Although the huge collection I built up was really about being in Manchester when the textile merchants were closing down in the 1980′s, a good source for anyone wanting to start collecting shipper’s tickets is eBay.

Often described as “fabric labels” or “linen labels”, there are a few that appear for sale ranging from $5 to $50 each.

The following designs from  merchant operating in the Far East were recently offered by a German eBay store seller (email can be provided on request)  and really are some great old examples of trademarks that still pop up now and again.

Just don’t bid against me please!
28935f67bf7ceb06b7dab17bf82787379 4509df88f5bdb7adbf9f0e2a20ea941e6 4047a6bf65813443564cd0a4674da95d4 2731b25c9ad820064c0bae5bc7834d072 435e91813b7dd8ebf5f9bc5b12adc3854 363d38f9f769bb6a5745c0063123d630e 300cef7e8a15725576fe76d4fd53e48fa 59e48e7ff54036d2f00261518bdee95a1 49f62b9d9c6548c7c156c72f699966b47 44b4e683f30085434b6347e662a62c84b 40d8a85df54bf87039eba3edf618bf57e 24cac48e10939b3c5b1621fe26673c4ef 20a726e6f9a82d5f6a4b9f2aafb83a8db 10bb59571bb7019bf36bfa4299b5db90d 5b34e4d8cf37ef6ab02487b273cdd2e4b 4bed233c7383c1842e380b587ff184db3 3d293f2a3689cdd8d94769dac94e579b8 1cf7eb72d880823103236559b7bc219e5







After a chance encounter with Philip Bailey, the artist was asked to produce 35 original pieces for Earth Wind & Fire’s 35th anniversary.

As always, the artist created the art for free and produced the varied interpretations of each year and each song in only two days.

The pieces were given out by the band to people who had played a big part in their career, from fans to musicians.


click here or the images below to see all the designs




New collection of letters acquired

by admin on 18/10/2013

Thanks to this site, a reader from Yorkshire, England contacted me to sell his collection of letter and number stamps, which doubles the size of my single character collection.They were in trays and random but have been since sorted and I share them here with you.

Copyright Adrian WIlson Copyright Adrian Wilson


Below is my existing collection of numbers and letters, with several complete alphabets. I hope some of the random spare letters match some of the fonts from the new collection.

I also wonder if missing letters could be made using a 3D printer?

copyright Adrian Wilson


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This is my appearance with samples from the collection as a special collector guest on the BBC Antiques Roadshow when it visited Manchester, England.

Click on the image below or here to watch the video

Antiques Roadshow Antiques Roadshow









The video is copyright BBC and is shown here for non-commercial, educational purposes


I have just completed the task of scanning and creating an eBook of an old Machester book containing tickets which go back to the 1830′s.

Malcolm Ross & Co. primarily sold cotton thread into Japan, China and India and this book was put together in around 1925 as a definitive catalogue of the trademarks used by Ross and their customers in the Far East. Judging by the style of printing and illustration, some of the tickets date from the 1830′s and there are some dates in the book as late as the 1920′s, so this collection is unique in that in spans the 100 years of printing and trademark development from plain color bookplate type labels, to 16 colour tickets….

Early label design






Indian loop the loop ticke









The ethnic variety is astounding and if any of you can help translate or explain some of the text and imagery, I would really appreciate it. The reason why there are several ticket designs in a variety of colors is that each color denoted a different type of thread, so the buyer could buy using the color coding if they were illiterate.

I would be interested to know the meaning or use of these for instance

letter tickets



























The book contains a photograph of an Indian looking child holding a cricket bat

Indian child cricketer









and the ticket that was created from the photo, which shows that Manchester ticket printers used images supplied from foreign markets to create designs. I assume the child may be the son or daughter of the import merchant

Cricketer ticket










Many of the tickets are listed as being printed by Norbury Natzio of Manchester which was a large   printing company famous for employing Adolphe Valette at the same time these tickets were drawn, so maybe he had a hand in their creation.






I recommend anyone interested in the history of theses amazing trademarks try and attend a special lecture later this month given by my friends at the Bolton Museum….

‘Bolts around the World’: The Global Appeal of Bolton’s Bolt Label Collection with Teri Booth, Documentation Assistant

Bolton was the center of the bleaching industry and their museum archives include many trademark stamps and labels which will be used to illustrate this fascinating lecture.

