Stencils and stenciling: an outline and list of source material

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Stencils and stenciling: an outline and list of source material

This is intended to be a list of material that appears to be previously unknown to the general public, collectors, and scholars. As there are very few people studying the whole of stenciling, and as even within specific areas of study there fewer people doing the work, it seems to me that having resources and links in one place might further all scholarship, help bring together the disparate disciplines, and create a better understanding of all stencils and stenciled items in the United States. Please contribute, as you can, other items or links that you believe need to be highlighted or that might be useful to others. While this list is in no way complete, nor does it attempt to be complete, I hope you find it useful. Please cite this page as a resource when referencing the material you find here, and please send me all corrections or additions as needed and useful. If you need access to more source material, please contact me, as I have hundreds of additional sources that may be an aid to your research.

1738 – 1764
NOTE: Powdered Over Stencils 1738 – 1764
DATE: 1738 – 1764 / 2014
SOURCE MATERIAL: “Powdered Over Stencils 1738 – 1764, Source: Shlasko 1989”
CITATION: “Colonial and Post-Colonial Ceramics,” Patricia Samford, Maryland Department of Planning, Jefferson Patterson Park & Museum,, 2014.
LINK: [1]

NOTE: These precede the patent marking types by Moore and Pine in 1771.
“JOHN SUTTER, Engraver and Printer, at the Print and Toy-Shop in St. Martin’s Church-yard, begs Leave to inform the Nobility, Gentry, and the Public in general, that he has invented a particular Method of marking Linen, with a Liquid that stands Washing and Boiling, which is more regular and beautiful than any Needlework possibly can be: The Machine is so constructed that any Person may mark Linen, Books, &c. in an Instant; and without any Expence except the original Price of the Machine, which is very reasonable. They may have a whole Alphabet with a Set of Figures, so as to be able to mark any Name, or Number they please, Cyphers, Crests, Coats of Arms, Door Plates engraved, Tradesmans Bills and Compliment Cards engraved, and printed in the best Manner, Any Person who purchases an Alphabet, by directing a Line as above, may be waited on in Town or Suburbs. “
CITATION: The Public Advertiser (London, England) May 8, 1767., 1767.

NOTE: The marking of linen and books noted as taking place in England four years previously, is here mentioned, and the same materials appear to be offered in the United States, the first record of which I can locate being in Philadelphia.
“GEORGE FENNER, At his store, in Third-street, between Market and Arch-streets, Has for sale, a large quantity of GOODS, suitable for the season; consisting chiefly of English printed cottons, calicoes and linens, of the finest colors and most elegant patterns, from 2s. to 6s. per yard; chints lawns; long lawns; clear lawns; 3-qr. 7-8ths, and yard wide Irish linens; Scotch linens; clouting diaper; table cloths; Russia drilling; Irish sheeting; ozenbrigs, of different qualities; twilled sacking; printed lawn and check handkerchiefs; threads, of all sorts; writing paper; mens fine castor hats, and many other articles.—Also very neat printing types, colours &c. for marking linen, books, or parchment; which will stand washing and boiling, and are in universal use in London. N.B. The above goods being purchased with ready money, he will sell them for cash as low as any store in America.”
CITATION: The Pennsylvania Gazette, Philadelphia, June 20, 1771,, 1771.

NOTE: Pasteboard (layers of paper glued together) is often given as the material from which stencils are cut. This mention here of a fuller’s pasteboard indicates that this is used by painters, and perhaps even painters of stencils. The words "fuller's pasteboard" are not widely used, but because this date is so early, is it possible that this may be evidence to help prove the earliest dates of wall stenciling?
DATE: August 15, 1778
SOURCE MATERIAL: “BONNET and Fullers Pasteboard; Parchment; Writing and Wrapping Paper, to be sold by JOHN DUNLAP.”
CITATION: The Pennsylvania Packet, “Bonnet and Fullers Pasteboard,” August 15, 1778.

