Hi everyone! Not too long ago, while shopping at Goodwill, I came across a large wooden bin filled with over a hundred and fifty spools of vintage thread. Though priced a bit high for me ($7.99), I decided to go ahead and make the purchase. Each spool effectively cost 5¢, making the price ultimately well worth it. You see, this past Christmas, I made a cute decoration using old spools and bottle brush trees. They sold quite briskly priced at $3.50 each. As I began going through the bin, once I arrived home, I became more and more interested in learning about the the thread companies whose names I saw on the colorful spool tops.
The story of the development of cotton thread is an interesting one. All sources seem to agree that Napoleon Bonaparte deserves the credit, well indirectly. His economic blockade of England in the early 1800’s, while not terribly effective overall, did prevent silk from entering the UK. At that time, manufacturers used silk to produce high quality thread. England’s textile industry began to fail and homemaker’s had no source for thread.
Historians credit Patrick Clark, a Paisley, Scotland mill owner, with developing a process for twisting together fibers of cotton to create a durable thread in place of silk. He had saved the Paisley weaving industry! [Don’t you love the muted colors of my awesome new stash!]
It is fitting then that we begin our consideration of thread with the Clark brand, likely the first to be mass produced and sold around the world. The Clark family also lays claim to creating the first wooden spools used to hold the thread, and they opened their first U.S. thread factory in Newark, NJ in 1864. [Note: “ONT” on this label, an acronym for “Our New Thread,” refers to specialized thread developed in 1850 for sewing machines, a market Clark excelled in.]
Interestingly, spools of thread initially had a small, half penny, deposit levied on them, much like soda bottles do today. Once the thread had been completely used, the spool could be returned for the deposit. Mass production put an end to the deposits since the spools could be produced so cheaply.
In about 1830, another famous name in thread, Coats, began manufacturing in the same city–Paisley–making a world-wide name for itself.
The two companies–Coats and Clark–became closely affiliated with each other in the 1930’s and in the 1950’s finally merged into one company. Still in business today, the company continues to manufacture high quality thread and maintains its headquarters in South Carolina.
It surprised me to learn that Belding & Corticelli, a silk thread manufacturer, was American rather than Italian. Their story, in fact, begins in Belding, MI, where two Belding brothers opened a shop in their home and produced spools of silk thread that they then marketed door to door. As they grew, factories and sales shops opened around the country, out of which traveling salesmen operated. In 1932, Belding Bros. & Company purchased Corticelli Silk Company (so named to compete with Italian companies), but the silk industry had died in America, due in large part to the Great Depression. The company closed it’s doors within the year.
Not much is known about Max Pollack & Co. Inc., except that they operated a silk mill in Mansfield, CT from about 1900 to 1940. Textile companies of all kinds located in this area of Connecticut.
The Rice Silk Mill, located in Pittsfield, has a local connection for me as it lies only a hour away, just over the border in Massachusetts. The company opened its doors in 1887, producing fine silk and mohair textiles. The Rice family owned and operated the facility until the 1980’s when a NYC company bought it. Operations ceased in 2006.
Located in Shelby, NC and founded in 1903, Lily Mills is the youngest of the thread companies represented in my Goodwill bin. By the 1940’s, twenty other textile companies had located in the same area. I could not find a closing date for Lily Mills; it may have remained operational until perhaps the 1960’s.
Click here to download some beautiful
Clark advertising cards at the Graphics Fairy.
Is my new stash going to make me wealthy? No, I don’t think so. These diminutive collectibles were made in the millions and new stashes are discovered every day in Grandma’s sewing basket. But they are delightful to decorate with (how about filling an apothecary jar with them?) and to craft with, as I’ve mentioned. Their delightful typography transports us back to a simpler time when ladies sat stitching by the glow of the fire. (Or something like that…)
I cannot finish my story about thread without mentioning that while Scotsman Peter Clark gets most of the credit for developing cotton thread, our very own Hannah Slater of Pawtucket, RI patented her version of cotton thread in 1793. She was the first woman in the U.S. to receive a patent. I think that’s worth remembering, don’t you?
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Vintage thread & bottle brush tree ornaments:
Always adding new merchandise.