2012 Old Navy Sweater project

by admin on 02/01/2012

The artist bought some 75% sale item sweaters from Old Navy, printed on them and put them back on the shelves in a NY Old Navy Store today. Here are the designs. I have no idea what the staff or customers’ reaction to them is.


























I just bought 2 labels from eBay.  One was printed by a “W.S. Doty” and they seem to go together as a trio  but unfortunately I was outbid on the one illustrated here.

I am presuming it is an English textile factory because of the spelling of the word “Colour” and the 2 large chimneys suggest the factory was running on steam rather than water. I am guessing from the look of the building that the label could be around 1820 but would love to have someone enlighten me as it is a very early example of a fabric label.

Maybe the typeface will help date it?


Unfortunately the seller won’t let me know the identity of the buyer, who may have bid high on it because they recognized the building.


The other 2 labels that were part of the trio are below and may help in determining the date


This is the view of Adam Daber, Curator of the Museum of Science and Indistry in Manchester, England


It’s not a mill that I recognise and is pretty unusual judging by the shape of the roof and the very small windows below the roof in the middle section – almost inferring that the two lower sections were extensions to the original building. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, so my deduction would be that someone was commissioned to make the ticket plate with no particular knowledge of textile mill architecture. But you are correct in deducing that this is a steam powered mill – or a conversion – evidenced by the engine house to the right and chimney beyond.


There was a phase where mills were built with Mansard roof designs, as per the 1818 extension at Quarry Bank incorporating the large waterwheel and its more modern successor, but the pitch of the roof was continuous rather than broken by a few courses of bricks, and the Mansard was designed to increase working space within the top floor roof space.


Generally, steam engines were only introduced successfully into cotton mills from the late 1780’s – Arkwright’s Shude Hill Mill in Manchester, built in 1781 as a steam powered mill, was unsuccessful in that the engine recycled water to the waterwheel, which then drove the machinery – so a loose date of 1790 – 1820 would seem fair.


This is the response from Daniel Smith, former Curator of the Bolton Museum

All I can say about the mill in the red ticket you didn’t get is that its very big for 1820s, and that would be a bit early for so many floors of steam powered machinery too. I’d put it a decade or more later. Really interesting set of though, the red and green ones remind me of bookplates. The shape of the mill is also interesting at the roof line – not exactly the lancashire pattern. Scotland might be a good intuition


Original Stampmaker’s Tools Found

by admin on 26/08/2011

A few weeks ago I posted some original stampmaker’s pen and ink drawings, with the comment that the only remaining mystery of the whole stampmaking process, was the type of tools.


Thanks to the power of the internet and the foresight of the daughter of someone who served as a stampmaking apprentice in the 1920’s, I can now show you the tools used. Janet Smith, granddaughter of John Harris found this website while researching her family history because I had mentioned Smith & Howarth, the company where he learned his craft. John Harris had a difficult childhood. His father was killed in WW1 and so John had to take the role of head of the family at just 8 years old. At 14 he was allowed to leave school early to start work because he had no father. He decided to become a stampmaking apprentice at an early age even though none of his relatives had any connection with the business. 5 years later, by the time his apprenticeship was complete, the trade was in a recession and he never worked again as a full time stampmaker. According to his family, he was always a hard worker and had around 40 different manual labour jobs but had made stamps in his spare time from home, which his sister used to take to companies including JU Hallam and Shaw & Latham.

John Harris rightly complained that the skill and time it took to make a stamp was never properly appreciated and one of the purposes of this post is to redress that. His son told of his father complaining that there was such disregard for the value of redundant stamps that they were even used upside down to create parking garage floors! Even in his 70’s, John Harris would never forget how to make the stamps, creating them in his spare time until the end of the 1960’s, forty years after he first learned the craft.


So here are some of his tools. The collection seems to be a  bit of a mixed bag with duplicates, a mixture of toolmaker’s names and unusually, none of the tools are marked with any JH  initials. Maybe some of the tools were bought or given to Mr Harris by other stampmakers as they retired. There are also a couple tools such as the drill and junior hacksaw which seem out of place and may have just ended up here by being put  back in the wrong toolbox.

