The Inutilious Retailer is born

by admin on 13/02/2017

Because of the success of my Art Sundays, a day when everyone and anyone could come to my home and use the stamps to create art for free, I decided to expand the idea and open a free store in NYC.

So many people left the Art Sundays happier than when they arrived, yet all they had done was use the stamps to print on a t-shirt or canvas. They were reminded how enjoyable art could be, I was reminded how rewarding being altruistic can be and it felt like the stamps had come alive because they were being used again, maybe 100 years after being left to gather dust on a warehouse shelf.

I wanted to recreate the wonder of walking into my home and being surprised by the art workshop within, so the idea was to create a surreal monochrome clothing store, which confused all those who entered. But those who were curious enough to interact with a voice from behind a false wall would be invited back into a welcoming home and workshop that looked as though it had been hidden there for years.

Every ‘customer’ could have the garment they liked in the store for free but the condition was they had to come in the back of the store, make something to replace it and be photographed with both garments at the end of the process.

I hoped the store would inspire people to question why we are pushed to buy things to make us happy, why we think Art can only be created by artists and why it is important to have something in life that is nothing to do with making money – a hobby.

 

I found the things I needed – an old workbench off craigslist and vintage umbrellas off eBay

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I bought 30 fluorescent tubes and made a light that looked like a giant barcode

 

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Of course I needed to organize the stamps so people could get to them easily, so I bought 150 old bread trays and designed a shelving system for the store

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The key to getting in the back of the store would be to pull a 1929 slot machine I had owned since I was a kid. It seemed the perfect focal point of a store that represented consumerism and capitalism to have a gambling machine from the year when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. I painted it white and it was ready for action.

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Last but not least was the fictional Inutilious Retailer himself – Mr Herringbone Grey. Originally a pizza advertising guy, he had been thrown out 8 years previously and had become part of my family. I cleaned him up, painted him white and replaced his chef hat with a Phrygian cap – a symbol of the emancipation from oppression.

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All that was needed now was a perfect location. I chose the Lower East Side because it still has a few remaining stores where things are made and sold on the premises. Retail and manufacturing were often directly connected, with storefronts selling everything from bagels to suits that had been made in the back of the store. In these times of internet delivery, I wanted to celebrate that history and so wandered up Orchard Street and down Ludlow taking note of the many empty stores until I came across the perfect location.

151 Ludlow Street, between Stanton and Rivington, NYC

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and this is how it looked inside…

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The realtor apologized that the back of the store was such a mess – I signed the lease immediately, knowing I had found the perfect spot..

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I rented a truck and roped in some friends who moved everything in the space. I bought a vintage mirror from Craigslist that I designed the wall around and on the way to the store, we picked up an old leather sofa for the lounge area.  $400 of wood was delivered to build the false wall, I put three vintage mannequins in the window to throw the inquisitive off the scent and spent two weeks building out the interior with only hand tools and an electric drill.

Total spent was $2,000

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Famous NY typographer Louise Fili created a logo for the store and a monogram, which I had made into a banner for the outside of the store.

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The only thing missing were garments on which to print. The first pieces of clothing were bought from Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters – stores that have a reputation for copying smaller designer’s work. My idea was to do the reverse –  take their mass market designs and let people convert them into one off designs that would be given away.

Once those 14 garments had been used, I bought a stock of varied clothing from the Salvation Army. Firstly, because the money I bought them for would, as they say on their receipt, go to help others. Secondly, because the store was really about Salvation from consumerism.

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Before it opened I was interviewed for Print magazine

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The inevitable online confusion/ridicule about someone planning to open a store which didn’t sell anything followed.

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After just 2 weeks, The Inutilious Retailer was ready…

 

 

 

 

 

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The collection contains tens of thousands of vintage shipper’s ticket designs, still in their original printer packaging. For several years, an artist has been using the tickets as what street art refers to as “wheatpaste”, pasting them up in places as far afield as New York, Texas and Mexico City. Some are just simply stuck with no changes, others have messages applied and in a few instances, large installations have been created.

