Boston: Boston Chemical Printing Company.
Undated, but ca. 1835. Handkerchief printed in black on white cotton. 10.25 x 11.25 inches. Text in three columns, decorative border, small illustration at the head of each column. A very good example, with some scattered foxing.
Technological developments of the early nineteenth century made printed textiles available in greater quantity and at a lower price than ever before. Not only were textile companies offering new printed fabrics, but traditional publishers of books, pamphlets, broadsides, etc., began printing some items on cloth. As Diane Affleck of the American Textile History Museum explains, "Textile prints produced by paper printers usually combined text with images or other decorative elements to create a publication which, like a broadside, was self-contained and printed on a single sheet, in this case, fabric instead of paper. Some prints had no purpose other than as a keepsake or souvenir, while others functioned, at least in theory, as handkerchiefs. The subjects of the textiles were generally commemorative, persuasive, or instructional" (Textiles in New England II, p. 195). This handkerchief, which falls into the "instructional" category, was one of several produced for children by the Boston Chemical Printing Company. It is of particular note for including "Mary's Lamb," the poem which would come to be beloved by generations of schoolchildren and known by its first line, "Mary had a little lamb." Although the poem's authorship would later become the subject of heated debate, it was first published by American writer and editor Sarah Josepha Hale in 1830, and it is credited to her here. Collins (Threads of History 229) puts the date of the handkerchief as ca. 1850 (and this is repeated some catalogue entries), but the Boston Chemical Printing Company appears to have been actively only between 1834 (when it was incorporated) and about 1840, so an earlier date is more likely.