Stampmaker’s Chisels

The photo above shows the Chisels used in the stampmaking process. To create a stamp, the maker would take an exact drawing of how the stamp would look and transfer the drawing onto a block of sycamore or pear wood. Each strip of copper would need to be inserted into the hard wood block, so an incision or slot was created by hammering a chisel of a corresponding shape into the wood. The top of the chisel would be struck by a flattened metal baton as shown in the photo below and on a return stroke, the baton would strike the bottom of the mushroom shaped handle, knocking the chisel back out of the wood block. John Harris’ children said they could hear a rapid bang, bang, bang, bang thousands of times as  the chisel built up the guide for the copper strips to be inserted.

Stampmaker’s Pliers

Once the strips of copper and brass pins had been inserted, pliers of varied shape would twist, pinch and crimp the copper into the exact shape required to complete the stamp design. This part of the stampmaking process was very labour intensive and there was no room for errors. A stampmaker would also have a reasonable amount of work repairing damaged strips of copper on stamps. Once the copper work was complete, chisels were used to taper the wood back around the edges to help keep the wood away from the fabric and reduce their weight. Finally, the copper surface would be made perfectly level by rubbing the stamp on a large piece of flat pummice stone.

After interviewing the family last week, I wanted to post these photos and do a quick outline of how they were used. I will update this post with a more comprehensive description at a later date.

Many thanks to Erin Beeston, Collections Access Officer of Bolton Library & Museum Services for allowing me to use the photos she took of the John Harris tools

Here is a photograph of John Harris, Stampmaker, kindly provided by his son

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The Sun Bleach Stamp Book

by admin on 21/08/2011

There are several stamp books in my collection and I have created an ebook version of one here for you to enjoy.  Contact me directly if you would like a link to the ebook


Merchants all had printed copies of their trademark stamps and each stamp was individually numbered. The books were made to match the size of folded cotton fabric pieces, so measure about 30 inches by 12.  The stamps would be sent out to the packing houses to print onto the fabric pieces to identify and brand the cloth. A large part of the textile trade was the sale of plain white fabric and bleaching companies would take orders, bleach, pack, bale and ship the fabric off across the world on behalf of the merchant. The merchant would simply get a sample of the fabric sent and a copy of how the pieces were stamped.

The merchant would instruct the bleacher which stamps were to be applied to each order using the stamp numbers. A typical order would be that the bleacher had to use stamp numbers 134, 2044, 53 and 1738 on the piece. The person who stamped the fabric piece (he was called a “maker-up”) would then go to the stamp book, look at which numbers correlated to which stamp design and then select the correct stamps from the shelving. The stamps would also often have a number marked on the side which matched the number in the stamp book.

Each bleachworks would have thousands of stamps in stock. Many would be owned by merchants but the bleacher would also have their own generic stamps which merchants could use (such as “yard” stamps or common words such as “cotton” or “fine quality”) and that related to the bleacher. In the book are Sun related brands such as Sundial, Solar shirting and images such as a baby holding the fabric up to the sun and a diagram of the solar system. Bleacher’s stamps commonly had their company name or  acronym hidden within the design of their stamps, so that merchants could know who owned the trademark.

This stamp book was discarded by a merchant 20 years ago and is typical,  in that it shows the full range of stamps used by a bleacher. It begins with examples of the individual fonts which were used to make up any word required, such as a place or customer name. Then there are decorative “yard” stamps which had a space, into which could be inserted a number stamp corresponding to the length of fabric piece. There are some pages of the smaller “truth” or “bolt” stamps which were put on the very end of the fabric piece to show that it was of the length described by the yard stamp and hadn’t been shortened before sale. Later in the book there are frame stamps which would surround a shippers ticket so that the original ticket couldn’t be peeled off and another one of a different size attached. There are also pages showing how a complete fabric piece would be printed with a combination of several stamps.


