Stamp Designs

by Adrian on 10/08/2010

Fabric merchants used the front of every piece of fabric as an advertisement to buyers all over the world and were very careful to choose an image that was both memorable and relevant in a multitude of cultures.

I have around 2,500 of the original stamps, all of which I have printed onto paper. I also have sample books of designs which were kept at the merchants’ warehouses and bleachworks/fabric printers. I would estimate the total collection numbers around 5,000 original stamp designs.

This is a tiny fraction of the number of images in use in Manchester. When copyright registration was introduced in the 1870’s, Manchester had to be given its own office to deal with the huge number of trade marks in use. There were around 800 merchants in the city at the time and the larger merchants complained that they had neither the time or money to register “the 10,000 or so marks” they owned.

A lot of the images go against the popular opinion that Empires were patronizing and had little interest in respecting or even recognizing “native” culture. I suppose that the image below of someone proudly raising the British flag on some new part of the planet would be the way we would expect the Victorians to mark their fabric.

The above image was probably stamped onto fabric for domestic consumption, otherwise known as the “Home Trade”. However, there is also this equal and opposite scenario whereby Indian looking fighters are taking on a navy using elephants tusks as catapults.

The image could be intended to poke fun at the primitive weaponry of natives but the way the image is drawn up, it looks to me more like an act of defiance than ridicule.

The following are just a few images to illustrate the diversity.

An African lady who looks like she is doing some sort of calculation.

I have absolutely no idea what this group of characters represents but the buyer would have known exactly what it signifies.

South America in the shape of a woman draped in fabric.

A musician from somewhere in the Far East.

This is a North African or persian man who sells cups of a yogurt drink, which he keeps in a sheepskin backpack and advertises by ringing a bell.

It may be sacrilege in Islam to show an image of Muhammad but this is his beautiful winged horse.

South African Primitive Art.

The translation of the Chinese text in the middle of the stamp is “Nine Chrysanthemum Flowers”. That may be an obvious description to those in the west but to the Chinese, the chrysanthemum flower is one of the important “Four Gentlemen” flowers, representing Autumn. It also symbolizes happiness and long life. The Chinese numbering system goes from zero to nine and so with the nine flowers in a circle, the stamp means “eternal long life and happiness” to those buyers, even though in the streets of  Manchester it would just apear to be a garland of flowers.

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