Yesterday I acquired a corset collection that included a silk jersey corset in its original box from the Crompton Corset Company – Toronto. The corset came with a provenance of having been acquired as part of a trousseau for a wedding that occurred in 1923. However, the bride had gained too much weight by the time the wedding had occurred and never wore it. Naturally, my thoughts went to the obvious reason for a weight gain so close to a wedding, but I couldn’t find any further information about the original owner online. I next looked for information about Crompton corsets.
Little was written about the Crompton Corset Company in any contemporary source, but I did find some 19th and early 20th century references to the company. Established in 1876 by Frederick Crompton (born 1849) and incorporated on March 15, 1880, Crompton Corset Company was originally located at 78 York street in Toronto. It became the largest corset manufacturer in Canada in the 1880s at which time it employed over 350 workers, mostly women, who produced 8,400 corsets a week.
In 1889 Crompton expanded production by building a Romanesque revival-style building. A century later, the façade of this building was identified as historically significant and incorporated into the design of a new building built in 1990 but renumbered as 70 York street.
The secret to Crompton’s success was that the company used a new material called coraline – a cheaper, lighter, and more durable and comfortable material than whalebone (baleen), horn, or steel. Coraline was made from the Mexican agave plant called ixtle. The leaves of the plant were scraped and dried, resulting in long bristle-like fibres. Warner Brothers Corsets in Connecticut had patented a process to bundle the fibres with thread into strips and then steam them to shape for use as corset boning. They launched coraline onto the market in the spring of 1881.
Crompton obtained exclusive rights from Warner Brothers for the Canadian patent (along with T.J. Claxton & Co., a branch house in Montreal who looked after the interests of the company in Eastern Canada.) Crompton Corsets received gold medals in 1881 and 1882, as well as silver and bronze medals from several different exhibitions in the early 1880s for their coraline corsets. Advertisements and catalogues for Crompton can be found well into the 1910s, but then the company seems to suddenly disappear in about 1918. I couldn’t find any reference to the firm closing or declaring bankruptcy but I did find a snippet in a real estate column about the Crompton Corset Company buildings being sold for $50,000 to the Excelsior Tailoring Company on September 5, 1919.
As for the story about the woman who bought the corset for her trousseau – perhaps she had the corset for a few years before she married, so a weight gain rendering it unwearable is not necessarily the scandal I first imagined.