A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections at the RIHS

Mary Queen of Scots

The Mary Queen of Scots bed set was donated to the Rhode Island Historical Society in 1953 by Henry A. Hoffman from Litchfield, Connecticut, the set is estimated to date from around the 1840s. At the bequest of Hoffman, the bed set is listed as containing a pillow sham made from cotton and linen; a bed valance made from cotton; a cotton bedspread and a bed curtain also made from cotton. The fabric used for the bed set is slightly quilted in a diamond pattern, copperplate printed in brown toile with vignettes of Mary Queen of Scots printed over a cream background.

According to Printed Textiles: English and American Cottons and Linens 1700-1850 by Florence M. Montgomery, high post beds were the standard in America, from the 1650s to 1850s. Its popularity could have been due to the fact that it provided warmth, as during that time homes were very drafty, and the bed curtain provided privacy. It also served to assert ones social position and display their wealth, because a full dressed bed was very expensive. during the 17th-century high post beds usually had straight or fringed valances and long curtains to enclose the bed. Valances were tacked to the top of the bed frame, and curtains were suspended from rods by tapes or rings. According to Textiles in New England II: Four Centuries of Material Life, during the 18th-century bed were often the most expensive household objects. When it comes to bed sets, bedsteads, curtains, valances, headcloths, testers, pillows, and bolsters can be included under the term “bed furniture”, while sheets, pillowcases, blankets, coverlets/counterpanes, quilts, and rugs can be included under the term “bedding”.

 

Bed at the John Brown House Museum's Sick Room

The bed upon which the Mary Queen of Scots bed set was originally displayed at the John Brown House.

In the book Textiles in New England II: Four Centuries of Material Life it says that copperplate printing of textiles began in Ireland in 1752 and quickly spread to England and America. The plates could print areas three times larger, generally around 36 inches square, than cumbersome wooden blocks. However, only one color could be printed on a white-to-cream background. The “china-blue” shade was the most popular color. A standard copperplate press could handle a plate about three feet square. Florence M. Montgomery writes that copperplate printing, whether on textiles or on paper, is an intaglio printing technique. After inking, the plate is wiped clean except for the color remaining in the incised lines. Under pressure, the ink is drawn out of the lines onto the material being printed. Copperplate printing made possible more delicate lines and subtler effects of light and shade equal to engravings on paper, the fine engraved lines and hatchings gave depth and naturalism to pictorial scenes.

Copperplate printed fabrics were instantly successful being used both for furnishings and dress materials. In the colonies and later the United States, copperplate printed fabrics were imported from England. Florence M. Montgomery writes that ” Benjamin Franklin must have been among the first Americans to become acquainted with the process of copperplate textile printing.” The fabrics that were popularly used for copperplate printing were cotton and linens, these fabrics could be quilted or not. During the 18th century quilts while serving a practical function could also offer an opportunity for display and played a big role as a decorative item. At this time popular patterns for copperplate printed textiles were floral patterns, pastoral scenes, birds such as peacocks and hens, small vignettes, the oriental style inspired patterns known as chinoiseries, and classical and literary subjects.

Today the Rhode Island Historical Society houses many other copperplate printed fabrics such as two bed hangings, one from around 1770 (1969.1.1) and another one that was donated in 1990 (1990.36.11a) among other textiles.

~ Debby de Afonseca, Collections and Research Intern

Bibliography

Benes, Peter. Textiles in New England II: Four Centuries of Material Life. Boston, MA: Boston University, 2001.

Montgomery, Florence M. Printed Textiles: English and American Cottons and Linens, 1700-1850. Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1999.

Further Reading

‘Fortunes to be Acquired’–Textiles in 18th-Century Rhode Island. Rhode Island History. Vol. 31 (April 1972). Providence: Rhode Island Historical Society, 1972. Montgomery, Florence M.

Cooper, Wendy A. The Furniture and Furnishings of John Brown, Merchant of Providence, 1736-1803. Newark, DE, 1971.

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This entry was posted on 19 July 2018 by in Collection Notes.

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