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.
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.
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
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.
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