American stamp makers or “cutters”

by admin on 08/02/2012

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.


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