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

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Richard M. Wright April 1, 2019 at 3:26 PM

Regarding your discussion of the fabric trademark bearing the name of Gabriel Bernon, he was a French Huguenot born at La Rochelle, France. He was an extremely wealthy and successful merchant in France. However, he was also a fervent Protestant activist. When the Edict of Nantes, which gave substantial religious protection to non-Catholics in France, was revoked in Oct 1685 by King Louis XIV, Gabriel Bernon was imprisoned for his zealous Protestant activism. After two years, he was able to escape and made his way first to Amsterdam and then to England. He and his wife, Esther Le Roy, came to America aboard the vessel Dolphin, arriving at Boston, MA, on 5 July 1688. He and a party of 50 other French Huguenots established a fort at what is now Oxford, MA, although he continued to live at Boston. He remained a highly successful merchant, and for a period of time, he lived at Quebec, Canada, where he was a banker. By 1697, he relocated to Newport, RI, and then to Providence, RI, where he then lived permanently. As Protestants in France continued to be persecuted until the Edict of Tolerance, signed by King Louis XVI, in Nov 1787, Gabriel Bernon would not have had any business in France after he escaped there in 1686. He did have one son, whose name was also Gabriel, but this son died in childhood. All other children were daughters. Thus, it is strongly evident that any fabric bearing his name that was produced in France would have been prior to his imprisonment and departure from France.
From the discussion string, I thought this information might be of interest. I am a descendant of Gabriel and Esther (Le Roy) Bernon through their daughter Marie, and am currently the President of the Huguenot Society of Virginia. (If you were ever to consider selling the fabric sample, I would be very much interested, as it would make for a wonderful artifact in our Huguenot library.)

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