Bustin’ Caps

Words by Sam Kleiman Photos by Brian Shumway

The origins of aerosol technology endured a slow and steady course with its first milestone achieved on November 23rd, 1927. On that day, a Norwegian engineer named Erik Rotheim sprayed his name on the history books by patenting the world’s first aerosol can. His success was so monumental that in 1998 the Norwegian post office honored their spray can man with an official stamp.

A brave few attempted to rattle the can of Rotheim’s technology in the following decades, but it wasn’t until 1949 that paint was placed inside an aerosol can for the first time by Edward Seymour of Chicago, IL (with a nudge of inspiration from his wife Bonnie), thus crowning him America’s first Duke of spray paint.

Edward went on to found Seymour of Sycamore, Inc., a company devoted to bringing the ease of sprayable paint-in-a-can to the post-war consumers of a nifty new America. What Seymour didn’t see, though, was that nearly 20 years later, the misappropriation of his (and Bonnie’s) ingenious invention would become the main ingredient in a molotov cocktail of youthful energy that ignited an explosive art form that splattered the world.

Like superheroes swooping in to save an important piece of history from the chilling death grip of obscurity, Cap Matches Color has formed like Voltron to document and promote individual and collective knowledge of vintage spray paint. Nostalgic or nerdy, they believe its history needs to be preserved and made available to the masses. Their mission statement: “Digging deeper, driving more miles, finding more, connecting more people, saving more cans, and doing it with style.” They’re three dedicated spray paint aficionados who speak as one — now that’s what I call crew unity.

Mass Appeal: How did you come up with the name?

Cap Matches Color: A lot of early brands used this term or a variation thereof on their label designs to denote the final paint results. It’s rarely used anymore so it seemed like a fitting title for what we do.

What is the general concept and ultimate goal for the project?

Cap Matches Color is a collective with the goal to document the many different aspects that spray paint has played within and without the writing culture. The vast CMC collection of spray paint, ephemera, advertising, signage, and documents belongs in a museum, where anyone can have access, appreciate, and study.

Have you acquired all the cans you originally set out to find?

We’ve grown to the point where we realize it’s a never ending mission. We’re very close to completing a number of sets, but never truly anticipate that we’ll stop when there’s always something else out there waiting to be discovered. If we found everything we were looking for tomorrow, it would be bittersweet. The urge to dig is an itch that can’t be fully scratched.

In terms of both non-spray paint and other aerosol products in general, how far can an item stray from being an actual can of spray paint for you to see the value in collecting it for this archive?

Quite far actually, since the history of spray paint involves a lot of gradual technical innovation in terms of the cans themselves. For example, we have Red Devil sample cans and a car wax bottle from the 1930s. The earliest Krylon cans only came in clear, and naturally have found their way into the collection. There’s also a lot of utterly amazing graphic designs that we come across which demand inclusion or at least recognition. So much of what we do is filling in the historic gaps of paint which otherwise would be lost to posterity. It would be irresponsible on our part as archivists to ignore such applicable, if fringe, items.

Your display at our Write of Passage exhibition included a can of Jifoam oven cleaner whose nozzles were discovered early on in writing culture as an essential “fat cap.”

Exactly. Finding household product cans from the height of the subway graffiti era that came with legendary stock caps is a big deal. We never pass up old cleaners without checking for original stock caps first.

How has this project connected you deeper into the writing community?

It’s been an absolute honor and incredibly humbling to use spray paint as a topic of discourse with a wide range of artists from all over the world. We have so much information and experience which deserves to be recorded and preserved for future generations, but it shows you how passionate people can get about their bond with a physical tool of creativity.

You guys are known for some legendary digging missions which include extensive traveling and a grueling amount of patience. Please shed some insight on what it takes to undergo these adventures.

Have we mentioned obsessive compulsive tendencies? Certainly a lust for adventure drives it. Anyone that chooses to do this is sure to discover the strangest locations, signs, and conversations with the myriad people you find along the way.

What is the general strategy for planning your course?

Good old pounding the pavement. A dig is defined by a strong lead then diverging along the way wherever necessary. If there’s no lead, then planning isbased on the most obscure towns off the beaten path. All technology aside, you can’t beat a proper road atlas. It never hurts to stop look around and ask questions.

Longest trip?

Seven states in five days with two dogs.

What is your craziest experience on a digging mission?

We stumbled onto the set of a zombie movie once on the third floor of an old brick warehouse somewhere along the Mississippi river. At another random stop we came up on a remote, wooden house in a bad state of disrepair with an adjoined auto shop that showed signs of being closed for years. The house was a poor excuse for a general store and displayed a few autorelated items through the windows. We went inside and eventually had to call out to see if anybody was around. The stench inside was unbearable and unlike anything we’d ever smelled before. Not sewage, not rotting food, nothing familiar came to mind. So with shirts wedged up to cover our noses, and still with the hopes of finding paint, we eventually heard the shuffled footsteps of a scary-looking old lady coming from the back. She couldn’t understand our questions, and before we let her get too close, we backed outside and drove away, wondering if that smell could really have been decomposition.

What is the most unexpected thing you’ve come across with a spray paint company’s branding on it?

The Rust-Oleum “Hot Hot Hot!” oven mitt.

Do you try to connect and paint with local writers in the towns and cities you visit, or do you prefer to fly under the writing community’s radar when focused on digging?

In order to up the odds of a successful dig, it basically requires every ounce of concentration and energy researching spots, ads, or those roads less travelled. We love to paint but it’s on the back burner when we’re nerding out.

What’s your policy for painting with vintage cans?

We encourage it. The majority of our paint is either discontinued or old stock. With the exception of sometimes using artist quality paint for outlines and some detail, almost everything else is vintage. As long as any can worth saving is saved and displayed, or you cut off the paper label and save it. We feel it will certainly give younger generations and anyone used to premium brands an eye opening lesson on the can control skills that early writers possessed.

Do you think in the future, say 20 or 30 years from now, certain cans from these newer brands like Montana Gold or Ironlak will be as highly regarded and collectable as a vintage Krylon Jungle Green or Icy Grape is today?

Certainly. We’re already seeing it with newer brands as they go through label changes. For example, the early Montana Gold design with the finger print, and the Sabotaz 80 can design with the character. Who remembers Wal-Mart’s Silver? It’s a reflection of a generation.

Most ridiculous color name from any brand?

We’re so glad you asked. There are many close ties between favorites such as: Llama Lime, Purple Passion, Tisket Tasket Yellow, Cinnebar, Brown Cow, Party Pink, Gadabout Green, Hong Kong Blue….

Is eBay cheating?

We prefer to physically look for items, but are not opposed to eBay either. It is a great way to find things that otherwise would go unseen.

Anything on your wish list that you’d like to make known right now?

Early “Soup” and “Grenade” style cans, Krylon notchtops, any promotional items, signage and charts, early Red Devil cans, Bernz-O-matic Spray Paint Cans, and of course Avocado in any brand we have not found yet. We’re interested in so many styles and brands of cans so the best thing is to email us pictures to [email protected] or post to our IG or FB and send us some pictures. If we’re interested in buying, we’ll be in touch.


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