PLEASE NOTE: ATHM has closed permanently.
A Comprehensive Collection of Textiles
The Museum acquired its first textile artifact in 1959 – a small Jacquard-woven portrait of Christopher Columbus, made in 1892 by the Arlington Mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage to America. Another early gift included three volumes of mill samples kept by the Gaunt Mills in Methuen, Massachusetts during the last few years of the 19th century. Within a short time, the Museum had begun to acquire ingrain carpet fragments, overshot coverlets, and handwoven household linens.
Textile Sample Book Collection
Blankets, coverlets, sheets, towels, floor coverings, and other household textiles displayed the skill and creativity of American handweavers. The bed coverings and linens woven by both home weavers and professional handweavers provided a catalogue of forms, weave structures, designs, and levels of expertise in textiles from the pre-industrial period. The Museum also actively built its 20th-century textiles collection. Mill samples constituted one of the largest and most extraordinary parts of the Museum’s textile collection. The samples were kept originally either as a record of production or were developed as a selling tool for the mill or its selling agent. The samples, which number in the millions, include cotton, woolen, worsted, silk, and synthetic fabrics produced by hundreds of American manufacturers. These small swatches of fabric are invaluable because they were never used, and so retain the original colors and finishes of the fabric so often lost through years of exposure to light, air, wear, and cleaning processes. No other institution has such a breadth or depth of American mass produced textiles. The Museum’s collection of cotton prints was particularly strong in the period from 1870 to 1940 and included samples manufactured by Cocheco, Arnold, Hamilton, and Merrimack Print Works, among others. Most are as crisp and vibrant as the day they were printed. Woolen and worsted samples from some of the United States’ smallest and largest manufacturers showed the wide variety of different colors and weaves that can be used to create splendid apparel fabrics.
Textile-related decorative arts objects formed an unusual part of the Museum’s collections. These included objects such as a nineteenth-century bowl showing a sheep-shearing scene, a goblet presented to a mill overseer by his weavers, and a set of cuff links commemorating the Textile Workers Union of America.