If you would like to see more, please click and follow @WheatpasteWoman  on instagram

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The Conestee Mill Stamp Collection

by admin on 12/01/2017

The internet is an amazing thing, with billions and billions of pages. However, it seems that anyone who Googles for information on trademark stamps or tickets always ends up on this site!
That’s exactly what happened when I got an email from someone who “found a few crates of stamps” while clearing out an old mill in Conestee, SC and, upon looking at some of the stampmakers’ names, found they matched the condor stamp I had purchased a couple of years ago.

I was sent some basic photos of the stamps

IMG_1617and was assured there were also some other ‘pictorial’ designs to go with this one of the Woolworth Building in NYC

20170111_182134Altogether I was told there were over 200 stamps and about 30 original bolt prints like below

20161221_153334As this was really a unique opportunity to create a whole section of American stamps in my collection and stop them being sold piecemeal, I bought the lot.

A few weeks later a pallet arrived with 6 large cardboard boxes containing 450lb of American stamps….

Though initially disappointed to discover that the seller  “didn’t quite know what you meant by pictorial” and that the Woolworth Building stamp was pretty much the only one that wasn’t just text, the collection is remarkable and I soon unpacked, sorted and started cleaning them

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From thisIMG_20161111_220828to this

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As I cleaned, fed the wood with linseed oil and then repaired (removing old nails and fixing bent metal) these forlorn objects, they revealed their history. I always feel like I am polishing long lost gravestones when I go through this process and  stampmakers’ names I had never heard of such such as Parsons & Mealey, Lowell, H H Manning, Lowell, Braidwood Stamp Co, Perth Amboy NJ,  C J Kimbell, J Cosgrove RI, William Yungmann, 46 Beekman St NYC and F Brockman ( at both 607 W43rd st and 440 W36th St NYC) start appearing from beneath years of dirt . 20170111_18231720170112_121014-1

The names of merchants who owned and marked their names on the stamps such Neuss Hesslein (Nehesco), Suffern & Suffern, Garner & Co., Watts Stebbins & Co., J A Doering, Hayward & Thurston, Ultramares Corp, Shall & Co., De Sola & Henriquez, San Salvador, A D Straus & Co, Hispanic Textile Co will all help in dating the stamps.20170111_181151 20170111_18111920170111_183322

What I do know already is that the condor stamp originated from this same collection. It has exactly the same “D.M.” badging that can be found on some of these stamps. I was told that the collection was amassed from different mills as they closed down over the years. “Clifton Mills” appears the most and was originaly built in the 1880’s in Clifton SC.20170111_181759

But there are stamps from other locations and companies such as Nutwood, Castleton, Adsco Mills, The Rising Sun Mf’g. Co., The Callerton Mf’g Co.  and Barnard which I need more time to trace the history of online.

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The fabrics most often mentioned on the stamps are Sheeting, Drilling and Shirtings.

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There are quite a few Spanish language stamps and they reference Venezuela, El Salvador, Bolivia and Chile, so these merchants were definitely in the export trade…

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As in the Manchester trade, individual letters could be used to create word stamps and although there were no small letters in this collection, they are evident in these carefully made word stamps…

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CONCLUSIONS

After going through this collection, I would say that the American stamps match the English ones both in construction technique and standard height but the design and execution is definitely ‘good’ rather than ‘high’ quality.  Of course, what tends to happen with these collections is that all the best stamps are sold, leaving only the less attractive ones to gather dust as happened here.  Despite the cherry picking, the missing pictorial stamps that are printed on the bolt cloth samples pale in comparison to those made by their Manchester counterparts. That makes sense because the American fabric trade was not as competitive and  just focused more on cheaper fabrics (such as the aforementioned sheeting, drills and shirtings) for the domestic and nearby South American markets. As competition was less fierce, high quality distinctive branding between merchants was therefore not as important as in the Manchester trade.

As much as I am spoiled by already having such a huge collection, these hand-made possibly 100 year old American objects are still an incredible and beautiful find.

I feel so lucky to be in a position where people offer me things like this after seeing my enthusiasm for collecting and preserving on this website. Who knows what else is out there….? I am happy to hear from anyone with anything from objects to memories regarding this fascinating subject.

While you are here, please remember to be respectful and not copy any of the text or images on this site without my permission. I am always happy to share information but just consider how much time and money goes into bringing this information for you to enjoy before copying and pasting anything. Thanks!

