Customers at last!

by admin on 17/02/2017

The public part of the store is designed to be a “curiosity filter”.

Some people walk past and do not see it. Some look in the window and carry on down Ludlow Street.

but hundreds of people are curious enough to come into the store, talk to a random voice and then decide to go through the secret door into the workshop and make a garment to replace the one they took – like these two…


20150907_150027At the end of the process, everyone was photographed holding what they made and what they took, emailed the photo and so ended up connected in a chain of random curious people.customers

Maybe you were one of them?



This guide book showed everyone who visited my store the stamps that were available to create their art  with. (click image to open the book)_DSC9085a


Here is where any possible color required could be mixed and the stamps charged with printing ink ready to be printed onto the clothing

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The Store Opens!

by admin on 16/02/2017

6pm, September 1st at 151 Ludlow Street, NYC the doors of The Inutilious Retailer opened.

6 months to plan, 2 weeks to build and the guests of honor were all those who either came to the Art Sundays or helped create the store. These were the only people who were allowed to see the whole store without being customers, and they got the best shop front manufacturers to create the front for the shop.

It had gone from an empty shell to a complete store, lounge and art workshop in just 2 weeks and the renovation came in under budget at $2,300!

Photos were banned behind the secret wall of the store and I am so appreciative that nobody in the whole time it opened ruined the surprise of the secret back area by taking any sneaky photos. There was media interest from the media, such as New York magazine but I refused to let images of the back part be published.


And social media interest too but all respected my desire to keep the back area secret


But now, all can be revealed…

The Store 

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The Interior

Lit only by the giant barcode, it had consumerism’s “costs” on the left side and “values” on the right side

02 barcode hanging 03 blank slot machine 04 store view - Copy

Clothing is hanging on umbrellas, still with price tags from the Salvation Army and if you showed an interest in anything, there was no salesperson (the door was always open too but nothing was stolen) but a voice came from nowhere, then the wall mirror flipped forward and at last, the customer knew there was more to this minimalist store than met the eye….

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A person asks you to pull the slot machine to prove you have an imagination

and if you come up with your own idea of what might be on the reels of the blank slot machine, you have just proved you have an imagination and are told you have won the garment you like for free – with one condition.06 access to back area_DSC2921

You have to come through the hidden door into the secret back area and make something to replace it.

Then you enter the wonderland where you sit down, relax with a coffee or glass of wine, pick a new piece of clothing off the rack to paint on and then start planning what you are going to create for the next random person who comes into the store.  Taking as much time as you need and doing whatever art you want, without judgements….

The Lounge

07 lounge with new clothes 08 old mannequins 09 coffee drinks and art

The Workshop

10 art workshop 11 workbench and type 12 workbench 12 13 art printing 13 paint for stamps 14 type stamps 15 workshop and lounge 16 clean up


ArtBasel Miami project

by admin on 14/02/2017

During ArtBasel Miami, one garment was bought at Gap, Forever 21, Urban Outfitters, Guess, American Apparel, Superdry and two other stores  and altered using the stamps


If someone found all 8 of them, they spelled out the word A-R-T-B-A-S-E-L







If someone found all 8 of them, they spelled out the word A-R-T-B-A-S-E-L


The artist then placed them back in the stores.

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Prada Vs Zara, Cost Vs Value

by admin on 14/02/2017

A performance artist decided to question the difference between “cost’ and “value”.

The way they decided to do this was to buy a $60 white men’s shirt from Zara….

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…and buy a very similar shirt from Prada costing $544, then swap the labels.

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Of course, just changing the labels, doesn’t change the shirt, so the artist hid the words “Art” and “Fashion” and hand embellished the Zara shirt underneath the collar.

A note was added to each shirt which gave a link to the video below. The artist walked back into Prada and Zara and secretly put each garment back on the store shelves.

One customer presumably bought a Prada shirt in Zara for $60, another customer bought a one off piece of art in  Prada for $544. The store got to sell each shirt twice. No customer emailed to ask for a refund.

The artist never heard from anyone regarding the project but the video has been watched, so at least one of the notes must have been found.




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

work-table Screenshot_2015-08-07-10-47-52-1

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



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…


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..


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



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


After just 2 weeks, The Inutilious Retailer was ready…







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

IMG_20161111_224911   20161226_194324

From thisIMG_20161111_220828to this


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.



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…



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!


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.


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.



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


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.


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



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


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.


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.





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.


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.


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



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.