Do you know

Du Pont Fabrikoid Co., Do You Know the Story of Book Finish [ca. 1920] Front Cover, Promotional Pamphlet. Courtesy of the Hagley Museum and Library

Fabrikoid Co. was one of the predominant American manufactures of artificial leather, incorporated in 1902 and purchased by Du Pont in 1910.  Du Pont managed to get Henry Ford to use it as the covering on his Model T in 1914, putting it on over 130,00 cars. It was used for upholstery and other applications. The book in the pamphlet above is actually made of Fabrikoid book finish artificial leather, and mounted behind the cover in a cut out, creating this striking image. The chiaroscuro figure, surreal shadow, and pointing finger create an ominous, almost accusatory impression. The story of book finish is serious stuff.

how many hides has a cow

Du Pont Fabrikoid Co., Book Finish [ca. 1915] Detail of Back Cover, Promotional Pamphlet. Courtesy of the Hagley Museum and Library

Another great advertising campaign was the “How Many Hides?” Since Fabrikoid was essentially a less nitrated- nitrocellulose dissolved in castor oil, alcohol, benzene and amyl acetate, which was called pyroxilin (py-ROX-i-lin), it could be applied to different substrates: cloth, paper, or leather splits.  Du Pont hoped to capitalize on emphasizing the artificiality of “genuine” leather, and also casually reminded readers that Fabrikoid  was much cheaper. Sets of books such as Colliers Encyclopedia and the Harvard Classics were often bound in Fabrikoid. There are literally hundreds of variations on color, substrate, and texture just in book cloths.


Jeffrey L. Meikle, “Presenting a New Material: From Imitation to Innovation with Fabrikoid” in The Journal of the Decorative Arts Society 1850-Present, No., 19 (1995), pp. 8-15.

Robert Kanigel  FAUX REAL: Genuine Leather and 200 Years of Inspired Fakes. Washington D.C.: Joseph Henry Press, 2007.

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