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The Midgley family of textile workers

by admin on 11/06/2015

One of the delights of this website is being contacted by those who have some personal link to the stamps, tickets and textile trademark business. The power of the internet, combined with serendipity, never ceases to amaze me.

I bought two stamps a while ago from an ex worker of the River Etherow Bleach works and as a bonus, he gave me a company ashtray depicting the textile mill. I posted it online, along with the stamps.

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Lo and behold, I received an email a short while later from Brian Midgley, who proudly stated that he “worked in the engine house and had a bit of a talent for drawing, so the company used my picture for the ashtray.” Adding “I was 20 and they paid me five pounds and gave me two ashtrays for my drawing.” As someone who worked tending mill engines his whole life, he couldn’t believe his ashtray was on the internet.
We emailed and chatted for a while, so when I went back to England last month, I met the now 69 year old engineer and one time artist, and he gave me a set of photos he took of his family. So here is a pictorial history of the Midgley family’s long working association with the River Etherow Bleaching Company. These images are all Brian’s copyright and must not be used without permission.

20150611_165937This is the view of the Mill, on the right hand third of this photo of the Longdendale Valley.

20150611_165856Here is a close up of the mill itself. Note how they removed the top of the tower on the ashtray illustration for some reason unknown to Brian.

20150611_170139This is Brian’s grandfather, George Midgley (first on the left), who was an “ash wheeler” for the hopper fed Lancashire Boilers that they are stood beside.

 

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And this is Brian’s father, George Midgley, who was the factory “Yard Man” (bricklayer and labourer), working on the factory roof.

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This is Brian’s mother, Enid Midley (in centre), who worked in the Making Up room and can be seen here tying the ends of each cloth piece together before it was stamped. In the background are the folding or “Plating” machines.

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Brian’s father hand tinted this photo of his wife, so there was definitely an artistic streak in this working class family

 

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It wasn’t all work and no play. Here is Enid enjoying her birthday celebration with her workmates, photographed by Brian.

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And here is a works outing, including:

John Revel, who had lost his legs in a train accident but worked at the mill; Walter Jackson, Electrician; Ronnie Clayton, Foreman Joiner who ended up Works Engineer; George Wilson, head of Wages Office; Thomas Cooper, Brian’s cousin who was a labourer; George Midley, Yard Man; Fred Goddard, in charge of Water Treatment and John Goddard who was the “Oiler & Greaser”, or Grease Monkey.

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Last but not least, Brian wanted me to have this medal. It was given as recognition for long service to workers in the Bleacher’s Association and I will always treasure it.

 

It is amazing that all this came from posting a photo of an ashtray on the internet. I am very happy to be able to share the artistic photos and the obvious pride Brian has for his family. The factory is still there, though no longer bleaching cotton, and now part of its human story has been brought back to life thanks to Brian.

 

 

 

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I am very happy to announce that after a 20 year wait, I have acquired the complete archive of Manchester’s most successful ticket printer, B. Taylor – including largest textile ticket collection in the world.

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The plain looking books below are just part of the collection, but contain thousands of tickets for merchants selling fabric across the world from the 1800’s to about 1940.

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Just one of the 65 books above contains 2,000 different tickets!

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bk12f sample spread of the book contents DSC00012 sample spread of the book contents

 

DSC00018 original drawings and copyright applications

 

DSC00033 original painted artwork for the tickets original artwork for the tickets original artwork for the tickets

The collection also includes tens of thousands of tickets from around the world, plus ephemera including adverts for the printer, trademark applications, invoices, photographs and even the original painted artwork and names of the artists who created them. A complete history of ticket creation, printing and trade.

B-Taylor-ADVERT Advertising showcard

Along with the 2,000 stamps, masses of artwork, unique archive material sourced from Manchester warehouses, personal interviews with merchants and textile workers over the last 20 years, this is now the most comprehensive collection in the world.

The point of this website is to show the amazing art and marketing used by Manchester textile merchants, which has been largely ignored or dismissed as “commercial art”.

Please get in touch if you are a publisher, museum, graphic designer, typographer, fashion/textile designer or historian and are interested in any collaborations.

Note that I have put this material on the website from my own personal collection, with many items and much of the information gleaned from personal interaction with those involved in the trade.

