The MOCA Collections team recently acquired a collection of items from a former establishment located in our very own Chinatown. Generously donated by Good Jean Lau and her family, the Kuo Sun Company Collection features artifacts from a former laundry print shop owned and operated by her husband Dennis’ parents, Leo Q.C. (Quock Chong) Lau and Mary Lau.

Leo Lau was a World War II veteran and upon returning to the States, he began his career as a printer by learning under someone who printed calendars. Eventually, Leo branched out on his own and created the Kuo Sun Company, which focused on printing laundry tickets. The storefront was originally located at 54B Elizabeth street before it was relocated to 113 Mott Street and finally to 117 Mott Street. In both Mott Street locations, Leo’s laundry printing store operated in the back of the building while the front was a stationary shop run by his wife Mary. Upon their passing, much of the store’s signage and equipment were passed on to their son Dennis, who kept it in storage before it was generously gifted to us at MOCA for safekeeping. The collection currently includes a large store sign, print-making type and stamps, a business card, as well as family photos of Good Jean and her husband Dennis’ family.

Kuo Sun Co. Glass Sign

The largest artifact in this collection would be the impressive store sign that once hung in the interior of the storefront glass, and has been kept in relatively great condition by the family. During our processing of this collection, the MOCA team discovered some interesting physical features of the glass signage. The letters on this sign were done using a gilding process known as Verre Églomisé which was developed in the 18th century by French decorator and art dealer Jean-Baptiste Glomy. In the sign that is created by or for Kuo Sun Co, the lettering is applied using two different techniques; the first is using a gelatin adhesive to fix the gold leaf which is then steamed to create a smooth mirror-like finish, and the second is using an oil-based adhesive (goldsize varnish), then a gold leaf if applied onto the surface once the oil-size goes tacky to the touch to create a matte finish. Behind the gilded lettering, black oil paint was applied and we can see evidence of a shadow of a previous attempt at lettering or a change in the sign’s design.

The lettering on this sign also features an interesting arrangement. Many contemporary store signs here in Chinatown often have both English and Chinese writing with the Chinese written in the same left-to-right arrangement as its English counterpart. Contrary to that common practice, the Kuo Sun Co. sign has the Chinese characters read from the traditional right to left instead.

Kuo Sun Co. glass sign. Courtesy of Good Jean Lau. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
Backside of the glass sign, one can see the black oil paint applied behind the letters. Courtesy of Good Jean Lau. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
Cleaning the sign using brush and vacuum to remove loose debris. Courtesy of Good Jean Lau. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.

Mechanical Sequential Stamps and Metal Types

Good Jean’s donation also featured a large selection of metal types in both English and Chinese characters. These types were most likely used to press batches of laundry tickets for the various laundromat businesses in the area. In addition, the collection also has a selection of mechanical stamps of two sizes, both of which would have been used to create sequentially numbered tickets. The larger stamps were tested for function and they would rotate to the next number after being pressed down with tremendous force. More than likely, these stamps would be used in conjunction with a machine that has a lever to make life easier for the individual stamping tickets.

Mechanical sequential stamps and metal types. Courtesy of Good Jean Lau. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.

Family photos

Family photos included as part of Good Jean and Dennis’ gift to MOCA features shots of both family shops. Good Jean’s and Dennis’ parents knew each other from their time in the same military unit during World War II. The photos gifted to us include shots of both parents’ storefronts from various decades of the late 1900s. Good Jean’s family laundry shop was located at 2203 Minnesota Ave S.E. and was managed by her mother while her father drove a Bell Cab in the area for many years before he stopped after a robbery. Eventually, her family was able to open up a laundromat in another part of DC before saving enough money to move and settle in New York City. Following the move to New York City, Good Jean recalls that her mother was encouraged to stay home to be available for her children. Therefore, her mother would bring home jewelry items to complete at home with the help of Good Jean and the other siblings to supplement the family income.

Dennis, Leo and Mary Lau posing in front of their store located at 113 Mott Street. Courtesy of Good Jean Lau. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
Good Jean Lau revisiting the family's old DC laundromat at 2203 Minnesota Ave S.E. after moving to NYC. Courtesy of Good Jean Lau. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
Good Jean Lau's family laundromat located at 2203 Minnesota Ave S.E., Washington, DC. Courtesy of Good Jean Lau. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.
Leo Q. C. Lau, and Mary H.F. Lau holding their first grandchild, Michael Lau. Courtesy of Good Jean Lau. Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) Collection.