I’ve recently been assigned the responsibility of developing a Pinterest account for a new business. It took me some time to create my own Pinterest account, and I use it sparingly. Why? Well, I start to wander down the rabbit hole of assembling interesting themes and pictures onto a pin board. It’s been a challenge to discipline myself to limit my time on this amazingly visual platform. I’ve worked out a nice routine, where I come up with an concept I’d like to research. I then log on, and pin for 10 minute increments. During one of my pinning sessions, I decided to look into the Onondaga Silk Mills.
Much to my delight, I found these incredible high-res images of swatch cards. The Design Center at Philadelphia University houses a large study collection of historic textiles and garments. It seems their Tumblr account digitizes and explores their gorgeous archives.
I’ve written about the Onondaga Silk Mills before. During graduate school, I became familiar with the textile mill. It interested me so much because one of it’s primary factories was located in my hometown of Easton, Pennsylvania.
The mill was originally run by Herman Simon (1850-1913), a German emigre, who brought silk to Easton. In 1874, along with his brother Robert, Herman Simon built a silk mill in Union Hill, NJ establishing the R. & H. Simon Company. The mill was three stories high, and contained 165 handlooms, as well as looms Robert invented himself to produce grosgrain silk. R. & H. Simon Company became so successful that a 9 acre plant is built in Easton in 1883.
In 1933, the R&H Simon Company mill in Easton was purchased by the Onondaga Silk Company. The Onondaga Silk Company was extremely active in creating fashionable textiles. They were a leading couture level textile manufacturer, with locations in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
The Onondaga Silk Company is best known for their American Artists prints in the late 1940s. The silk company collaborated with six American artists to style unique fabrics. This collaboration received international press, and was a pivotal exposing many Postwar artists to mass media. The American Artists series was on display at the Midtown Galleries on 57th Street in Manhattan, and established the Postwar ideals of mixing fashion and art.
As synthetic fibers were developed after WWII, Onondaga expanded it’s production to include more than silk. It created interesting fabrics in rayon, polyester, and other manufactured fibers. Silk was still it’s primary interest.
Many of the swatches from The Design Center appear to be from the mid 1960s to the 1970s. You can tell by the color pallets and patterns used in the designs.
The Onondaga Silk Company continued to make very high-end fabrics, whether or not they were silk or synthetic fibers. The mill catered to fashionable couturiers and designers. Ultimately, the mill had difficulty competing with the quality and price of competing mills. The company operated throughout the 1970s with difficulty. The mill was closed in 1981.
I imagine that The Design Center acquired these swatch cards after the mill closed. There is little information on the cards, other than that they come from the Onondaga Mill in Easton.
I searched for more information, and was really excited to find this card! This dates from 1965, and was made for Castillo for an evening gown. What a special find. :)
Take a look at the rest of these beautiful swatches:
All images courtesy of The Design Center at Philadelphia University.
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