Bolton Museum was one of the first museums to realise the cultural significance of this part of the industry and have a webpage dedicated to the subject

Friday 24 February 1pm to 1.30pm at

Learning Studio 1 in Bolton Museum, Aquarium and Archive or the Library Lecture Theatre

Le Mans Crescent



Free, No booking required. 
Telephone: 01204 332211


I have tried hard to find any trace of stampmakers who worked in America. The mills of New England folded, stamped and labelled their goods exactly as it was done in Manchester.

Here is an example of an American trademark stamped faceplate from the Lonsdale Co. Providence RI from my collection

However, despite several museum enquiries and lots of research I couldn’t find out if the stamps that were used were made in America or imported from England.

The trade was so huge in Manchester and the stampmakers so skilled and probably cheaper, I thought it was probable that they had a trade exporting the stamps. I was wrong and the following article, copied from the July 1963issue of the Maine Antique Digest. If anyone has an original copy of this, I would love to see the illustrations that accompany the text.

“American hand-printing blocks used on yard goods are rare indeed, though recently several English blocks were noted in the gift department of a Baltimore department store. In some the design was hand-carved; in others the design was set in copper pins; all were simple geometric patterns. The blocks themselves had hollowed out hand-grips on the back. The price was $25 each. Quite possibly other department stores across the nation will come forth with more such imports.

An American type that is occasionally found, usually in the old mill towns of New England, are the later hand blocks, used not to stamp designs on yard goods, but as trademark identification. The illustrations here are of this type. David C. Hardman, who was associated with the Providence Dyeing, Bleaching & Calendering Company, rescued two large packing cases of these blocks when the company liquidated, and presented them to various museums. He explains their use thus: “When cloth was sent to commission bleacheries for scouring, bleaching, and finishing, the owner of the cloth would supply these identifying trademarks to be hand-stamped on the finished bolts. Stamping this mark, usually in blue dye, on the outside of the bolt, was the last operation before packing for shipment. The mark was useful identification in dry goods stores and on dry goods counters in small country stores. Sometimes the stamp included the name of the manufacturer and such information as “Finished soft for the needle,” or “Full Bleach.” I do not know when this method of identification started, but we stamped bolts of cloth as late as 1912.”

The first printing blocks were made of hand-carved hard wood. Later the designs were made of copper strips fastened in the wood. Designs included elaborate patriotic, Oriental, and industrial subjects as well as fancy alphabets of capital and small letters. They were very delicate and intricate, particularly the alphabets.

On the back of the Franklin figure, pictured at extreme left above, and on the “Work and Be Happy-Industry is the Road to Wealth” block, inscriptions indicate the blocks were supplied by Parsons & Girby, Copper Stamp, Stencil and Block Cutters, 111 Thorndike St., Point of Gorham, Lowell, Mass. Worn stencil lettering on the back of the X shows Wm. Parsons Co., Copper Stamp and Stencil Cutter, Lowell, Mass., as the maker. The address is illegible, but seems not to be Thorndike Street.”

Stamp Cutters are listed in the local trade directories around the 1850′s but the term is a broad one which could also mean manufacture of textile pattern printing blocks. This article provides direct proof that stamps were not imported but were made by local craftsmen. It is interesting that this article makes a special note of the ornate typography used on the stamps and it is serendipity that the example I have shows a “finished soft for the needle” stamp as described by the writer.


I recently had the pleasure of spending a day in the curatorial department of  the American Textile History Museum in Lowell Massachusetts and I want to thank the welcoming and helpful staff.

They have an excellent collection of shipper’s tickets and I was delighted to be shown some obscure textile trademark books.  ”A Directory of Textile Merchandise including textile brands and trademarks“, first edition, 1918 opens with the proclamation that

” Trademarks to a manufacturer or merchant represent something akin to that which the flag of a country represents to a loyal citizen. They are badges of honor, distinguishing marks, emblems to be proud of, to be kept above reproach and with a spotless reputation.”

The second edition of 1921 has an excellent 12 page guide to creating and registering trademarks. The article ends with the phrase “Trade-Marks innocently stolen are tribulations woven“.

The museum has maybe a dozen stamps, all text based. The names of the makers are stencilled in black ink on the back and also appear to be varnished, which is unlike the British unvarnished stamps that have the maker’s names die-pressed into the side. The height of the stamps was uniform and seemed a similar one to the British stamps.

