Patent Fashions – Sweater clip

The spring clip used on the back to hold a sweater in place over your shoulders are especially designed to hold firm but not snag the knit. The original design, (1,981,740) patented in 1934, was just a jaw and tended to bunch and snag the material. This improved patent (2.853,761) was applied for in October 1957 and granted in September 1958.

Hanger Games – The cardboard trouser protector 1952

You know those cardboard covers with the sticky strips to keep trousers from sliding off that goes over the crossbars of wire hangers? Last week a donation of a suit came on an old wire hanger that had one of these covers, but this one also had writing on it. The ‘Grippo’ with the U.S. patent # 2590738, filed in 1948 and granted on March 25, 1952.

Patent Fashions – Cantilevered Soles

The heeless pump style were invented by Romeo Griffi in 1958. That same year Griffi filed patents in Italy, England and the U.S. for his cantilevered sole idea. The style was designed to relieve the normal shock to the leg and spine incurred from walking in high heels by shifting the wearer’s weight from the heel to the ball of the foot. The American patent was granted on November 8, 1960.

Hanger Games — Louis M. Marble

I found this hanger in an antique mall today (I have a growing personal collection of early hangers…) but the label was very worn, and it was difficult to make out what any of the words were. However, I was able to read that it was patented on November 2, 1897. With that I managed to uncover a lot of history. Turns out the hanger was made by the Belmar Manufacturing Company in Canton, Pennsylvania, sometime between 1898 and 1902.

The Belmar Mfg. Co. began in a barn in 1897 shortly after Louis M. Marble patented his coat/trouser, skirt/bodice combination hanger. After a few months to develop the machines to make the hangers with the help of his business partner Matt Tabor, Marble incorporated the Belmar Manufacturing Company (Belmar is an anagram of Marble) and moved operations to a building on Washington Street in Canton. A fire in 1904 destroyed much of the original structure, but it was quickly rebuilt on a larger scale.

Starting with just five workers, many of the earliest employees stayed with the company for years. According to an article in the Nov 30, 1950 edition of the Canton Sentinel: George Dell worked at Belmar for more that fifty years; Elmer Rockwell, 47 years; George Goff, nearly 45 years; Charles Renstrom, more than 40 years and Leon Smith about 38 years. At its peak of operation in the late 1920s, the company employed nearly 350 and was the largest industry in Canton, Pennsylvania (population of about 2,000).

The combination coat and trouser hanger was made alongside other hanger styles. Marble patented more than a half dozen hanger innovations and improvements between 1897 and 1941. Coincidentally, his father, Edgar Marble, had been the Commissioner of Patents from 1880 to 1883, and worked as a patent lawyer until 1908.

Louis Marble had graduated from Cornell university in 1892 with a Bachelor of Science and was also interested in food preservation. During WWI, the Belmar plant maintained a dehydration plant and made potato flour and dehydrated vegetables for soup for the U. S. Government as their contribution to the war effort. 

Louis Marble remained active in the business until his death on November 27, 1944. In June 1945, the business was sold but continued to operate for many more years, although by 1950 the workforce had shrunk to 110 employees.

Belmar pant clip hanger, 1960s

Belmar made nearly 50 different styles of coat, dress and trouser hangers made from cherry, beech, and maple lumber that was kiln dried, cut, shaped and smoothed, and then varnished, waxed or painted. They were the largest wooden hanger manufacturer in the U.S. for decades, producing between 10 and 12 million hangers per year. The exact date of their closing is not known.

Canadian Fashion Connection – Guy Cramer

Canadian born Guy Cramer is the C.E.O. of HyperStealth Biotechnology Corp. in Maple Ridge, British Columbia. Twenty years ago Cramer developed a system for making computer generated digital camouflage patterns. His first client was the King of Jordan. In 2003, Cramer was commissioned to develop a pattern for U.S. military uniforms. He has since developed over 10,000 patterns which are all under copyright.

Guy Cramer amongst some of his many camo jackets

Mystery object IDENTIFIED! – Endean posing chair, c. 1888

A few days ago I posted this object, which was transferred to us from another museum last year. It was identified as a photographer’s posing stand and as I want to do an exhibition about how Victorians dressed for the camera some day, it seemed like it could be useful even though I wasn’t sure how it worked.

It consists of a round wooden platform with a central stool, and another stool on the outside edge of the base that is adjustable in position and height, with a removable back rest. The stools have been recovered with blue velvet upholstery at some point and the base was also recovered with a floral patterned carpet and gold fringe trim – presumably replacing something similar that was original to the piece.

Underneath the platform there is a bar that attaches the two stools, as well as wheels that allow the whole platform to be easily moved around.

The back of the smaller stool that is at the edge of the platform can be tilted and the back rest raised and lowered.

I thought this plaque which is on the back of the stool said ‘Indian Chair’ but it’s actually ‘Endean’ after the inventor’s last name Theodore Endean. Once this was determined, the history started unfolding…

19th century photographers were usually concerned about their subjects moving, especially their head, during the exposure time of taking a photograph. It’s one reason why so few sitters smile in photographs from this time because it’s hard to hold a smile for long. So this chair aided in keeping the sitter still and comfortable.

