Exporting to the Empire: labels of the British cotton trade

April 30, 2009
A bolt label destined for the Indian market

A cotton label destined for the Indian market

The John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera holds many thousands of rare advertising labels representing every imaginable product. Among the most visually striking are these chromolithographed labels produced by British companies for the export of cotton cloth.

Cotton as a commodity was of great importance to the British Empire of the 19th and early 20th centuries; the cotton industry had experienced massive expansion during the Industrial Revolution and by the mid-1830s cotton textiles accounted for more than the half the total value of all British foreign exports.

"East meets West" was a popular theme among sellers

"East meets West" was a popular theme for exporters

Raw cotton was brought to mills in Scotland and the North West where it was processed into bolts and bales of cloth. Before leaving the mills each bolt was stamped with the mark of the exporter and a colourfully-decorated paper label was often added. These labels, also referred to as tickets, were attached to the ends of the bolts and acted as trade marks, identifying a particular mill or producer’s product in the marketplace. They were designed to be visually appealling to the cloth buyer and individual labels were often created to target a specific market. Bright, colourful designs were instrumental in selling British cotton to far-off markets in India, Africa, China and Japan.

As bale and bolt labels were supposed to catch the eye of the shopper, they often employed local scenes or symbols which would be familiar to intended buyers. The example below is one of many produced for the Indian market which show scenes of the state visit by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, in 1875-6. Edward returned from India with four Asian elephants for London Zoo.

A delightful label of 1901-1910

"For the King": a delightful label from the early 1900s

One of the earliest references to the labelling of cloth is mentioned in Wadsworth and De Lacy Mann’s The cotton trade and industrial Lancashire 1600-1780. Describing the textile trade with Africa in the late 17th century, the authors talk of fabric “packed in a stiff paper cover with a gaudy picture of an elephant , the device of the Royal Africa Company on the outside.” The gaudy elephant is probably an early version of the bale label, not too different from the one shown here. – Ken Gibb

Images:
Indian prince. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 17 (8) (ProQuest durable URL)

Rug merchant. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 17 (28) (ProQuest durable URL)

Elephant. John Johnson Shelfmark: Labels 17 (10) (ProQuest durable URL)

Copyright  © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Comments are welcome for sharing with other users, but regrettably the editors of Curators’ Choice are not necessarily able to respond to enquiries.

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To hell and back: surviving the gallows

April 17, 2009
A broadside reporting Mary Green's execution and revival

A broadside reporting Mary Green's execution and revival

In 1819 Mary Green was found guilty of using counterfeit banknotes, a capital offence. Sentenced to death by hanging, Mary was executed on the morning of 22nd March on a scaffold constructed in front of the notorious Newgate Prison.

After “hanging the usual time” she was declared dead and her body released to friends for burial. To their astonishment, the “deceased” began to show signs of life. A doctor was quickly summoned and Mary was soon brought back to her senses.

Surprisingly, Mary appears to have suffered few lasting effects from her unfortunate ordeal. She is believed to have taken another name and started a new life in Canada. She died for the second, and final, time in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1834.

There are several other recorded instances of surviving the death penalty, the most famous tale being that of John “Half-hanged” Smith, hanged at Tyburn on 24th December, 1705. Capitally convicted for robbery, Smith was granted a reprieve while he was actually hanging on the scaffold. Having hung for 15 minutes or more, Smith was cut down and returned to life.

When asked what it felt like to be hanged, Smith reported seeing “a great blaze or glaring light that seemed to go out of my eyes in a flash and then I lost all sense of pain.” The pain, it seems, was reserved for his return to the living: “After I was cut down, I began to come to myself and the blood and spirits forcing themselves into their former channels put me by a prickling or shooting into such intolerable pain that I could have wished those hanged who cut me down.”

John Smith's story retold in an 1830s broadside

John Smith's story retold and updated for an 1820s broadside, complete with details of a fictional second hanging.

Smith apparently failed to learn his lesson – he was indicted for housebreaking at least twice more, narrowly avoiding the gallows each time.

Not every gallows survivor was as lucky as Mary Green or John Smith. A Mrs Cope of Oxford also lived through her death sentence in 1658, but this time the unsympathetic authorities simply insisted on mounting a second, more successful, attempt the following day. – Ken Gibb

Images:
An account of the extraordinary life and execution of Mary Green. John Johnson Shelfmark: Harding B 9/1 (30)(ProQuest durable URL)

A singular character. John Johnson Shelfmark: Harding B 9/1 (40) (ProQuest durable URL)

Copyright © 2009 Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. Reproduced with the permission of ProQuest. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.

Comments are welcome for sharing with other users, but regrettably the editors of Curators’ Choice are not necessarily able to respond to enquiries.