I am always happy to help those who are interested in this subject, but please follow in the spirit of this website by not copying any information or images without my permission.

 

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Art Update

by admin on 22/03/2015

A very important part of owning a collection such as this, is that it continues to be used in the way it was intended. Obviously I am not a fabric merchant but, like a classic ferrari that is kept in an air conditioned storage facility, to stop using the stamps would be a shame.
I have therefore had long standing collaborations with those who appreciate and want to incorporate the art in their work. This has ranged from political art at Zuccoti Park, through to celebratory art for Earth Wind & Fire and performance pieces during ArtBasel.
The only rule I have is that there is no charge for the art created.
In that vein, I have for the last few months, had a Sunday Art Open Day where anyone can come and enjoy using the stamps to create whatever they want.

No judgements.

Below are a few examples from all ages of artist…

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Chinese ticket book and translations

by admin on 30/01/2015

I thought it about time that I had some of the Chinese tickets translated.

The style and printing of tickets, or “Chops” as they were often referred to, was designed to replicate the silk paintings that were familiar to Chinese buyers.

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China was a huge market for the Manchester textile trade and the diversity and care of how the trademarks were chosen was no different than that for the Indian or African market. To a western eyes that do not know the fables or spiritual references such as myself, the images can often look repetitive and indistinct. However, on having just a few tickets translated in the following (flash based) ebook….

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(Click this book image or the link below for the ebook)

http://interiorphotography.net/textile/Chineseticketbook.swf

…it becomes more obvious that symbolism – such as a pearl in an oyster signifying a baby boy for instance, and locally recognizable figures such as warriors from stories, or Thunder Gods from fables again proves that Manchester merchants knew exactly what images would attract buyers to their particular brands.

The ticket book dates from around 1910 but the designs may have been created years earlier. I have no doubt after seeing original artwork for these tickets, that Chinese artists would have been employed as ticket illustrators by the big printers (B Taylor employed 20 full time artists) in Manchester, rather than train Western artists to draw in a Chinese style.

The ideas for the designs would have sometimes been suggested by the Chinese fabric importers and merchants, or by the agents and salesmen of the Manchester merchant firms, to ensure their local relevance.

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One of the readers of this website recently contacted me regarding a stamp she owned and needed information on. After looking at images of the stamp and the name of the merchant E. PAVENSTADT & Co that she noticed on the side of the stamp once I asked her to look, I concluded that it was a typical, though impressively large, trademark stamp.

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Looking up the E. PAVENSTEDT & Co online, it turns out they were a very interesting old merchant firm, listed as being at 52 Exchange place, Downtown NYC in 1872 but going back at least  a few decades before then.

The earliest record found in the US was in 1837, when a 27 year old German by the name of E Pavenstedt, arrived in NY on board a ship named “Vester”.

The company is mentioned in government papers importing ” A number of cases of colored prints” in 1848. The prints were shipped to New Orleans and a bond was given to the US government that $1,150 would be released once the cloth arrived in New Orleans. Unfortunately the vessel carrying the prints was lost at sea and the House of Representatives had issued an order to cancel the bond. This suggests that the firm were a very powerful and influential company to both absorb the losses and have the Senate settle their grievances.

E. PAVENSTEDT & Co evidently didn’t just import cotton, with a listing in 1864 New York Times marine diary listing “Brig Maracaibo, (Br.,) Scandella, Maracaibo April 21, and the bar 27th, with coffee, hides, etc., to E. Pavenstadt & Co.” and in 1865 describing the arrival in NY of the “Brig Maracaibo, (of Nassau,) Scandella, Maracaibo June 27, and the Bar July, with coffee, fustic, etc., to E. Pavenstadt & Co” and the “Bark Brazileira, (Russ.,) Wessels, Rio Janeiro 48 ds., with coffee to E. Pavenstadt & Co.”

In 1863, during the blockade of imports to the South, E Paventedt had to plea to receive assurances that it could land 178 tons of Hong Kong tea in the United States

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So coffee and tea was maybe even a larger part of the company trade than fabric.