The book is useful to show the variety of stamps used and the colours used other than the standard indigo, such as gold and red. The date of the book is probably around 1920 but stamps often lasted years and some designs in it date back to the late 1800’s. The other stamp books I have are earlier than this one but the Sun Bleaching has all the elements and is the best laid out example. The trademarks designs themselves cover African,  Far Eastern, the Home Trade and Asian cultures, reflecting the four corners of the world where Manchester fabric was sold.


The Sun Bleach Company was based in the Horwich and Bolton area near Manchester, an area which had specialised in bleaching fabric from the earliest times when cloth was bleached with natural substances such as lime and urine then left out to dry in fields known as “crofts”.


The Stavert Zigomala ticket book

by admin on 30/07/2011

I recently finished a 4 month process of restoring and digitizing a merchant’s book of  shipper’s tickets, which had unfortunately been left in a damp environment for several years.
All the tickets have been individually scanned at high resolution but before I started the restoration, I took a quick reference photo of each page. I thought it would be interesting to turn those into an ebook so you can enjoy what I saw – as probably the first person to open the book in 40 years. Contact me directly for a link to the book


Stavert Zigomala was established in Manchester back in 1830 and their main trade was with Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela.


There are over 500 different ticket designs in this single book, giving an idea of the variety of trademarks each merchant used. These tickets were used alongside Stavert Zigomala’s 2,500 trademark stamp designs



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I am really happy to have come across 17 original pen and ink artwork that the stampmaker John Wild drew for merchants to approve before starting work making the stamps. Shame I don’t have the actual stamps but maybe they were never made or more likely, were discarded along with all the other thousands. Thanks to Myra for selling them and trying to keep them as a whole collection.

I now have invoices, artwork, stamps, old signs/adverts and naming punches from the stampmakers. It’s a shame not to have any tools. When I went into the last stampmakers old shop (Shaw & Latham) at 91 Princess Street in Manchester there was a small forge presumable for melting lead and working the copper but no tools. I interviewed a worker and he said the apprenticeship lasted 5 years and all the tools were made by the apprentices because they were so unique in their design. Maybe some descendant has a bag of them in a shed somewhere and has no idea why there are so many strange looking pliers.


John Galliano tribute

by admin on 06/03/2011

The anonymous artist who has been using my collection to create art for the last 5 years has created a one-off piece of art to show his support for John Galliano.  I am happy to let you see the result, which I delivered to a person in the  fashion industry who is vociferous in their support of Mr Galliano.

Prophet and Loss

Prophet and Loss

The artist has asked that these comments be published alongside the image of the artwork:

The irony of the name “Christian Dior” seems too good to miss in this sad story of anti-semitic media hysteria against someone who is a creative genius.

Does anyone really believe that John Galliano has no Jewish friends, valued customers or colleagues, that he loves Hitler and wishes all annoying people’s parents had been killed in concentration camps?

The fact is, Mr Galliano describes himself as Gay and a Gypsy, two definite criteria for a one way ticket to the Nazi gas chambers. His comments were stupid, one-on-one acidic insults toward a couple of people who were attacking him while he was drunk and under the pressure that comes 2 weeks before showing a major collection.

He made some mistakes, was crucified in the media, he apologized and is trying to improve himself by dealing with the issues that led to the outburst.

Would you deserve to  lose your career and potentially get sent to prison for 6 months for such comments about Jews, or Muslims or Irish Christian terrorists?

Should Monty Python be imprisoned for joking about the torture and deaths from the Spanish Inquisition as it insults Mr Galliano’s ancestors?

Of course not, and neither should John Galliano.

I eagerly await his resurrection.


I was very proud to have been asked to write a six page article for the Textile Institute’s 100 year anniversary commemorative magazine.

The Textile Institute is one of Manchester’s most venerable organizations with a long history central to the cotton trade, so to see the trademark artist’s skills recognized in such a way is an honor to their previously overlooked talents.


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


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.


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:


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.



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

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One off T-Shirt design for TypeCon

by Adrian on 18/08/2010

Very happy that the artist has created a shirt for me to wear at TypeCon.

At least you will know who I am if you see it!