Saturday, 30 September 2017

Ghost signs (129): nipples and pin points

Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter was home to more industries than jewellery-making. Other metal products, from pen nibs to coffin fittings, were manufactured here - and this ghost sign bears quiet witness to another form of metalwork, pin and wire-making. 

DF Tayler & Co were well-known for their pins, but this sign shows that they also made much more. The company moved here in 1886, and the style of the lettering suggests it is of similar vintage (Brum's Ghost Signs concurs, and adds that it was only uncovered last year). The varied fonts and elaborate swirls are quite a contrast to most twentieth-century signs. The reference to cycles and motors, though, may point to an Edwardian date.  

The sign reads: 'Wire Department - DF Tayler & Co Ltd - Steel & Iron Wire - Cycle & Motor Spokes - Nipples & Washers - Wire on Spools - Florist Wire - Wreath Frames - Jewellers Wire - Pin Points'. The lowest lines are damaged by dirt and peeling paint and largely illegible, although one says 'wreath frames' and the final word could be 'paints' or 'points'. 

The opposite side of the doorway has a similar sign. However, it is harder to read and in places, clearly a palimpsest. While it seems to have been a match for its opposite number originally, there is later painting also visible. Often, the newer words are the same as the old, suggesting that there was an attempt to update the look of the sign rather than the range of products. Frustratingly, the white lettering on black paint at the bottom cannot be deciphered. 

The company was an old one, even when the signs were painted. Daniel Foot Tayler, from Gloucestershire, developed automatic pin-making machines; by 1838, he was in partnership with a Leicestershire attorney, John Shuttleworth. The business included leases of Light Pool Mills near Stroud and of a London warehouse and house in King Street, Cheapside. The mills were described in 1837 as having a main building 100 feet long and five stories high, filled with water-powered machinery. The machines formed the pin in a single piece, compressing the wire to shape the head. (Other manufacturers' pins, by contrast, had heads made separately and joined later.) Each machine could make 45 pins per minute, and the factory reportedly produced over three million a day. 

However, there were scandalous goings-on within the company. At the end of 1838, Tayler sold his share to Shuttleworth for £3,500 plus an annuity of £300 - an impressive amount, equivalent to about £155,000 plus over £13,000 a year today. Shuttleworth, though, appears to have been a rather dubious character: he failed to pay, and declared bankruptcy when judgment was entered against him. More dubious dealings emerged around the time of Tayler's death in 1840: Shuttleworth had taken another 'partner' into the firm several years earlier, without telling Tayler, who believed him to be a mere employee. 

The Williams family took the business over, while retaining its name, and the company moved to Birmingham. DF Tayler expanded throughout the nineteenth century; it even had a special appointment from Queen Victoria. In 1886, it moved to Newhall Hill where it made hundreds of thousands of pins a day - along with the other products advertised in its doorway. 

In the catalogue for the 1908 Stanley Show, held in London by Stanley Cycle Club, Tayler's  were described as 'the well-known spoke-making firm, and examples of their spokes are shown, including plated, and enamelled, the latter in black, green, and red. Spoke nipples, treated likewise, are shown, also tying wire on spools, and samples of brazing spelter. Special copper wire for use in plating vats is also shown.' That corresponds to the wording on our sign, again supporting a turn-of-the-century date for it since by 1914, their Who's Who in Business entry made no mention of cycle spokes: 
Originally makers of Pins only. Premises: Extend over about two and a half acres. Staff: Over 500. Specialities: Pins, Hair Pins, Safety Pins, Hooks and Eyes, Fasteners, and Novelties of all kinds in Pins, &c. Awards: Prize Medals at different International Exhibitions. Connection . Worldwide. Contractors to H.M. Government. Royal Warrant: Special Appointment to H.M. the Queen, also to H.M. Queen Alexandra. Held Appointment to Her late Majesty Queen Victoria and to Her late Majesty Queen Adelaide.
Tayler's remain best-remembered for their dressmaking pins, sold under the name Dorcas. However, even their pin offering was more diverse than this: it ranged from hair pins to entomological pins, used for displaying insects and butterflies. 

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