On 15 August 1870, Mr. Chas C. Gates paid $25 for the right to sell the copyrighted stencil designs of S.M. Spencer & Co. of Brattleboro, Vermont. According to the research of Ian Brabner, Gates also received a complete S.M. Spencer & Co. Stencil Outfit, “…well packed in a neat and substantial hand trunk of oiled chestnut….”
Nearly 143 years later, the Graphic Arts Collection has acquired this hand trunk and its contents (for slightly more than $25). The purchase was made in honor of Dale Roylance, former curator of the Graphic Arts Collection, thanks to the generous support of the Friends of the Princeton University Library.
Our “S.M. Spencer’s $25.00 Outfit” includes all the tools, dies, and brass and German silver sheet stock to make small stencils for marking calling cards, books, textiles, and other objects. More importantly, the outfit included S.M. Spencer & Co.’s eight-page Confidential Pamphlet, Containing an Essay on Canvassing, Instructions in Stencil Cutting, Ink Receipts, Etc., Etc. (1870).
Spencer insisted this pamphlet was, “…the key to the outfit … in fact it is a complete budget of stencil information written and copyrighted by me for the exclusive use of my patrons, and it is worth the price of the outfit to any one commencing the business. In no case do I supply this pamphlet to others than those buying my complete outfit, or my dies to the amount of $25, as I paid that sum for single receipts which it contains.”
Chas. C. Gates’ stencil outfit form S.M. Spencer & Co. contains the following items: compete upper case and complete lower case alphabet dies; complete numeral dies, 0 to 8 (the numeral 9 accomplished by reversing the 6); 13 ornamenting dies, complete; a case to hold these dies (except for six of the ornamenting dies); a stencil gauge mounted to a hardwood block; a smoothing stone; a framer (lacking its handle); box of polishing powder; two finishing plates: a small pair of shears; a pair of dividers; a four-inch boxwood rule; a steel block scraper; a coil of sheet brass (approx. 3 ½ x 92 inches); some German silver strips remaining from a presumably larger initial stock; design patterns with two zinc curves form laying off the work; an advertising broadside; the aforementioned Confidential Pamphlet; a company issued, tax stamped and sealed certificate of assignment of copyright to use stencil designs dated August 15, 1879 and issued to Chas. C. Gates; and the wooden tool box or “hand-truck” to contain it all. (13 ½ x 7 x 4 ½ inches).
The S.M. Spencer & Company of Brattleboro, Vermont and later, Boston, Massachusetts, was established by D.L. Milliken in 1860. By 1864, Silas Metcalf Spencer (born 1842) had acquired the entire business and was running it by himself. In 1866 Spencer took on as an equal partner Mr. O. B. Douglas and the firm became S.M. Spencer & Co. by 1870, the year Chas. C. Gates purchased his outfit, the company employed 12 workmen.
A contemporary source notes that “complete outfits,” which contain within the limits of a small hand-truck everything necessary to carry on a successful and very profitable business, are somewhat a specialty with them.” Sometime in the 1870s, at least by November 1876 based on a price list included with the present outfit, the company had removed from Brattleboro to Boston… . Of the 29 small format stencils, 19 indicate full names, the remaining stencils show only initials or initials and a surname. Interestingly, of the 19 stencils that show a full name, 15 are for women. -thanks to Brabner for this information.
The use of stencils to mark textiles was an important sales avenue form S.M. Spencer & Co.’s business. Their Catalogue of Improved Stencil Dies (1880) boldly states: “Ladies can make Stencil Plates, [o]ften with better success than gentlemen … the business is light and pleasant, and a new field for usefulness is opened to them, promising ample remuneration. Milliners and dress makers can ill afford to be without my stencil outfit. In marking patterns for embroidery, and copying the neat things [Louis A.] Godey and Mme. [Ellen Louise Curtis] Demorest are giving us, the dies and flowering tools are invaluable.”