These are the maker’s names as could be read on the stamps together with additional info I found about them online:

Wm Parsons Co. 3 Fletcher St, Lowell

There is no mention of this person online but it is likely he is related to


Parsons & Mealey, Lowell, Mass

PARSONS & MEALEY (from Inland Massachussets Illustraded, 1891)

Manufacturers of Copper Stamps and Stencils for Cotton and Woolen Mills Bleacheries Hosieries etc Block Cutters and Dealers in Inks Presses Boxes and Stamping Supplies No 9 Fletcher Street. It is pretty safe to conclude that a concern established for forty five years and doing a more prosperous business at last than ever before in its career is worthy of confidence and has won its position upon merit alone. Such an one is the noted stamp and stencil house of Parsons & Mealey, originally founded in 1845 by RJ Dewhurst, the style subsequently changing to Dewhurst & Parsons to whom Parsons & Mealey succeeded in 1880. Mr Parsons died in 1881, since which time Mr John J Mealey has continued in sole control under the former name Parsons & Mealey. The works occupy two floors 30×40 feet up stairs at No 9 Fletcher street, one of which is divided by partitions into four rooms used for office designers room storage etc, while that above is utilized for factory purposes exclusively giving employment to four experts and fitted up and provided with the best improved tools and appliances. Here are made to order every description of copper stamps and stencils required by manufacturers of cotton and woolen fabrics and hosiery bleachers and others. Block cutting from original designs is also made a leading specialty and inks presses, boxes and stamping supplies of all kinds are furnished as required. First class materials and workmanship promptitude in the execution and delivery of work and goods courtesy liberality and moderate prices combined constitute the secret of long continued and growing prosperity. Orders are received almost daily by mail from all parts of the United States and the house controls a large Canadian trade. Correspondence is solicited and no pains are spared to render satisfaction

Samuel G Cooper, Lowell, Mass and Corner & Copper, 120 Central St, Lowell

Address listed as 206 Central St, Lowell in the 1913 Mass. Directory (copy below is also from Inland Massachussets Illustraded, 1891)

Manufacturer of Copper Stamps and Stencils Dealer in Stamping Inks and Supplies No 120 Central Street Mr Cooper has been in the same business in this city since 1872 up to 1885 as junior partner in the firm of Corner and Cooper Mr Corner retiring at that time The establishment occupies the entire second floor 60×80 feet of the brick building No 120 Central street and is one of the best appointed and most thoroughly equipped of the kind in the country giving employment to five or six skillful stamp and stencil designers and cutters Mr Cooper is a noted expert and his work tasty and perfect in execution is found all over the United States and Canada wherever a cotton or woolen mill is running in addition to which he is beginning to fill orders for shipment beyond seas having recently made a heavy consignment to China His annual sales range from $5,000 to $7,000 Mr Cooper’s specialties embrace every description of copper stamps and stencils for cotton and woolen mills bleacheries and hosieries head stamps for broadcloths cassimeres and flannels He also carries large stocks of and will promptly fill orders for black blue and red stamping inks stamping presses stamping boxes and stamping supplies generally


John Preston, Lowell

from a 199 auction catalog…

J. Preston Maker 193 Gorham St. Lowell Mass.,” depicting an eagle and shield, copper strips set into wooden block to form the pattern of a feathered eagle with a central shield, (one strip missing, minor age splits), lg. 7.5in. N.B. For additional and related information see The Magazine Antiques, August 1972, p. 251, Philena Moxley’s Embroidery Stamps. John Preston was listed in the Lowell Directories as a stamp maker, 1859-74.



2012 Old Navy Sweater project

by admin on 02/01/2012

The artist bought some 75% sale item sweaters from Old Navy, printed on them and put them back on the shelves in a NY Old Navy Store today. Here are the designs. I have no idea what the staff or customers’ reaction to them is.


























I just bought 2 labels from eBay.  One was printed by a “W.S. Doty” and they seem to go together as a trio  but unfortunately I was outbid on the one illustrated here.

I am presuming it is an English textile factory because of the spelling of the word “Colour” and the 2 large chimneys suggest the factory was running on steam rather than water. I am guessing from the look of the building that the label could be around 1820 but would love to have someone enlighten me as it is a very early example of a fabric label.

Maybe the typeface will help date it?


Unfortunately the seller won’t let me know the identity of the buyer, who may have bid high on it because they recognized the building.


The other 2 labels that were part of the trio are below and may help in determining the date


This is the view of Adam Daber, Curator of the Museum of Science and Indistry in Manchester, England


It’s not a mill that I recognise and is pretty unusual judging by the shape of the roof and the very small windows below the roof in the middle section – almost inferring that the two lower sections were extensions to the original building. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, so my deduction would be that someone was commissioned to make the ticket plate with no particular knowledge of textile mill architecture. But you are correct in deducing that this is a steam powered mill – or a conversion – evidenced by the engine house to the right and chimney beyond.


