them with his Bakelite organisation under the title Bakelite Corporation. Dr. Baekeland then decided to extend his business interest in the United Kingdom and registered Bakelite Limited in May 1926. He then negotiated with Damard Lacquer Company and reached an agreement with them in which Bakelite Limited acquired the assets of all three companies. Damard Lacquer Company Limited and Mouldensite Limited continues as separate units until January 1928 when both went into voluntary liquidation.