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May 29th, 2011 | | Colour Ranges | Paint Technical | No Comments

Parsons’ Decorative Finishes (8) – Flat Finishes


Colour samples of Thomas Parsons Flat Finishes 1930s 1

Flat Finishes Samples – Page One


A previous post has already introduced the subject of a most useful work that was published in the 1930s – Parsons’ Decorative Finishes. Subsequently I have used it as a ‘prompt’ for posts dealing with Imitation Stone Paints, Permanent Greens; Gloss Enamel Finishes and several other types of paint.

Thomas Parsons’ Decorative Finishes


The book is divided into 17 sections and three of these will be considered in this post which looks at the flat finishes offered by Thomas Parsons’ at the time. Some of these flat finishes were classed as enamels and the gloss version of these has been discussed in an earlier post. The other finish was classed as a “Flat Oil Wall Finish”. The finishes on offer were:

1) Endelflat Enamel;
2) Lacreite Flat Enamel (also supplied in Egg-Shell [mid-sheen] Finish), and
3) Unicote Flat Wall Finish.

Section One
The first section of Parsons’ Decorative Finishes is headed Bill of Quantities and gives the framework for anyone wishing to specify the paints contained in the book.

Section Four
Explains where each of the Parsons’ finishes was best used and provides a Specification for New and Old Work.

Section Five
This section contains three pages of colour samples. These were the colours that were available from Thomas Parsons’ in a variety of flat finishes and these can be seen at various levels within this post. For example, Page OnePage Two

Flat Finishes Produced by Thomas Parsons

a) Endelflat Enamel

Thomas Parsons' 'Endelflat' Enamel
‘Endelflat’ Enamel


This was described as the “perfect flat Enamel for best quality interior work”, which produced “a delightfully soft, dead flat finish, of a perfectly hygienic and washable character”. The covering capacity was approximately 80 sq. yds. per gallon.

‘Lacreite’ Flat Enamel was a second quality flat enamel that was cheaper and also available in an ‘Egg-Shell Finish’.

NEW WORK
Upon Woodwork –
Knot, Prime and Stop, thoroughly smooth down and apply:
a) Two coats of Parsons’ Undercoating Body White Undercoating.
b) One coat of Undercoating ‘Endelflat’.
c) One coat of ‘Endelflat’.*

Upon Plaster or Composition Board –
Assuming the plaster is thoroughly dry, apply:
a) One coat of Parsons’ ‘Unicote’ Primer.
b) Two coats of Parsons’ Undercoating Body White Undercoating.
c) One coat of Undercoating ‘Endelflat’.
d) One coat of ‘Endelflat’.*

OLD WORK
Upon Wood or Plaster –
Prepare the ground and apply:
a) One or two coats of Parsons’ Body White Undercoating.
b) One coat of Undercoating ‘Endelflat’.
c) One coat of ‘Endelflat’.*

*Where ‘Lacreite’ Flat Enamel is to be specified, substitute ‘Lacreite Flat’ for ‘Endelflat’.
Note: Stippling the last coat obviates brush marks and is recommended.

Stippling the last coat gave a better finish
Stippling the last coat gave a better finish


Parsons’ ‘Endelflat’ Enamel was also available in the Newton Colour Series of graduated tints, for interior use only.

Newton Colours



b) Unicote Flat Wall Finish

'Unicote'  Flat Oil Wall Finish - produced by Thomas Parsons in the 1930s

'Unicote'  Flat Oil Wall Finish - produced by Thomas Parsons in the 1930s

This was an oil-based paint that provided a flat finish upon wood, plaster, wallpaper, metal and glass. It was much finer and more durable than a washable distemper and could even be scrubbed, thus making it more hygienic. It could also be applied over alkaline surfaces, such as concrete and cement, but one was advised to write for special specifications. The covering capacity was approximately 80 sq. yds. per gallon.

NEW WORK
Upon Plaster -
Assuming that the plaster is normally dry, i.e. no signs of free moisture, apply:
a) One coat of ‘Unicote’ Primer.*
b) Two coats of Undercoating ‘Unicote’.
c) One coat of ‘Unicote’.

Note: If there is some doubt about the walls being dry, apply:
a) One coat of ‘Unicote’ thinned a little with turps and stippled.
b) One full coat of ‘Unicote’ stippled.

*Specify Tinted ‘Unicote’ Primer for dark coloured plasters.

Upon Woodwork -
Knot, Prime, Stop and apply:
a) Two coats of Undercoating ‘Unicote’.
b) One coat of ‘Unicote’.

Upon Composition Boards -
a) One coat of ‘Unicote’ Primer.
b) Two coats of Undercoating ‘Unicote’.
c) One coat of ‘Unicote’.

Note: Stippling the last coat obviates brush marks and is recommended.

OLD WORK
Upon Plaster (not previously painted) -
a) One coat of ‘Unicote’ Primer.*
b) Two coats of Undercoating ‘Unicote’.
c) One coat of ‘Unicote’.

*Specify Tinted ‘Unicote’ Primer for dark coloured plasters.

Upon painted or distempered Plaster -
Wash down and remove all loose or flaking paint or distemper, make good where necessary and apply:
a) One coat of ‘Unicote’ Primer.
(Where the previous coat was an oil paint in good condition this coat can be dispensed with, but parts made good should e coated with the Primer).
b) One or two coats of Undercoating ‘Unicote’.
c) One coat of ‘Unicote’.

