Monday, February 21, 2011

19th Century Linen Tags

Since today is Presidents Day and tomorrow is George Washington's birthday, I thought I'd share this interesting piece of ephemera. It's a tag that was sewn onto a bolt of cloth sometime between 1846 and the Civil War. One can still see where the corners were sewn to the fabric. This piece is a fine example for explaining the nature of my collection of antique ephemera. Certainly this tag was never meant to be saved, and yet, perhaps out of a sense of patriotism, it was. Would you ever consider saving the tags from the clothes or accessories you buy? Maybe your would if they were beautifully designed.

Incidentally, I looked up Washington Mills and was heartened to discover that the original buildings still exist and are now a stylish apartment complex.

And now I will make a segue from the Washington Mills to my collection of other linen tags. Remember that in the early part of the 19th century, Americans especially desired cloth from Britain, which was exporting both fabric and fashion to the United States. With the exception of the first Swiss tag, I think all the other linen tags are from English and Irish exports.

With the exception of the last tag, these are all approximately 2" x 3". Below are larger tags, brightly gilded.

6.875" wide
9" wide

Have you seen any labels lately that you'd want to save for future generations?



  1. I'm always amazed at the beautiful craftsmanship that went into the entire (almost) product of items manufactured right after the Industrial Revolution right up until mass production set in post Eisenhower. Would I save the tags on any items I have purchased in my lifetime? Not one. Sad really. Your collection of tags gives hope and urges us never to forget what beauty can be.

    Happy Prez Day!


  2. Thanks, Buoni. What strikes me about these items, particularly the last two pieces, is that gold leaf was actually used!

  3. You have the most amazing collection!! I am always impressed when a garment or anything actually has a beautifully designed tag since it is so rare nowadays. I buy a lot of the beautiful Porto soaps just for their packaging. I feel this way about almost anything. These things matter to me and I want to reward the companies that pay attention!!

  4. Quintessence, that's exactly how I feel. I always enjoy seeing what's new at Crabtree & Evelyn because their presentation is always above and beyond. And for me, retail therapy really means walking through stores and getting design inspiration for my own work.

  5. Mark, these are truly wonderful! Worthy of keeping in my eyes and I am glad that someone has. To tell you the truth I have always saved the swing tags etc from expensive clothing that I have bought, and when it has been time to part with the said piece I also take the fabric label out

  6. And now the truth can be told - David Toms is a serious collector of ephemera!

  7. Great post.

    I really like the first monochromatic tag because it reminds me of beautiful toile de Jouy fabric from France, or 19C Staffordshire transferware. Both of these things are in a single colour and the patterns are originally from engraved designs giving a very similar look, much like on old stock shares or bank notes.

    I have in fact saved a number of clothing tags/labels from old designer originals. In the world of fashion, those little pieces of cloth make a tremendous difference in terms of value and identification. Because some designer pieces are very expensive, if I buy them new I try to save the tags and labels because as with any collectable, the more aspects of the original presentation it has, the more it maintains value. Clothing tags can be very interesting because they can tell the age, origin of fabric, designer, and country of manufacture, as well as the retailer, such as Marshall Field.

    The stamped/embossed aspect of the lower tags makes them very rich and elegant.

    And now after hearing "ephemera" for 30 years, I have a much better understanding of what it is. Thanks!

  8. Thanks, Terry. The Washington Mills tag is one of my favorite pieces, and I hold my breath every time I handle it because those corners are so fragile.

    My understanding of "ephemera" is that it refers primarily to printed paper material, so the tags qualify while the fabric labels probably do not.

  9. Mark,

    Yes very serious, however I think I have maybe met my match in you!

  10. I feel better with the confessions about saving some hang tags, etc. I confess I do it too, now I find I am a collector and of course I knew it. Mark-as you might have guessed I have some of these-I will have to photograph them a post so you can give me some input, I hope at some point to incorporate them into collage. pgt

  11. I always look forward to seeing your collections, Gaye, particularly your wonderful photographs. I used a sewing needle pack in a collage with great effect because when the pack was opened, it turned into a face mask. I'll have to remember to do a posting on that!

  12. Kerry of said:

    I enjoyed reading your blog Mark. Your labels are beautiful works of art, exquisite! Amazing that gold leaf was used to on the last two labels. Thank you for sharing.