Objects in Gutta Percha

Objects in Gutta Percha by the Gutta Percha Company, The Great Exhibition, London, England, 1851, photography by Claude-Marie Ferrier.
Courtesy of Royal Collection Trust

A new invention was presented at the first World Exhibition in London: industrially produced furniture and everyday objects made of rubber. This ornamental excess was a thorn in the side of the architect and art theorist Gottfried Semper, who advocated “material-appropriate” design:

“An important natural material has only recently brought about a kind of revolution in the whole wide field of industry, due to its strange flexibility, with which it lends itself to all purposes. I am referring to gum elasticum or rubber, as it is called in Indian, whose stylistic field is the widest that can be conceived, since its almost unlimited sphere of action is imitation. This material is, as it were, the monkey among the useful materials….With such a material, a stylist’s mind stands still!” (Gottfried Semper: Der Kautschuk das Factotum der Industrie, in: ders.: der Stil in den technischen und tektonischen K√ľnsten. Or practical aesthetics. A handbook for technicians, artists and art lovers, 1860).