by Bonnie Foster, Reference Assistant
“Hey! Is that Syroco?”
“What? What’s Syroco?”
“I think it is. It’s totally Syroco. Oh, Syracuse Ornamental Company. We’ve got some of their catalogs at Special Collections. It’s wicked cool…”
In recent months, the above conversation has occurred at least three times. I’ve said it in a movie theater, to my roommate while watching a hit AMC show about ad men in the ‘60s, and even to myself while watching reruns of a TV show, set in 1980. More and more, I am seeing the evidence of how popular items manufactured by the Syracuse Ornamental Company really were. You see, Syroco was popular because they mass-produced decorative accessories that they knew people would love to have in their homes.
“Since 1890, Syroco has been America’s foremost manufacturer of decorative accessories.
What is meant by ‘decorative accessory’? Simply, any interior accent that catches the eye, enhances the general décor, and stimulates the imagination. It can be a painting, or it can be a clock, plaque, planter, sconce, or mirror. It can be a grouping of these. It can complement your furniture and fabrics, or contrast with them.
There’s a Syroco accessory to suit every setting, every taste.”
(1966 Wall-to-Wall Decorating handbook)
They appeared in national advertisements, including magazines and newspapers, and featured Syroco Showrooms from New York City to San Francisco.
Their business began with your run-of-the-mill hand carved woodwork, crafting the decorative adornments that were common on coffins. Yes, coffins. One of the earliest catalogues in the Syroco collection is a catalogue of the Syracuse Ornamental Company’s “Cloth Covered Casket Decorations”, from 1908. Their unique method of working with material that resembled wood, but wasn’t actually wood was able to fill a niche market because of its flexibility and ability to be molded and painted to resemble the real thing.
Adolf Holstein, the company’s founder, was a master carver and the demand for recreations of his unique hand-carved designs soon led him to hire more carvers, and eventually create a unique method of compression molding, in order to mass-produce Syroco items. The artisan would hand-carve an original piece, out of the wood they were trying to match, and then a mold would be cast from the carving. The mold would then be filled with a mixture of wood, wax, and resins, and compressed. It would then be sanded and either received a multi-color decoration, or a natural wood stain. Needless to say, in the 1920s, this was an unheard of way to manufacture items, and Syroco’s popularity just continued to grow.
Their more popular items included clocks, wall plaques and sconces, bookends, bathroom accessories, and even corkscrews and brush sets!
I, myself, enjoy the craftsmanship so much, that I own a set of bookends from the 1950s, which I found for sale online. They’re well-designed, and intricate, right down to the decorative vase sitting amongst the books on the shelf. You can find many Syroco items for sale online these days, from third-party sellers.
In the 1980s, Syroco began to focus on their plastic moldings, becoming a popular manufacturer of patio furniture and other outdoor accessories. The catalogues available for view in our collection boast “The Chair” and “The Shelf” – versatile, durable and decorative. My personal favorite is “Clip-Up” – a 15” x 4 ¼” giant plastic paperclip – “The Clip-Up holds magazines, file folders, scarves, mittens, lunch bags, notebooks, drawing pads…you name it. And it looks great in the home or office…” (1982 Syroco Housewares). By the early 2000s, Syroco had begun to re-introduce some of their original designs, like their Sunburst clock, as “retro” items.
Sadly, the Syracuse Ornamental Company officially closed its doors in 2007, after a few buy outs from other companies, resulting in turnovers and downsizing of their factory locations. By June of 2007, the company had decided to close its remaining four warehouses and lay off their remaining workers, without warning.
The most action Syroco items see nowadays is collecting dust in attics and basements. Some of the more popular requests for information from researchers generally begin with “I found this wall plaque in my mom’s house…” but there are still a few collectors of Syroco accessories out there. They could be interior designers for hit TV shows and movies, or they could be just like you, and me. I know I’ll always be on the lookout for Syroco when I go antiquing.
1 Comment »
 Johnson, Donald-Brian (2005). “Syroco: A Cut Above”. Antiques and Collecting Magazine; 110, 7, p. 34-39.
 Hannagan, C. and Knauss, T. (2007). “Plastic-chair Maker Syroco Shuts Down – Employees at Van Buren Plant Get Short Notice of Grim News”. The Post Standard, Syracuse, NY; June 19, 2007.