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Cow GumCut and paste – there was a time when it meant just that. Artwork for print was assembled by physically cutting out pieces of typeset text, photographs, illustrations and other graphic elements, and carefully sticking them on pieces of art board. The cutting tool was a surgical scalpel with a 10a blade, and the most common adhesive was Cow Gum.

Cow Gum was a rubber solution – that is, rubber dissolved in volatile petroleum spirits. The colourless gum was spread thinly with a spatula on the back of the elements to be assembled and also on the top of the art board. It was left for a few minutes for the solvent to evaporate (filling the studio with what I’m sure were very unhealthy fumes), then the cut items were positioned on the board, the two gummed surfaces adhering instantly. Excess rubber adhesive could then be rubbed off with the finger, or a ‘cow rubber’, a ball of dried Cow Gum.

The gum came in large tins of one or two pounds. Some studios amused themselves by having ‘cow-dropping’ competitions. The idea was that you would take a tin of Cow Gum and hold it upside down. The gum, which had the viscosity of very thick treacle would slowly emerge hanging like a giant dewdrop, perhaps a foot below the tin. The trick was to wait until the last possible moment, and before the whole mess fell onto the floor, swing the tin back upright catching the sticky stalactite back inside without it falling all over your hands – or worse.

Cow-dropping competitions were usually instigated in the afternoon after a long liquid lunch – not the best time for the delicate exercise.

Each artist would have their own cow rubber, lovingly created and grown over years of paste-up. I heard of one studio where a new accountant had decided there were savings to be made by judicious purchasing of graphics supplies. The artists were no longer free to order their own stocks but had to present a requisition to the accounts department. Needles to say, one item high on the list was a box of cow rubbers.