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Textile Printing Blocks
( Article orginally published July 1963 )
The story of machine printing of cloth, and the history of the Sprague Print Works, now the Cranston Print Works Company, may be found in The Spinner, the Bulletin of the Old Slater Mill Museum, for April 1962.
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.