By Jane Ward, ATHM Librarian
The cloth label collection in the Osborne Library here at the American Textile History Museum depicts an endless and fascinating variety of themes, colors, and designs, all of which were geared towards attracting buyers of cloth in the 19th century. Cloth labels, despite their name, were made of paper, not cloth, and were attached to bolts of cloth to identify different materials and to catch the eye of jobbers in the industry. Many of the labels do not have the company name on them but instead denote the type of material, such as twills, cambrics, ginghams, jeans, and the like. Some labels depict an image of the company’s mill; others use images of women and men in classical dress; some use animals such as tigers, elephants, and camels.
A number of companies used a patriotic theme to sell their wares, as can be seen in the following labels. The Brookfield Manufacturing Company of East Brookfield, Mass., made its feelings clear: “True Americans Will Patronize Brookfield Manufacturing Compy. Home Manufacture” is printed against the background of an American flag in this label dating between 1867 and 1872.
The Continental Mills in Lewiston, Me., created a collage of patriotic images on its label: an eagle, a drum, and the American flag at bottom, with a sword and letter of George Washington in the center.
The Dwight Company (possibly the Dwight Manufacturing Company of Chicopee, Mass.) trademarked this label in 1876, the centennial year for the U.S., surrounding George Washington in the center with images of the other 17 U.S. Presidents up to 1876, framed by the state seals of all the states in the U.S. in 1876.
Interestingly enough, the only two labels to which fabric is still attached both feature George Washington. S.H. Greene & Sons in Riverpoint, R.I., printed this full-length image of George Washington in 1871, and you can just see the chintz-type fabric that backed the label along the edges.
The Washington Mills in Lawrence, Mass., also used George Washington to illustrate its name. Although the label is in poor shape, you can just see Washington standing by his horse in the center, and bits of the brown skirt material to which this label was attached are visible along the edges.
This last cloth label (company unknown) combines the classical allegory of cherubs along with a cannon and is entitled “Bang Up.” The lithography company of W.H. Forbes & Co. of Boston entered this image into copyright in 1868, but unfortunately we do not know the mill it represented. It’s unclear what the reference is: perhaps the cloth will do a bang-up job for whatever purpose it is put to? Nevertheless, the firing of the cannon seems a fitting tribute to July 4th!