Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Zebra Grate Polish

Of course the first thing I noticed on this display of old enamel signs on a fence at the Blists Hill Victorian Town open air museum was the Z (it helped that it was on a bright yellow background). That elusive end letter of the alphabet for ABC Wednesday was sorted by the Zebra Grate Polish sign (a substance launched in 1890 by Reckitts).   It was one of the housewife's tasks to polish up the grate to a gleam, commonly called blackleading   The routine was old newspapers spread out in front of the grate, for it could be a messy business, and then the paste applied evenly all over the object in question, which would be a fireplace or the more elaborate cast iron range, then came the hard work of using the polishing brush to bring up the sparkling gleam.

Reckitt and Sons marketed their product in a similar non-descriptive way as the other famous marketing brands of the era such as Lever's Sunlight Soap and Coleman's Mustard.  The Zebra of course appeared on their tins and on the advertising which
often portrayed cute children in combination with  a zebra called Zebo.
but sometimes there was not a zebra in sight, only stripes. 
While trying to find some images to go with my photograph for this post I came across a great lamentation that modern day grate polish for things such as wood burning stoves does not give the same results as the old Zebra or Zebo products. The conclusion was that you would have to recreate it from scratch.  It originally consisted of pure black graphite finely ground, carbon black, a binding agent and a solvent to keep it fluid for application.  The problem with modern products is that they have a water based binding agent to make them idiot proof (and additionally absolve the manufacturer from any disaster involving their customers in chemicals)  however the fact that it is water based means it does not enter deeply enough into the substrate of the cast iron.  Who knew I would learn all that while trying to find images for an ABC post.

An entry to ABC Wednesday, a journey through the alphabet, this week sojourning at Z here


Roger Owen Green said...

these signs are so quaint!


Hildred said...

Great post - and somewhat indicative of the present that the Zebra Polish is not as effective as when it was first used because of the water-based binding fluid. We are so protected! To a fault, I sometimes think....

Trubes said...

I remember my Grandma polishing her cast iron grate with Zebra. Then she got a proper gas cooker, she was delighted not to have to blacken the old grate. She still used it as a fire and sometimes cooked bread in the oven.

best wishes,
ABCW team.

Indrani said...

Very interesting and informative.
Great post with Z.
Happy ABCW!
Happy New Year!

Su-sieee! Mac said...

I like the cheery labels. You don't see things like that anymore.

Lmkazmierczak said...

What a lovely way to start a new year...learning something new...thanks for sharing♪ http://lauriekazmierczak.com/time-zoom/