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Calsomine — Case Study

Benjamin Moore

Benjamin Moore & Co. has produced quality paint since 1883, when the young Benjamin Moore, a recent Irish immigrant, began his paint business venture with his brother, William, in a small building in Brooklyn, NY. The brothers began manufacturing a product called Calsom Finish, a calsomine coating for walls and ceilings. The company made a profit the very first year. William left the organization and Robert Moore, another of Benjamin's brothers, contributed $2,000 and joined the venture.

Calsomine History and Recipes
Nineteen Ninety Five Paint Questions Answered, New York: The Painters Magazine, 1923

# 1273 — Kalsomine: Its Composition and Uses, p.463.
    1. What is the meaning of the word calcimine or kalsomine, as known to the paint trade?
    2. Are kalsomines supposed to be used on exterior work, cellars, air lofts, etc.? Does the painter consider cold water kalsomine to be identical with cold water paints?
    3. What alkaline or other injurious substance that would affect ceiling varnish would be found in cold water kalsomines?

The term kalsomine or calcimine is adopted for a glue, whiting and water paint that is applied cold, similar to, but less expensive than, distemper. Whiting, being carbonate of lime, and calcium, being the chemical term for lime, has furnished the name for the material. Kalsomine, as prepared by the painter, is for interior work only and will not stand exterior exposure. The cold water paints are made up on a different formula, the binder being casein in place of glue, and usually a certain percentage of oil is added to insure additional wear. They also contain more or less white pigment, such as zinc oxide or lithopone, in addition to calcium carbonate or calcium sulphate. If kalsomine is made up as it should be, the whiting known as English Cliffstone paris white (which is pure chalk) and good sheet glue, there can be nothing in its composition that would injure or affect ceiling varnish, although enough alkali might be present to affect Chinese or Prussian Blue. In such cases a select grade of bolted English china clay is substituted for the whiting. Good kalsomine differs from ordinary whitewash insofar that carbonate of used in place of quicklime and glue as a binder.

#1277— Preparing First Class Kalsomine, p.459.

A prominent decorator form the far West recommends the following:- Use good bolted gilders' whiting and a good gelatin or uncolored glue, free of grease. Soak separately in water overnight 200 pounds of whiting and 5-1/2 pounds of the glue, and next morning both are heated to the boiling point with steam and then mixed.

To keep the glue from souring in hot weather, a preservative, such as oil of cloves, is used, when the kalsomine will keep for six weeks in summer in good condition.


Sodium carbonate... 8 parts
Linseed oil........... 32 parts
Hot water............. 8 parts
White glue........... 12 parts
Whiting.............. 160 parts

 Dissolve the sodium carbonate in the hot water, add the oil and saponify by heating and agitation. Cover the glue, broken into small pieces, with cold water and let soak overnight. In the morning pour the whole on a stout piece of stuff and let the residual water drain off, getting rid of as much as possible by slightly twisting the cloth. Throw the swelled glue into a capsule, put on the water bath, and heat gently until it is melted. Add the saponified oil and mix well; remove from the bath, and stir in the whiting, a little at a time, adding hot water as it becomes necessary. When the whiting is all stirred in, continue adding hot water, until a liquid is obtained that flows freely from the kalsomining brush.

The addition of a little soluble blue to the mixture increases the intensity of the white.

#1264 - Removing Whitewash from Ceiling Before Kalsomining, p.460.

Soften the whitewash by wetting it liberally and repeatedly with a solution of two pounds potash in five gallons of water, and when softened, remove with a scraper.

# 1261- Preparing Kalsomine, p.459.

Dissolve one pound white sheet glue in hot water, after it has been soaked in cold water. Make a saturated solution of alum in water, then mix 25 pounds of bolted English cliffstone parts [sic] white in water to a stout paste and add to this the alum solution, then add the liquid glue and test the mixture for its binding properties, and if it does not bind well add more glue and let it stand to cool. If the kalsomine is to be tinted, use distemper colors. i.e., colors that have been ground fine in water, but avoid colors that are affected by lime, such as chrome yellow, chrome green, Prussian blue, etc., and the tinting colors should be added to the whiting mixture before the glue is put in. To determine whether the tint is satisfactory, dip a piece of paper in the mixture and let it dry. When ready to apply it thin with cold water to required consistency and use good kalsomining or wall brushes. Lay your work off evenly and avoid laps. If an edge dries, stop and wet it up with a clean brush and clear water and do the same where you have missed a spot and finish up with kalsomine. Should your kalsomine dry too fast, slow it up with glycerine, say one-quarter pound to two gallons kalsomine, for in that case you have too much glue and alum and your kalsomine is liable to crack and flake. Practice a little about your shop or your own house, and you will soon determine the proper relation between pigment and binder.

#1262 - Kalsomining Old Whitewashed Ceilings, p.459.

Whether it works well or not, it is unsafe to put kalsomine over old lime whitewash or old kalsomine, because of the tendency to flake. Kalsomine is stronger in binding properties than ordinary lime wash, therefore it requires a strong ground. To remove old lime wash or kalsomine is often difficult and expensive task, and it is better to bind the old coating down before beginning to apply the kalsomine. To do this effectively, proceed as follows: - If the walls or ceiling have been been whitewashed, and it does not pay to take it off, wash the surface with strong vinegar and, when dry, give a good coat of glue size or, better, two thin coats, applied fairly warm, and have the room as warm as possible. This makes as good a foundation for kalsomine as can be had on old lime wash. On old kalsomine that cannot well be removed, apply one or two good coats of alum and glue size, which is prepared as follows:-Dissolve one pound of white rosin soap in hot water; after slicing the soap fine soak one pound of white sheet glue in cold water until soft, pour off the surplus water, stir the glue and put in boiling hot water until the glue is thoroughly dissolved and liquid. Now dissolve two pounds of alum in hot water, then stir the liquid glue and soap water together and add the alum solution. Then thin the mixture with warm water to working consistency. This makes a safe ground on which kalsomine will work very well.

Sizing Walls for Kalsomine. - A size to coat over "hot walls" for the reception of the kalsomine is made by using shellac, 1 part; sal soda, 1/2 part. Put these ingredients in 1/2 gallon of water and dissolve by steady heat. Another size is made of glue size prepared to the usual way, and alum. To 1/2 pound of white glue add 3/4 pound of alum, dissolving the alum in hot water before adding it to the glue size.

Henley's Formulas for Home and Workshop, edited by Gardner D. Hiscox, M.E., New York: Avenel Books, 1979. First published 1907, revised edition, 1927, p.436.

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