Artificial flower (pre plastic) cutting and veiner presses, (2), and tools, metal / wood / foil / paper, used by F. B. Frankford, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, made in Germany, 1910-1915

Made in Germany, 1910-1915.

This small collection of pre-pastic flowering making equipment, is significant because of its links to the early development of the trade in Sydney.

These artefacts extend the Museum’s current collection of artifical flowers, which is entirely decorative, to include a manufacturing component. Thus significance, in this sense, is one of enabling the collection to be represented by other subject areas.

More broadly, the notion of copying Nature, as artificial flower makers claimed to do, has a l...


Artificial flower (pre plastic) cutting and veiner presses, (2), and tools, metal / wood / foil / paper, used by F. B. Frankford, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, made in Germany, 1910-1915

Artificial flower cutting press standing on two A-frame bases, with curved spine and rounded top. Four threaded upright lengths are at its centre. A platform with a graduated wheel mechanism underneath sitis horizontally on the lengths. A folding rectangular wooden table is attached to the platform. There is a lever with a wooden handle at one side. A circular balance from the lever protrudes to the other side. A bracket to support the folding table is separate.

Artificial flower veiner press and table. Veiner press has a flat base with a curved rim and four holes for screws, and a curved spine that leads to a top with outstretched arms that end in spheres. One of the arms has an arced rod attached to it that has [paper] wrapped around it . At the centre of the press is a stamping mechanim. The table is a rectangular wooden table with four legs. At its centre is a curved shape that has been cut out of the table top.

In regard to the many cutting and veiner tools comprising this collection, the following items have been recorded:

There are cutter and veiner sets for the following flowers: Daisy (double), pansy (two sizes and types), poppy (two sizes), violet (two sizes), geranium and hydrangea (combined cutter and veiner), primrose.

There are cutter and veiner sets for the following leaves: Holly (single), rose (several sizes), rose calex, mistletoe, fern (five shapes), maple (two sizes).

There are cutters only for the following plants: Rose (multiple and single cutters, several sizes), hyacinth, forget-me-not (two sizes), flannel flower.


The cutting and veiner presses, tools, and photographs were used and developed during the period Frederick Baron Frankford (1881-1932) was in business as an artificial flower manufacturer in Sydney. The presses and tools were made in Germany.

Historical and Production Technologies.

The manufacture of artificial flowers, was first brought to a high degree of excellence by the Italians, though many other nations (Austria, Brazil, France, British Colonies and the Channel Islands, Mexico, United Kingdom, and Germany) were exhibiting and rewarded high honours in the 1851 Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations (London) ['Reports of the Juries on the Subjects in the Thirty Classes into which the Exhibition was Divided'. 2 vols. W. Clowes and Sons, London, 1852., esp. vol. 2, pp.1428-1436].

A high perfection in the art/skill of this manufacture was on display at the Great Exhibition, and as the 'Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts, Mechanical and Chemical, Manufactures, Mining, and Engineering' (1949) reported of the Great Exhibition's artificial flower exhibits: "So accurate, indeed, were the copies of rare and fragile plants, that we have the testimony of a professor of botany to their value in reference to his science" (697).

The working area at Frankford's in Sydney was, it has been recalled, typical of the European working facilities that were available in this period for the making of artificial flowers. Flower makers would have a large desk with drawers in which were kept their flower components, for example, petals, stalks, blossoms, buds and leaves. The table was covered with oil-cloth for cleaning and to avoid staining with the different dyes that were employed to colour the flowers. Light metal frames were placed on top of the work bench, these being suitable structures from which to hang the flowers. Bobbin-holders were also placed on the table. These stood at about 6" (152.4mm) high and were fixed to a large lead or timber base for stability. A large bobbin was threaded to the rod, on which silk or wool were wound.

The artificial-flower maker usually did not hold the material directly with his fingers, but instead used pincers for the job. The pincers were a small and simple tool that were used for many tasks in addition to general lifting. For example, they were employed by the maker to shape the smallest parts of the flower, while extremities of petals and irregularities in the form, and the arrangement of stamens were also manipulated by the flower-maker's pincers.

Dressing frames, a timber construction in the shape of a square, were employed to stretch the material which were gummed and dyed. The frame could be adjusted and canvass was afixed to it, upon which the artificial flower components could be sewn.

