I recommend anyone interested in the history of theses amazing trademarks try and attend a special lecture later this month given by my friends at the Bolton Museum….

‘Bolts around the World’: The Global Appeal of Bolton’s Bolt Label Collection with Teri Booth, Documentation Assistant

Bolton was the center of the bleaching industry and their museum archives include many trademark stamps and labels which will be used to illustrate this fascinating lecture.

Bolton Museum was one of the first museums to realise the cultural significance of this part of the industry and have a webpage dedicated to the subject


Friday 24 February 1pm to 1.30pm at

Learning Studio 1 in Bolton Museum, Aquarium and Archive or the Library Lecture Theatre

Le Mans Crescent



Free, No booking required.

Telephone: 01204 332211


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 www.athm.org 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.



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.