Tuesday, January 9, 2018

American Textile History Museum Update

Quilt once in the collection of the American Textile History Museum.

The American Textile History Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, closed last year.
2017 was spent transferring collections to other museums and institutions.

The museum in Lowell, Massachusetts, did not have many quilts. What they had in abundance were records of the textile printing industry. I spent a few days there many years ago looking at their swatch cards and sample books.

"The first delaine that ever came in to Lowell 1830"

Eliza Ann Cunningham's Sewing Diary with
a page of prints from 1861

Bolt label from Hamilton Print Works

Their library collection called the Osborne Library has been transferred to the Cornell University Libraries in New York. While in Lowell at the ATHM the Osborne library included printed, pictorial and manuscript material: books, pamphlets, government documents, trade catalogs, advertising material, prints, photos and business records.
"portions of the library, archive, and museum collections – including its extensive holdings of maps, dye books and recipes, patents, and trade literature, as well as curatorial collections, including machinery and costumes -- will be transferred to other institutions."
"The majority of the collection of historic textile machinery has been sent to the Randolph Heritage Conservancy (RHC) in North Carolina."

Sample card from Allen Print Works with a lace print/border print.

Materials related to textile production, science and agriculture are now part of the Albert R. Mann Library, which specializes in agriculture, the life sciences, and human ecology. Much of the library is at the Kheel Center at Cornell. "Though the items will become part of the collections of Mann, Kheel and [Rare Manuscripts] most will be housed at the Library Annex."

Trade catalogs, trade sheets, and trade cards have been transferred to The Henry Ford Museum in Michigan.

"The remaining collections have been dispersed to museums and charitable organizations across the country."

UPDATE: Virginia B. notes this list of transfers. Looks like the quilts went to the Winterthur and the Henry Ford Museums.

Here's a press release:


  1. It is a sad day when a museum has to close, and a happy day when all collections have been properly dispersed. I am curious about the "potholder" with the delaine dated 1830. I always wonder when I see these bound blocks if they were in fact intended to be pot holders or part of a "potholder" quilt. Hmmm?

  2. . . ."eight or nine tractor-trailers" - that's a huge transfer! Sounds like the collection(s) have found good placements.

  3. Thanks for this post. Just to be clear, the collection that went to Cornell is located Upstate in Ithaca New York, not in New York City where the University also has a presence. My daughter went to Cornell and her degree is from the department of Human Ecology. That school has a very active and serious department of textile studies. When my daughter was there I always wanted to sneak in some textile classes although she herself didn't have any interest in them.

    I too would rather the Museum of Textile History had survived but I believe that this part of the collection has found a good home. Although it's somewhat inconveniently far from any major cities, Cornell is more than adequately funded and I'm sure the collection will be accessed and used there.

  4. I made a number of trips to Lowell as they were setting up museum and shops. The history of that place is so attractive to quilters, and it is sad to me that they are now given up. I sincerely hope the history will remain a value, especially to quilters.

  5. Very sad that the collection has been dispersed, but at least safe. I love the sewing diary with the swatches - what a superb record.

  6. I visited this institution in 2004, and then up the road the New England Quilt Museum.
    Really enjoyed the visit.
    How sad that another textile museum in America closes because of lack of funding.
    Also happening in Europe.
    ....and, here, in Australia, with it's rich quilting/textile history (for the country's age!)...we have no place to show our quilt history or even show our quilt artists of today, except for the odd show.
    Thank goodness the Geelong Wool Museum has picked up our National Quilt Registry and is dusting it off after being archived for years in the national library and re-designing a modern program so quilters and others can have easy access and add additions to the collection!