The Mary Queen of Scots bed set was donated to the Rhode Island Historical Society in 1953 by Henry A. Hoffman from Litchfield, Connecticut, the set is estimated to date from around the 1840s. At the bequest of Hoffman, the bed set is listed as containing a pillow sham made from cotton and linen; a bed valance made from cotton; a cotton bedspread and a bed curtain also made from cotton. The fabric used for the bed set is slightly quilted in a diamond pattern, copperplate printed in brown toile with vignettes of Mary Queen of Scots printed over a cream background.
In the book Textiles in New England II: Four Centuries of Material Life it says that copperplate printing of textiles began in Ireland in 1752 and quickly spread to England and America. The plates could print areas three times larger, generally around 36 inches square, than cumbersome wooden blocks. However, only one color could be printed on a white-to-cream background. The “china-blue” shade was the most popular color. A standard copperplate press could handle a plate about three feet square. Florence M. Montgomery writes that copperplate printing, whether on textiles or on paper, is an intaglio printing technique. After inking, the plate is wiped clean except for the color remaining in the incised lines. Under pressure, the ink is drawn out of the lines onto the material being printed. Copperplate printing made possible more delicate lines and subtler effects of light and shade equal to engravings on paper, the fine engraved lines and hatchings gave depth and naturalism to pictorial scenes.
Copperplate printed fabrics were instantly successful being used both for furnishings and dress materials. In the colonies and later the United States, copperplate printed fabrics were imported from England. Florence M. Montgomery writes that ” Benjamin Franklin must have been among the first Americans to become acquainted with the process of copperplate textile printing.” The fabrics that were popularly used for copperplate printing were cotton and linens, these fabrics could be quilted or not. During the 18th century quilts while serving a practical function could also offer an opportunity for display and played a big role as a decorative item. At this time popular patterns for copperplate printed textiles were floral patterns, pastoral scenes, birds such as peacocks and hens, small vignettes, the oriental style inspired patterns known as chinoiseries, and classical and literary subjects.
Today the Rhode Island Historical Society houses many other copperplate printed fabrics such as two bed hangings, one from around 1770 (1969.1.1) and another one that was donated in 1990 (1990.36.11a) among other textiles.
~ Debby de Afonseca, Collections and Research Intern
Benes, Peter. Textiles in New England II: Four Centuries of Material Life. Boston, MA: Boston University, 2001.
Montgomery, Florence M. Printed Textiles: English and American Cottons and Linens, 1700-1850. Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1999.
‘Fortunes to be Acquired’–Textiles in 18th-Century Rhode Island. Rhode Island History. Vol. 31 (April 1972). Providence: Rhode Island Historical Society, 1972. Montgomery, Florence M.
Cooper, Wendy A. The Furniture and Furnishings of John Brown, Merchant of Providence, 1736-1803. Newark, DE, 1971.