Patriotic cloth labels: Have a “Bang Up” Fourth of July!

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.



Accn # 0000.453.100.


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.



Accn # 0000.453.174.


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.



Accn # 0000.453.784.


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.



Accn # 2008.11.5


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.



Accn # 2013.191.


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!



Accn # 0000.453.40.

Presidents in the ATHM Collection

In honor of President’s Day – the official federal holiday honoring the 1732 birth of George Washington – we are posting some Presidential-themed items from ATHM’s permanent collection. Portraits of Presidents adorn several items in the collection, including ribbons, cloth labels, yard goods, handkerchiefs, and bookmarks. Below are some of our favorites:

Apotheosis of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, c. 1785; Gift of Rosita Corey and Elizabeth Bourguin; 1996.26

This is a fragment featuring an apotheosis of George Washington copperplate-printed on linen and cotton. Likely from England, an unknown manufacturer made the piece as early as about 1785, soon after the American Revolution against England. It was common for English manufacturers to supply the American market with textiles that honored American heroes of the Revolution. In this scene George Washington is accompanied by “America” who wears a feathered headdress and carries a plaque proclaiming American independence. One of the trumpeting Native Americans has a banner that looks much like the American flag.

Abraham Lincoln, c. 1940; Gift of Russell Knight; 1981.7

Manufactured by Henry Bauer in Lawrence, Massachusetts around 1940, this woven rayon textile features a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. A German immigrant in the United States who operated a small in mill in Lawrence from 1915 to 1951, Bauer made corset cloth, shoe cloth, and textile novelties such as this portrait. According to a friend and business partner, Bauer especially admired America’s sixteenth President.

Coverlet, 1847; 1998.69.98


James Cunningham wove this coverlet in 1847 in New Hartford, New York at a time when coverlets were a popular bedcovering. Made of cotton and wool, the coverlet features a portrait of George Washington on horseback along with the American General and President’s name in the corner.  Patriotic themes like eagles and stars are common on coverlets, but most do not feature a portrait of Washington like Cunningham’s piece.

We hope you enjoyed these Presidential selections from the ATHM collection and look forward to bringing you more Patriotic textiles this Independence Day!

Contributed by Diane Fagan Affleck

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