Decalcomania, from the French décalcomanie, is a decorative technique by which engravings and prints may be transferred to pottery or other materials. Today the shortened version is "Decal".
It was invented in England about 1750 and imported into the United States at least as early as 1865. Its invention has been attributed to Simon François Ravenet, an engraver from France who later moved to England and perfected the process, which he called "decalquer" (which means to copy by tracing). The first known use of the French term décalcomanie, in Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Eleanor's Victory (1863), was followed by the English decalcomania in an 1865 trade show catalog (The Tenth Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association); it was popularized during the ceramic transfer craze of the mid-1870s.
The surrealist Oscar Domínguez (referring to his work as "decalcomania with no preconceived object") took up the technique in 1936, using gouache spread thinly on a sheet of paper or other surface (glass has been used), which is then pressed onto another surface such as a canvas. Dominguez used black gouache, though colours later made their appearance.
German artist Max Ernst also practiced decalcomania, as did Hans Bellmer and Remedios Varo.
In the 1950s and early 1960s, King Features Syndicate marketed a set of decalcomanias bearing full-color pictures of characters from King Features comic strips, including Flash Gordon, the Katzenjammer Kids, and Dagwood Bumstead. Intended for young children who might have difficulty pronouncing or reading the word "decalcomanias", these transfers were marketed as "Cockamamies", a deliberate mispronunciation of that word. The term "cockamamy" or "cockamamie" has entered the English language with various slang meanings, usually denoting something that is wacky, strange or unusual.
The production of decalcomanias has not been confined to art. At Yale University fingerpaint decalcomanias have been analysed for their tendency, when the process is repeated several times on the same paper, to generate fractals.