A Frederic Charles Jennings emigrated from England “to the United States in 1871 to be tea valuer and general manager of E. Pavenstadt & Co while the owner was away in the East. But Pavenstadt died, and Frederick established his own business as a tea importer in New York”. Pavenstedt are also mentioned in Abram Wakeman’s 1914 history of New York’s coffee and tea trading area around Lower Wall Street, still at 52 Exchange Place.

So was this maybe a coffee sack printing stamp, or was it made and used to stamp fabric for E Pavenstedt in Manchester? It is certainly way oversized for a fabric piece, though sometimes pieces were stamped horizontally rather than vertically. and it did have the tell tale traces of the water soluble indigo stamping paste used in Manchester, which presumably would never be used on a coffee sack as they would be marked with permanent inks. The style and design is of a later simplistic stamp, but the construction using felt is typical of pre 1900 stamps in my collection.

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Then came this discovery. Sometimes, by wetting the wood grain, faded embossed lettering starts to stand out more.

There it was “F Brockman, Maker N.Y.C.” punched into the wood with a metal punch exactly as was done by every other stamp maker who wanted to advertise his wares.

The only other curious thing about the stamp is the brass code number on one end. As stamps were stored in making up departments on narrow flat shelves, they often had a number marked on the end so the person that used it could know the design that was on it without having to pull it out. This code seems to bear no relation to the merchant or makers name however. Maybe it was the acronym of the name of the making up or bleaching/printing company where the stamp was used. 2054 seems a high number if that is how many stamps were stored on the shelves.

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I am really struggling to find any record of F Brockman online . The only “F Brockman” listed on genealogy sites is an F W Brockman who was also German, born in 1856 and arrived in NY in 1886. Either way, it was definitely made in NYC and it definitely has the typical indigo water soluble ink, so the next task is to date it by finding the stamp maker’s name in a NYC directory. I will update this post when I find it but please let me know if you have any information or theories that may help this mystery.

If nothing else, it is amazing to find a stamp made in the city where my collection now resides and although had a big garment manufacturing base, was not as well known for making up cloth pieces as Lancashire or the Massachusetts region were.

 

Here is the stamp after I repaired bent strips of copper, cleaned it and added a protective and restorative oil, as stamp makers of the past did

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UPDATE!

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Going through my new Conestee Stamp collection, which has stamps that bear the same “D.M” badge as this one, I came across this “El Condor” stamp which goes with the condor image perfectly. Although this stamp was also made by F. Brockman, it is marked with the different merchant name “De Sola & Henriquez, San Salvador”. It may be that the merchant firms were linked or this may be just a coincidence and condors were as popular an icon in South America as eagles are in North America.  Either way, I am convinced that both stamps originated from the same region of textile mills and it is serendipitous that they are back together again.

 

 

 

 

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I just acquire this ticket, named “Standing Wall”.

Without the caption, I may as a Westerner looked at the design as just three random Indian people.

But it isn’t. The title describes exactly what is happening and it is an absolutely logical and charming detail of life in rural India. Obviously with no shade and heavy loads to carry upon your head, wouldn’t it be marvelous if there were a small section of wall built that meant instead of putting your load down when having a rest, it could be temporarily held at head height on top of the wall.

The added bonus of the wall would be to provide some much needed shade, in which a cigarette could be enjoyed.

A simple but elegant part of rural Indian life illustrated here as a trade mark to remind cloth buyers how good life can be. Much better than putting a picture of Queen Victoria, Empress of India on the label.rest-wall

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I recently acquired around 50 original paintings used by Manchester merchants to create tickets for the Chinese and Japanese markets.

Some are painted on art card, some on thin paper and some on silk with dates marked at around 1910. The ones from religious fables have a description on the back explaining what is the meaning of the illustration. The style and quality varies across the collection but they do seem to be drawn by an artist from that region rather than by a Manchester artist imitating Asian techniques. Althought the image quality is kept purposefully low to prevent copying from this site, there is a zoomed in detail shown of one of the pieces of art to show the technique. Maybe original artwork was bought from the Far East and adapted, with borders added by Manchester artists to convert the image to the style of a ticket.

The subject matter ranges from daily life such as cycling around, to religious, to more abstract.

If anyone can provide any translations, or has any knowledge of the subject matter, significance or any other thoughts on the first examples I have found of original artwork, I would love to hear from you.DSC00038 DSC00058 DSC00061 DSC00077

 

 

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