There was a phase where mills were built with Mansard roof designs, as per the 1818 extension at Quarry Bank incorporating the large waterwheel and its more modern successor, but the pitch of the roof was continuous rather than broken by a few courses of bricks, and the Mansard was designed to increase working space within the top floor roof space.


Generally, steam engines were only introduced successfully into cotton mills from the late 1780’s – Arkwright’s Shude Hill Mill in Manchester, built in 1781 as a steam powered mill, was unsuccessful in that the engine recycled water to the waterwheel, which then drove the machinery – so a loose date of 1790 – 1820 would seem fair.


This is the response from Daniel Smith, former Curator of the Bolton Museum

All I can say about the mill in the red ticket you didn’t get is that its very big for 1820s, and that would be a bit early for so many floors of steam powered machinery too. I’d put it a decade or more later. Really interesting set of though, the red and green ones remind me of bookplates. The shape of the mill is also interesting at the roof line – not exactly the lancashire pattern. Scotland might be a good intuition


Original Stampmaker’s Tools Found

by admin on 26/08/2011

A few weeks ago I posted some original stampmaker’s pen and ink drawings, with the comment that the only remaining mystery of the whole stampmaking process, was the type of tools.


Thanks to the power of the internet and the foresight of the daughter of someone who served as a stampmaking apprentice in the 1920′s, I can now show you the tools used. Janet Smith, granddaughter of John Harris found this website while researching her family history because I had mentioned Smith & Howarth, the company where he learned his craft. John Harris had a difficult childhood. His father was killed in WW1 and so John had to take the role of head of the family at just 8 years old. At 14 he was allowed to leave school early to start work because he had no father. He decided to become a stampmaking apprentice at an early age even though none of his relatives had any connection with the business. 5 years later, by the time his apprenticeship was complete, the trade was in a recession and he never worked again as a full time stampmaker. According to his family, he was always a hard worker and had around 40 different manual labour jobs but had made stamps in his spare time from home, which his sister used to take to companies including JU Hallam and Shaw & Latham.

John Harris rightly complained that the skill and time it took to make a stamp was never properly appreciated and one of the purposes of this post is to redress that. His son told of his father complaining that there was such disregard for the value of redundant stamps that they were even used upside down to create parking garage floors! Even in his 70′s, John Harris would never forget how to make the stamps, creating them in his spare time until the end of the 1960′s, forty years after he first learned the craft.


So here are some of his tools. The collection seems to be a  bit of a mixed bag with duplicates, a mixture of toolmaker’s names and unusually, none of the tools are marked with any JH  initials. Maybe some of the tools were bought or given to Mr Harris by other stampmakers as they retired. There are also a couple tools such as the drill and junior hacksaw which seem out of place and may have just ended up here by being put  back in the wrong toolbox.

Stampmaker's Chisels

The photo above shows the Chisels used in the stampmaking process. To create a stamp, the maker would take an exact drawing of how the stamp would look and transfer the drawing onto a block of sycamore or pear wood. Each strip of copper would need to be inserted into the hard wood block, so an incision or slot was created by hammering a chisel of a corresponding shape into the wood. The top of the chisel would be struck by a flattened metal baton as shown in the photo below and on a return stroke, the baton would strike the bottom of the mushroom shaped handle, knocking the chisel back out of the wood block. John Harris’ children said they could hear a rapid bang, bang, bang, bang thousands of times as  the chisel built up the guide for the copper strips to be inserted.

Stampmaker's Pliers

Once the strips of copper and brass pins had been inserted, pliers of varied shape would twist, pinch and crimp the copper into the exact shape required to complete the stamp design. This part of the stampmaking process was very labour intensive and there was no room for errors. A stampmaker would also have a reasonable amount of work repairing damaged strips of copper on stamps. Once the copper work was complete, chisels were used to taper the wood back around the edges to help keep the wood away from the fabric and reduce their weight. Finally, the copper surface would be made perfectly level by rubbing the stamp on a large piece of flat pummice stone.

After interviewing the family last week, I wanted to post these photos and do a quick outline of how they were used. I will update this post with a more comprehensive description at a later date.

Many thanks to Erin Beeston, Collections Access Officer of Bolton Library & Museum Services for allowing me to use the photos she took of the John Harris tools

Here is a photograph of John Harris, Stampmaker, kindly provided by his son

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