Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ladies Album: Stencilled Signatures

Not all the inked signatures in Ladies' Album quilts are handwritten.
Many are stamped (perhaps the one above) or inked with a stencil
as in the two below.

Note the breaks in the lines in the letters A and S and m,
indicating a stencil rather than a stamp.

The same way the m is broken here.

Above is a wooden stamp on a larger scale for a grain bag,

a useful item in Europe when grain bags
identified the farmer or the miller's name.

Stencil plates on a small scale were popular in the mid-19th century in the U.S.
The above examples of metal stencils are from the collection of the International Quilt Study Center
and Museum.

The popularity of stencil plates was probably due to
companies that marketed "Name Stencil Outfits " to
people who were looking for a small business. One often finds
ads for name stencil kits in the ads in newspapers and ladies' magazines.

Above is some history from a 19th-century book, saying that the outfit consisted of several tools, and some metal plates with an "alphabet of dies for cutting ornamental designs." The outfits were expensive (see an ad below for someone who bought one for $23 and was willing to sell it for $7.)


Read a catalog of the S.M. Spencer company, which advised:
"There is a Universal Necessity for Stencil Work. A thousand and one articles are owned by each individual in the land which should be marked plainly with their name. Clothing, hats, bonnets, gloves, boots, umbrellas, books, cards, envelopes, writing paper, blankets, boxes, barrels, merchandise, farm tools, robes, etc., etc., etc., all may be neatly and quickly marked by means of a Stencil Plate. Every day, clothes are being lost and stolen, books and tools loaned and never returned, letters sent to the dead letter office, (etc.etc.etc.)"

Big Pay! Who could resist?

From the photos it's often hard to tell if the signature is a stencil
or a stamp.

Possibly stamps from the same designer....

Louisa Sheley

Probably stencils....

or a very neat hand.

Read about a Spencer stencil outfit owned by Princeton University here:



  1. I always wondered how they got their names so nicely, like that. I just got a stencil cutter to try some of my own quilting stencils, will see how I do with that.


  2. That is so interesting to think about Barbara. We always think we are such trendsetters in modern times, but that has been the case with every generation. These signatures make wonderful graphic art!

  3. Barbara
    I have, for years, enjoyed the look of the stencils signatures. even to the point of trying to track down someone who would make a metal stencil for me today. No luck unfortunately.

    If you ever hear of anyone, I do so hope you will post abut them on your blog.

    Thank you for all of the interesting historic details you provide for us.

    Smiles, JUlieinTN