Have you ever found a piece of jewelry or a decorative object that looks like carved wood, complete with wood grain, but when you picked it up to look closer something wasn’t quite right? Maybe what you have there is SyrocoWood.
The Syracuse Ornamental Company
The Syracuse Ornamental Company, Syroco for short, was founded in Syracuse, New York in 1890 by a German immigrant named Adolph Holstein, according to information shared online by the Syracuse University Library. The company specialized in wood carving early on, supplying fireplace mantels and other decorative wood interior detailing to local residential builders.
Demand led to innovation as Syroco developed a process to make products that looked like wood but were actually made with wood pulp and fillers. The wood pulp was mixed with flour as a binder along with other materials to make it stronger. The result was a composite that could be molded into desired shapes to simulate carved wood.
“The process favored shallow molds with little undercutting, and this served well for the creation of a wide variety of ‘carved’ relief work to be applied to different sorts of flat surfaces such as walls, furniture, and caskets. Production of this new molded product, known as SyrocoWood, was the mainstay of the company's production through the 1940s. The finished material could be smoothed and varnished to look like wood, or it could be painted. Sales catalogs from the early 1900s through the 1920s offer hundreds of varieties of moldings, capitals, brackets, volutes, and reliefs of vases, garlands, cartouches, scrollwork, and other details in a variety of styles,” as shared on the Syracuse University library website.
The Growth of the Business
As the business continued to grow, as many as 400 employees manned the Syroco factory. By the 1930s, the company had expanded to make an “extensive line of gift and novelty items” under the names “SyrocoWood” and “Woodite.” The Scottie dog brooch shown here would fall into this category. The pin backs on these pieces were simple and inexpensive, likely a reflection of Depression-era economics. Other decorative pieces made during this era varied in quality with some nicely detailed and others lacking in design aesthetics.
The compression molds used to make these wood-look pieces were actually created using original wood carvings, which imparted a realistic look (at least at first glance). You often don’t realize that a Syroco product is not real wood until you pick it up and notice a decidedly different feel about it. In fact, these items almost feel like dense plastic, although not as heavy as Bakelite. Examining them closely under magnification, however, can reveal that an exterior finish that has worn away on the edges revealing the lighter-colored composite material under the surface (as exhibited in the detailed photo shown above).
In the early 1960s, the company began to include injection molding in the manufacturing process for some of its products although the older methods were sometimes employed as well. By 1963 more and more of the company’s products were being made of plastics with the introduction of a “Lady Syroco” line of home products and other goods such as clocks, mirrors, and tables.
Syroco was purchased in 1965 by the company that would become Dart Industries, the owner of a more familiar American brand: Tupperware. The company changed hands several times and continued to produce plastic wares including lawn furniture through 2007 when the plant finally closed.
Marks on Syroco Products
Some of the products made of SyrocoWood found by collectors today include trinket or cigarette boxes, wall hangings or plaques, mirror frames, and candle sconces. Those made in the 1950s and ‘60s tend to have a more gold-colored finish to them while earlier products more often simulate genuine wood coloring more closely.
Older pieces may be marked with a foil sticker, but these have sometimes been removed or wore away with use over time. Those styles are most often identified by the wood-look material rather than a sticker. Later pieces are often found marked with foil stickers and/or a Syracuse Ornamental Co. stamp on the back. Jewelry pieces believed to have been manufactured by this company are usually not marked and are sometimes misidentified as genuine wood by novice dealers and collectors.