'Irons', were used to cut out petals, calyxes and bracts, for serrating and other botanical shapes in leaves. These irons are struck lightly with a hammer, and this imparts the desired pattern to the flower material. If material becomes embedded in the tool, then a small wire ring is used to extract it without damage to the pattern. The artificial-flower maker usually produced more than one copy of a specimen, and this can be achieved by doubling the material several times under the cutting iron. All hammering operations are performed on a leaden block.

The cutting out of leaves and petals is only a preliminary operation to the more perfect imitation of nature. The leaves must next be gauffered to represent the veins, the folds, and the endless touches and indentations which are found in the natural plant. Traditionally, gauffering was achieved in two ways. First, the petal is hollowed and it is made to curve inward. The gauffering tool for this task is a small polished ball of iron (of various sizes), which is fixed to a thin iron rod with a wooden handle attached to the end. The depth of the hollow and curvature is dependent upon the species of flower being made by the artisan. For example, forget-me-nots, require only a small curvature, while camellia and dahlia have larger inward curves. This gauffering tool is warmed slightly before use, so as to give precise shapes to the material without destroying the colour. The petals are placed on a cushion and the gauffering iron is pressed against them.

Forming curves in the petal is only one task undertaken by the artificial-flower maker. Prism, conical, hooked, and cylindrical irons are used to obtain various folds or plaits on a leaf. The veins and curves of leaves are given by gauffers, consisting of two distinct parts, on each of which is severally moulded in copper, the upper and under surface of the leaf. Sometimes one part of the mould is iron, the other copper. A large number of guaffering tools are used in veining and curving, as the number of flower species too is very diverse.

A veiner press is used to stamp the desired form. Usually, this is accomplished by using a heavy iron screw press.

In addition to the above items, the artificial-flower maker is equipped with large and small scissors for cutting wire and fabric, camel's hair pencil brushes, sponges, and canvas bags.

Traditional materials included French and Scottish cambric, jaconet, fine calico, satin, muslin, gauze, and velvet. These materials are provided in various colours, as well as in white, but fresh tints have frequently to be applied to the material. The camel's hair brush was used for this task, or more simply and directly the material was dipped into colour pigment. Leaves were generally not coloured separately, instead they were made from green taffeta.

(The curator obtained this information in conversation with the donor).


Frederick Baron Frankford (1881-1932) arrived in Sydney from London in 1910. He came from a family of artificial flower manufacturers who had a thriving business in London, under the leadership of Alexander Frankford, Frederick's father.

When Frederick arrived in Sydney, he went straight to a firm called Smelley Brothers, importers and manufacturers. He presented a business proposal to the board of this firm, and they were favourably impressed with his plan to make artificial flowers en masse locally and to export the product. This was considered to be a new businees venture for Sydney, indeed Australia, in the early twentieth century.

The board of Smelly Brothers ordered the machines and tools from Germany and employed Frederick to implement his plans. He was established in a factory in Regent Street, Sydney. Within two years, the business had expanded and artificial flowers were being send from the Regent Street factory to all the capital cities in Australia, and the product was being exported to South Africa.

At the beginning of World War 1, Frederick purchased the business from Smelley Brothers and he also purchased another factory site at 94 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, where the business remained until the early 1960s. The donor of the artefacts to the Museum managed the business for two years during the 1950s, to assist his wife's mother, Marie Therese Frankford, who had inherited the business from her husband Frederick, when he died in 1932.

It can be noted here, what is meant by artificial flowers, as manufactured by Frankford's and on this equipment. As made by F.B. Frankford, artificial flowers were made from silk, cotton, taffeta, organdy (a thin, plain, transparent cotton, typically used in making dresses, collars, cuffs), and, secondarily, the floral decorations made in coloured papers for decorating cakes, especially wedding cakes and the arches with the figures of the bride and groom on top of the wedding cake.

Artificial flowers, for the generations of Frankford manufacturers, were not plastic flowers.

(These notes were derived in discussion with the donors.)
Frankford, Frederick Baron 1910-1932


Gift of Jack Skone and Noni Marie Frankford, 2004
2 July, 2004

Cite this Object

Artificial flower (pre plastic) cutting and veiner presses, (2), and tools, metal / wood / foil / paper, used by F. B. Frankford, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, made in Germany, 1910-1915 2014, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 20 November 2017, <>
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