Cow Gum
Whatever happened to...

Whatever happened to Cow Gum?

Posted by Colin Higton

If you are a Graphic Designer of a certain age, you will remember Cow Gum with a mixture of  deep affection and amazement that we ever relied on such a troublesome solution to what today is a simple problem.

It was a rubber solution glue that came in a red and white tin with the word ‘cow’ emblazoned across the front and a smell and consistency that can never be forgotten. It was an everyday staple of creative design studio life before the advent of Apple Macs and bubblejets – and the complete opposite of the convenience of on-screen composition we know today.

In fact, even as a web designer who never deals with print you pay testament to the memory of Cow Gum every time you ‘cut & paste’ text and graphics in your designs.

It may seem hard to believe, but in the 1980s and before, artwork wasn’t emailed or uploaded – it was literally cut up and pasted into place using this remarkable rubber solution and a host of other mechanical, analogue and immensely time consuming techniques.

The Cow on the tin wasn’t a reference to the animal, but apparently to Mr Cow who invented it. It’s character and properties were similar to Copydex (Blue Peter fans) but with the added advantage of being spirit based – which made it cleaner to use and resulted in a mild high after an all-night artworking session.

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At least 50% of all Cow Gum ended up where you didn’t want it, and had to be cleaned from your artwork with a Cow Gum rubber that looked a lot like a shoolboy’s collection of bogies. This was actually just a ball of used Cow Gum built up like a snow ball – but designers and artworkers would take great pride in having the largest balls of Cow Gum for the purpose. Eventually, these would become too large to be useful, and would have to be discarded – but fortunately they had the redeeming quality of bouncing like the most powerful rubber ball you’ve ever seen.

It’s not available anymore – they stopped making it when the Apple Mac took over. You can buy alternatives – and they even come in the famous red and white tin, but why would you bother when it doesn’t say ‘Cow’ across the front?

There’s part of me that thanks God we now have computers to make all this so much easier – but part of me misses the skill and craft required to use Cow Gum properly, the fun we had throwing and spreading it around improperly – and particularly the fumes – and the high that came with it.

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