I received a lot of information from two people who saw this post – Marianne Dow and Lynne Ranieri. Both independently determined that it was an ‘Endean’ chair, not an ‘Indian’ chair, and then found references to its inventor and the object, which filled in the whole story.

Thomas Endean (1853 – 1913) was born in England to a Scottish mother and French father. He came to the United States as a child and learned photography in New York. He worked as an itinerant photographer and won prizes for his work in St. Louis and Germany before settling in Cleveland Ohio in 1886. He set up his studio at 122 Euclid Avenue, and within a year had taken out French, English, and Canadian patents for a posing chair he had developed. In 1888 he applied for the American patent for his chair, and received his patent in February 1889. As the chair in our possession has ‘Pat. Applied for’ on the plaque, it most likely dates from 1888.

Photographs by Theodore Endean, late 1880s – 1890s

The First Paper Clothing Fad: 1889 – 1893

The late 1960s fad for disposable paper clothing resulted in some mad, mod dresses in flower power prints, but this was the second time paper clothing was a fad. The first time was 80 years earlier, and it all began when there was a change in how paper was made.

Historically, paper had been made from recycled rags, usually cotton garments that were mechanically pulped into a slurry and dried into sheets. In 1843, wood pulp was used for the first time, and although the resulting paper was not as good quality as rag paper it was cheaper to produce because the raw material was abundant. By the 1870s, mechanical pulping was being displaced by chemical pulping that used sulphites to break down the wood pulp, resulting in a better quality paper.

The insulating qualities of paper were well known – it was a common practice to tuck newspapers inside a winter coat to keep the wind from cutting through the weave of the cloth. American entrepreneur R.C. Mudge and his business partner, Edgar Wasson thought the idea of using the new sulphite paper for making clothing for winter insulation had commercial possibilities. Mudge and Wasson applied for a patent for a paper vest in 1888, and in February 1889, the R. C. Mudge Paper Clothing Company began manufacturing paper vests in Detroit, Michigan. They hired John C. McLaughlin, who would go on to apply for Canadian and American patents for the process he developed to make sulphite wood pulp paper pliable by dampening it with a gelatin solution and rolling it between sets of corrugated rollers and then rubbing it by hand. This softening process allowed for the paper to be sewn, like a textile, but still retain its strength.

The new company displayed their goods at the Detroit International Exposition and Fair in 1889. A newspaper report in the Detroit Tribute extolled the virtues of Mudge’s products: “The men’s vest cost 50 cents, the ladies’ 75 cents and other goods come at corresponding prices.  These paper garments cannot be compared with inferior woolen garments.  Wind will blow through wool.  It simply can’t get through this paper, which, besides being warm is tough, standing a pull of 98 pounds to the inch without tearing.”

To promote his venture, Mudge commissioned J.E. Fancher to create a piece of music titled “The Paper Vest Gallop”, printed on the sulphite paper he used to make his paper garments. Mudge also promoted his goods by donating paper blankets to hospitals and paper vests to postmen.

Mudge didn’t have enough financial backing to support his fledgling business that he expanded too rapidly. Despite all the promotion and accolades, his venture failed. Mudge’s business and stock were sold under a mortgage to Henry McMorran and Wilbur Davidson of the Sulfite Fibre Works of Port Huron Michigan for $75,000. The new owners hired Mudge and McLaughlin to oversee the transition and continue to improve the manufacturing process. They also changed the name of their company to the Port Huron Fibre-Garment Manufacturing Company. In July 1890, McLaughlin made suggestions on how to improve the quality of the paper with the addition of spring-loaded pounding machines, but left the company shortly afterwards. In 1891 Mudge also left the company and moved to Brooklyn where he became a Vaudeville stage manager.

The Port Huron Fibre-Garment Manufacturing Company eventually failed sometime in 1893 and leased their property to the American Fibre-Chamois Company. By 1894, ladies’ dresses had taken on full balloon-shaped sleeves, and the American Fibre-Chamois Company found a new, viable market selling their paper as an interlining to give sleeves their desired fullness. In 1896, McLaughlin sued for patent infringement by the American Fibre-Chamois Company over their use of his process for making the paper pliable. The court found that McLaughlin had not been specific enough in his patent over details, like the strength of the gelatin solution used to dampen the paper, and his case was dismissed.

Concurrent with Mudge’s business was the New York Paper Clothing Manufacturing Company, founded by Charles G. Barrett at 290 Pearl Street in New York. Their ‘Zero’ vest for men and women was a paper interlined cloth vest that they advertised as being “…just the thing for cold weather. It is light, comfortable, soft and pliable and fits perfectly.” The Watertown Daily Times reported on October 27, 1890 that: “Anyone that is troubled with weak lungs can readily find relief by wearing a good chest protector. These goods… can be had at the W. H. Drug Store. We have… a line of paper vests, which are made by the New York Paper Clothing Company, which are used by many who are continually exposed to this cold climate and have given the greatest satisfaction.” However, like Mudge and the Port Huron Fibre-Garment Manufacturing Co., this company also failed and was dissolved in 1893.

With thanks to Lynne Ranieri and other members of the VFG who uncovered this story.