Fabrikoid is the trademark for artificial leather manufactured by the E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company of Wilmington, Delaware. The DuPont Fabrikoid Company filed its first artificial leather patent in October 1915 and Fabrikoid has been around widely since the 1920s.
Fabrikoid is pyroxylin-coated cotton fabric. Of course, pyroxylin – cellulose nitrate with low degree of nitration, was also used in the manufacture of DuPont Duco paint and early artificial silk. Unlike other forms of artificial leather that preceded Fabrikoid, the fabric is embedded in the coating. The fabric went to strengthen the coating material and bonded with it, instead of simply depositing the coating on the fabric. After the embedding process another fabric material was applied to the back of the fabric-reinforced coating.
Fabrikoid is water-resistant, resistant to wash and polish, and versatile in application. It has low permeability to air and oils and greases. No doubt it was a game changer in the leather industry and was used widely for book binding, upholstery, automotive car tops and interior linings, boxes etc. With time, artificial leather becomes hard and brittle and the coating may crack and may also peel off the surface of the fabric. Fabrikoid derives strength in the fact that the resin is impregnated rather than coated on the surface of the fabric.
Hagley has a collection of approximately ninety pieces of Fabrikoid including salesman’s samples and sample books. A unique-looking model automobile top in the collection is particularly ‘cool’ and is now on display on the third floor of the Visitor Center. Several of the old books in the stacks of the Hagley Library were bound with Fabrikoid, and these have the tendency to crack, or emit characteristic smells over a period of time.
Fabrikoid sample book
I recently conducted a condition survey on the museum’s collection. The goal of the survey was to evaluate the condition of the coated fabrics in order to address their care, management, storage, and other future preservation needs. The survey was particularly needed because cellulose nitrate has the tendency to decay over a period of time, and badly decayed cellulose nitrate becomes a fire hazard.
The collection is, surprisingly, in very good condition. The main types of damage noticed were staining and curling of sample edges, and the characteristic pungent, nitric acid smells that accompany deteriorating cellulose nitrate materials. Loss of flexibility was noticed with some of the smaller samples but it was not common. Material breakdown resulting from molecular chain scission was noticed with just a handful of objects, such as this shredded sample.
Shredded Fabrikoid sample
Creases resulting from long-term folding of Fabrikoid can cause cracking
Folded Fabrikoid covers
In the future, the collection will be re-housed and placed in cold storage. Also in the future, scientific research will be undertaken with the aim of understanding the agents of deterioration of artificial leather materials as a whole, for the purpose of acquiring intellectual property that only Hagley can bring about.
Ebenezer Kotei is the Objects Conservator at Hagley.