Thursday, January 19, 2012

The (new) oddest stuff I've found tucked inside a book

I was paging quickly through a battered copy of "Frye's Elements of Geography" (published circa 1902), trying to find something interesting to write about on the blog. The book was in really rough condition, with multiple pages missing and numerous ripped, scissored or otherwise damaged pages. There was one nice illustration that caught my eye1, but, other than that, the book seemed destined for the trash can instead of the blog. Its usefulness had expired.

But then something caught my eye. A flash of color.

Tucked far back between a pair of pages, near the spine, was a purple piece of thread. Interesting for sure, but not terribly notable all by itself.

Then I started noticing more things.

Another flash of color. Glimpses of several small, folded pieces of paper.

I slowed down and went through the book page by page, opening it wide to find the treasures tucked in near the spine.

The final tally, after everything was extracted and unfolded:
  • 9 small labels for embroidery thread, age unknown
  • 4 old pins
  • 5 strands of colorful embroidery thread, of varying lengths
Such odd materials to be shoved into the far reaches of an old textbook! Who did this? When? Why? Was the book already in terrible shape when this was done, and it was just thought to be a good place to discard these materials?

I dug up some more information about the companies mentioned on two of the embroidery-thread labels:

Cynthia Mills: The silver tags are for four different colors of thread -- 751, 657, 484 and 750. The information on the tags includes:
  • PAT. NO. 1,592,432 (see Footnote 2)
  • ARTICLE 1170 - 9 YDS.
Cynthia Mills was a cotton-yarn factory in East Boston, Massachusetts. The mill was represented by Harding, Tilton & Company.3

In a statement dated Dec. 29, 1917, and appearing in "America's Textile Reporter," Cynthia Mills is listed as being located at 16 New Street in East Boston. Here's the full financial statement, pulled from Google Books:

Clark's O.N.T.: These light-yellow tags are for three different colors of thread -- 182, 38 and 1. The information on the tags includes:
  • CLARK'S O.N.T.
  • 8 YARDS
There is plenty of information about Clark's available online. Textile Industry History ( has a wonderful page full of the detailed history and the ephemera of Clark Thread Co., which was based in Newark and East Newark, New Jersey, from 1866 to 1949.

O.N.T. stands for "Our New Thread" and the brand dates to the mid 1800s. Given the era of its prominence, it's not surprising that there are numerous Victorian trade cards for O.N.T. that can be easily found online.

Clark Thread Co. is now known as Coats PLC.

1. Here's that one illustration that I thought was pretty cool. The caption states: "Iron Works, Pennsylvania. NOTE: -- The picture shows a huge retort in which hot air is being forced through liquid iron, changing it to steel."

2. Patent number 1,592,432 was filed by John L. Barry on October 1, 1924, and published on July 13, 1926 (which helps to date these materials, a little bit). You can read all four pages of Barry's patent application on this PDF.
3. Here's an excerpt from 1922's "History of American textiles: with kindred and auxiliary industries":
"A prominent firm in the textile industry is that of Harding, Tilton & Company which acts as selling agents for several of the largest mills in the country and which has its principal offices at Boston, New York, Chicago and Philadelphia. This Company specializes in handling yarns and grey goods. It was established in 1909 by Mr. Charles L. Harding, of Boston, and Mr. Newell W. Tilton, of New York. Mr. Harding was formerly connected with the firm of Harding, Whitman & Company of New York and Boston. ...

"The cotton goods which are sold by Harding, Tilton & Co. are manufactured by the Whitman, Gosnold and Page mills of New Bedford. The cotton yarns are the products of the Holmes and Fairhaven Mills of New Bedford, the Nyanza Mills of Woonsocket and the Cynthia Mills of East Boston. The worsted yarns are manufactured at Woonsocket by the Samoset Mills, and at Dedham, Mass., by the Dedham Worsted. ...

"These mills represent a combined working capital of about $25,000,000 and give employment to about 9000 hands."


  1. I love a person who would track down info regarding embroidery floss and tags found in a book ... I would totally do the same thing :)

  2. Wonderful! I'm trying to find info on Cynthia Mills, as my mother crochets and has in her possession a crochet book - oviously old but I can not find a date on it - and it talks about Cynthia Yarn. My mother is 80 and had never heard of Cynthia Yarn. So I was trying to find information about it. A quick search brought up your article. Thank you!

  3. I found your site while researching Cynthia Mills and my grandfather John L. Barry. According to family lore, the pull-skein patent enabled the education of three generations of Barrys. Before the pull skein, yarn was sold in shanks or balls, which were cumbersome for the knitter. The pull skein kept the yarn intact while allowing the end to be pulled free from the center (think of a ball of string today). In addition to yarn, Cynthia Mills manufactured embroidery and darning threads. The firm eventually succumbed to cheaper labor in the south and WW II.

  4. I was just given a few cards of mending wool from an aunt that came from Cynthia mills that seems to be of great quality. Not sure what I'll do with it though.

  5. This was so much fun to read. I too, have a curious mind, as well a similar line of questioning when I happen to find items tucked into the pages.