From the category archives:

Shipper’s Tickets

I was very proud to have been asked to write a six page article for the Textile Institute’s 100 year anniversary commemorative magazine.

The Textile Institute is one of Manchester’s most venerable organizations with a long history central to the cotton trade, so to see the trademark artist’s skills recognized in such a way is an honor to their previously overlooked talents.

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The fabric label date solved

by Adrian on 13/01/2011

Gabriel Bernon fabric ticket dating from the late 1600’s to early 1700’s

I recently purchased this fabric label stuck into a book from 1853. The book is a very rare anti slavery book called “Sunlight on the landscape and other poems” by “A Daughter of Kentucky”, which also contained 2 anti-slavery newspaper cuttings from 1852. More information on the book is online here http://antislavery.eserver.org/poetry/sunlight

I contacted the Rhode Island Historical Society as they have a large collection of Gabriel Bernon’s archive but they have no labels and could not verify it was from the Gabriel Bernon who lived from 1644 -1736

http://www.rihs.org/mssinv/Mss294.htm

So the detective work began….

Gabriel Bernon only had daughters and so his name was not passed down the family line. Also, there are no known textile merchants by or using the name “Gabriel Bernon” known to exist in the 19th century. Therefore, somebody decided that the label would look good stuck in the anti-slavery book for some unknown reason. I read that Gabriel Bernon “gifted” a relative a black slave at some point in his life, so maybe that is the link. Or it could have been that the label was just seen as decorative with its rose and butterfly motif.

I sent an image of the label to the Librarian at the Portico Library in Manchester, England for evaluation as they are very knowledgeable on 18th and 19th century literature.

http://www.theportico.org.uk/

Emma Marigliano, The librarian, explained that the style of typography and decorative motifs looked very similar to early 1700’s bookplates. This was reinforced by the phrase “Imprimee a paris”, which was only used by printers up to the early 1700’s. If the label had only Gabriel Bernon’s name on, it would have likely been a book plate for his library, however the “printed (or stamped) in Paris” phrase would never be put on a bookplate because a person’s collection of books would have been printed all over Europe at the time. Therefore, the label was highly likely to be a very early fabric label, with the two ovals used to identify the design and length of fabric that the label would have been attached to.

This is a very exciting find. Probably the oldest fabric label known in existence, applied to fabric sold by Gabriel Bernon either in Paris, Quebec (where he was a renowned merchant), or Rhode Island. As he manufactured in Rhode Island when he emigrated, it could be that this label even predates his religious exile from France.  He left in 1686, by which time he was already a wealthy 42 year old merchant.

1686 was also the year that cotton fabric production and export was banned in France, so if he derived a lot of income from that trade, it may have had an additional bearing on his relocation. The ban on cotton printing in France was not lifted until 1759, over 20 years after Gabriel Bernon’s death.  Therefore the fabric label must predate Gabriel Bernon’s move to America.

I welcome any extra information or thoughts on this label and the reason why it may have been linked to the anti-slavery movement.

I posted a question about the font on http://www.typophile.com/node/78773 and ended up having an email correspondence with James Mosley. He sent me this explanation, which I think is highly likely to be the answer to this mystery:

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Having looked at the image of your label that is posted my reaction is a date of 1850, plus or minus ten years (1840 to 1860). My impression is derived from the overall style. The ornamental frame is indeed a ‘rococo’ design, but the drawing belongs more to the 19th century. I grant you that there is a kind of ‘dixhuitième’ (i.e. 18th-century) feel to the design, with its rose and butterfly, which is perhaps derived from the ‘Toile de Jouy’ that was originally printed with designs from engraved copper plates.

The the two examples of lettering — the so-called ‘Tuscan’ above and the slightly stressed sans serif below — fit this date, when it would not be difficult to find hand drawn lettering or printing types of a roughly similar design.

The wording above, IMPRIMÉE À PARIS, raises the question of what it is that is ‘printed at Paris’. It must be something for which the French word has a feminine gender, like ‘Toile de Jouy’ (la toile).

That is about as far as I can go. From my own judgement I would say pretty confidently that the date cannot be much earlier or much later than the one I have suggested.

James

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That is the best description yet of what seems to make sense. It was
also stuck in a book from 1853 so that date would make sense too.
Having the Gabriel bernon name obviously threw me but. What I think
makes sense is that someone tried making use of a famous old merchants’
name and made a label to look old to play on that idea.

Thanks to everyone who helped with solving this mystery

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I was delighted to be asked to write about my collection in issue 5 of Canadian typography magazine, Uppercase

http://www.uppercasegallery.ca/uppercasemagazine/

I also have a 5 page spread in the current issue of London based textile magazine, Selvedge.

http://www.selvedge.org/default.aspx

Both of the editors learned about my collection from a lecture I gave in January at the Tye Directors’ Club in NYC

http://tdc.org/tdc/archives/1810

I am always happy to share my images and research with those who want to help publicize this previously ignored area of design and brand history. I have appeared as a special guest on the Antiques Roadshow and have lectured to design students, using the story of Victorian merchant branding to better understand the importance of good design.

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Shipper’s Tickets

by Adrian on 09/08/2010

Often incorrectly called “bale labels”  even though they were never used on bales of fabric, shipper’s tickets became very popular with fabric merchants. They were very colorful, relatively cheap to produce and were glued onto the front of the fabric piece along with the trademark stamps.

This South African “Meysale” brand ticket above shows a fabric piece would have been sold in a store, with a ticket attached. Below is an actual fabric piece including the original ticket, probably showing the merchant importer.

Specialist tickets began life as plain paper labels such as the ones below, which would have been created by any general printer and stuck on the fabric alongside the stamps

As technology improved, options included colors, foil and embossing

Labels evolved into specialist Shipper’s Tickets once cheap color printing technology developed in the late 1800’s and by the turn of the century, the majority were lithostone printed in about 16 colors. Specialist printing firms such as B Taylor grew huge and at one point employed 20 full time artists just to illustrate shipper’s tickets. Smaller merchants could buy “stock” tickets from printer’s sample books rather than commission their own, with any company name being able to be overprinted on the ticket. Larger merchants created tickets to match their stamp designs, or created tickets which were much more decorative than the stamps. Women and animals were always popular subjects but merchants serialized designs to make them collectible, including Hindu fables such as the Ramayana on tickets. Ilay Cooper made a detailed study of the icons used in remote temples in India. He found many original shipper’s tickets still attached to temple walls where they are still worshipped, or even copied in paintings, complete with their western merchant names!

As with the stamp designs, shipper’s tickets were carefully designed to attract a multitude of cultures and beliefs to buy a merchant’s brand of cloth. What follows is a random selection from my archive which show designs from around the world. Some are glossy finish, some are matte to emulate Asian silk paintings but this is a tiny representation of the diverse of ethnic images which Victorian textile merchants used as specific marketing tools.

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