Oakey had been apprenticed to a piano maker where he had learned to make sandpaper by glueing sand or powdered glass onto paper. He developed a better process suitable for mass-production and consequently set up his business. In 1874 the company moved to Wellington Mill at Westminster Bridge Road. Oakey went on to develop many wet and dry sand and emery papers, and a range of polishing compounds including lead blacking, Wellington knife polish, Silversmith's Soap and Plate Powder, as well as furniture polishes. These products were used in most industries from furniture, metal and stonework, to leather production and telescope lens manufacture. Advertisements for John Oakey's products were a common feature on buses and trams in the early 20th century.
John Oakey died in 1887 and the business passed to his sons, Joseph and John. Under the stewardship of the sons, the company went public in 1893, becoming John Oakey & Sons Ltd.
By Mark Matlach
The distinctive Oakey overprint was used in the Victorian era, along with at least two more standard layouts, which differ only slightly in the fonts used.