Old painted Woodwork or painted Composition Boards -
Wash down, fill up and rub smooth, and apply:
a) One or two coats of Undercoating ‘Unicote’.
b) One coat of ‘Unicote’.

Note: Stippling the last coat obviates brush marks and is recommended.


Flat Finishes Samples – Page Two


Flat (Oil-Based) Finishes
The flat oil-based paints that were offered by Thomas Parsons eighty years ago have all but vanished from the housepainter’s repertoire. Recent EU legislation establishing limit values for the maximum VOC contents of decorative paints has effectively brought production to an end (although see below).

As explained in the post on enamels, these were usually based on a linseed stand oil medium, sometimes with added resin. Flat wall paints, on the other hand, were a development of the old-fashioned flatting process employed by the early housepainter, tricky to use but effective in skilled hands.

Traditional oil paints, made by grinding lead carbonate in linseed oil, with pigment added to give colour, typically dried to a mid-gloss finish. From the early 19th century one begins to see references in the technical works on painting to the process of flatting, which imparted a matt finish to the oil-painted surface. An oily undercoat (which should have completed the obliteration of the surface) was applied on the day before the application of the flatting. The flatting coat was made from pigments ground in turpentine (or a very low percentage of oil, for example White Lead in paste form, containing only 8 per cent of oil). This was applied and as the turpentine evaporated it left behind the pigment which firmly adhered to the tacky undercoat. To paint a large surface, such as a wall, was exceptionally difficult and painters would charge extra for this work, effectively doubling the cost of applying two coats of paint, for example. The following account, from 1830, shows the effort involved:

It should be observed that the flatting must be made one shade lighter (than the undercoat) as the ground colour will not be so apt to show through; and it will thereby, give the work a more solid appearance…it is also necessary to observe that good soft spreading brushes must be used, otherwise it will be impossible to make good work. If the wall be from eight to ten feet high it will require two men to flat it. Fix a scaffold from one end of the wall to the other a proper depth from the ceiling in order to reach with ease the top of the work…Be careful to have everything provided as you cannot leave off work till one flank is finished. The bottom of the wall must be commenced first, painting not more than twelve or eighteen inches wide at a time. Move the brush in a perpendicular direction, and when you have painted as far as you can conveniently reach, carefully cross the work with a light hand in order to give the colour a uniform extension. When this is done, finish the work by laying it off very lightly beginning at the bottom and striking the brush up about a foot, then from the top, lightly draw the brush to the bottom. When this is done, the man on the plank must begin where the other left off and finish the top. In the meantime, the man standing on the floor must begin another width: and so proceed till one side of the wall is finished.

Incredibly, flatting was still referred to in some of the technical works of the early 1960s, by which time Flat Oil Paints had been on sale for about thirty years. (Incidentally, is it not depressing to see how a few modern paint manufacturers have been over-eager to attach the adjective traditional to some 20th century paints in an attempt to vest their products with status and to appeal to the innate snobbery of a certain section of the paint-buying public?)

By the 1980s Flat Enamels were seldom seen in everyday painting practice, but were still called on for high class work. They were especially useful where a matt finish was required on surfaces that were subject to frequent handling and where a Flat Oil would rapidly become marked. They possessed similar properties of flow to a gloss enamel, which meant that they dried with a smooth satin-like surface. Whilst most flat finishes were applied over a semi-gloss ground, that for a flat enamel had to be a flat or eggshell (low sheen). By the time that the flat enamels faded from use they were normally based on a Tung oil and alkyd resin medium with flatting agents and aluminium stereate added to increase the wet-edge time.

Flat Wall Paints or Flat Oils were made possible by developments in pigment manufacture and the increased use of tung oil in the making of paint. Lithopone and titanium white were employed together with extenders such as whiting, china clay and asbestine introduced to help control consistency, brushing, sheen and flow. Matting agents such as amorphous silica, magnesium carbonate, talc and diatomaceous earths were employed to control the level of sheen. It was important that the paint was applied as part of a system i.e. using the specially formulated primer and undercoat before the application of the flat oil.* These paints had to be applied rapidly, but covered well and produced a hard matt surface with some resistance to washing. Unless care and consistency was employed they tended to show flash marks (shiny patches).

"...and no flashes - you know what you're like!"

Flat oil paints are still regarded by some as being essential for the decoration of historic buildings – whether on 18th century panelling or 19th century plasterwork. Whilst they certainly provide a pleasing matt finish this is not always the same as being ‘authentic’ (see the paper on ‘Myths’ below and the photograph of the entrance hall in the Benjamin Franklin House). Although Papers and Paints can still supply flat oil paint to the owners of Grade I and II* Listed properties, on completion of the necessary paperwork, it is possible that the manufacture of these paints will be brought to an end. I have recently advised on the redecoration of a 1705 panelled house in London where water-based paints were successfully used throughout.

*It will be realised that paints are formulated with a lot of care and thought. Be cautious of those that appear to have been made in a South London garage or that are labelled as being “100% pure pigment”. A basic knowledge of mathematics, let alone chemistry, will show how ludicrous the latter claim is.

1930s Paint Colours
Should anyone want to use any of the paint colours shown on these colour cards Papers and Paints will be able to match them in most conventional finishes.



Papers and Paints can be found here for 1930s colours:


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