NOTE: As far as I am able to discover, this is the first recorded (still existing) cloth item with stenciled letters, numbers, and name. [not decorative]
DATE: 1795
Fire bag
Bucket, Fire
“Stencilled on the bucket is: ""No 1/Edwd Davis, Ju, /1795""
Accession Number 1991.882
LINK: Historic New England [3]]

NOTE: The use of stencils on furniture begins in the 1810s, according to Dr. Philip D. Zimmerman.
DATE: 1810s
SOURCE MATERIAL: “"By the 1810s some furniture makers began using stencils to create maker’s marks. New York furniture maker Michael Allison was among the first."
CITATION:“Early American Furniture Makers' Marks,” Philip D. Zimmerman, Chipstone.'-Marks
LINK: [4]

NOTE: Furniture. Her information may come down through George Lord, Esther Stevens Brazer, and Janet Waring
SOURCE: “Stenciling was used on furniture from 1817 to about 1870; that best in design and craftsmanship was made before 1835”
CITATION: Wright, Florence E., How to Stencil Chairs, p. 3, Ithaca, NY 1949.
LINK: Wright, Florence E., How to Stencil Chairs, Hathi Trust [5]

NOTE: The first mention of stencil plates that I can find is October 22, 1824 in this advertisement by Nathaniel Dearborn. This ad also runs on December 10, 1824; December 17, 1824; June 17, 1825; July 1, 1825.
DATE: October 22, 1824
SOURCE MATERIAL: “NATHANIEL DEARBORN has removed from No. 33, to 64, Market-street, up stairs—where he respectfully solicits a continuance of public favor. Cards of every description engraved and printed—Door plates and Stencil Plates furnished—Engravings on Wood—Seals, &c. executed to order.”
CITATION: Fessenden, Thomas G., The New England Farmer, Containing Essays, Original and Selected, Relating to Agriculture and Domestic Economy; with Engravings, & the Prices of Country Produce, Vol. III, No. 13, page 102, Boston: John B. Russell, 1824.

NOTE: This is the first mention that I am aware of by a person in the United States of what items can be stencilled; the stencilling of fabric; the concept that one can “be his own printer;” the mention of “steel dies furnished and cut.” The concept of becoming one's "own printer" seem startling, as I believe this concept was not common at this time. The mention of dies not only being furnished but also cut is also an early instance, I believe.
DATE: May 26, 1826
SOURCE MATERIAL: “NATHANIEL DEARBORN—Engraver, HAS removed to No. 30 Market street, 3d door east of Franklin Avenue, where he respectfully solicits orders. Address and Listing Cards, neatly engraved and printed. Stencils for marking linens, Goods, Bales, &c. Do. for Cards, Bills of Parcels, &c. whereby any one may be his own printer. Wood engravings and Newspaper Heads, brass or wood. Iron Brands and Steel Dies, furnished and cut, at reasonable charges and with punctuality”
CITATION: Fessenden, Thomas G., The New England Farmer, Containing Essays, Original and Selected, Relating to Agriculture and Domestic Economy; with Engravings, & the Prices of Country Produce, Vol. IV, No. 44, page 351, Boston: John B. Russell, 1826. Google Books.

NOTE: Following Dearborn in 1824, this is the second business that advertises stencil plates for marking cloth.
DATE: February 25, 1829
SOURCE MATERIAL: “STENCIL PLATES— Used for marking linen apparel, silk and cotton stockings, &c. &c. furnished to order at the shortest notice, by J. B. Stout & Co. No. 3 Wall st. Second door from the corner of Broadway.”
CITATION: The Evening Post (New York, New York), “Stencil Plates—Used for Marking Linens,” February 25, 1829.

NOTE: Stencils on painting canvases, etc.
DATE: 1830s / Autumn 1977
SOURCE MATERIAL: “The idea of stenciling canvases with the trademark of the shop selling artist’s materials originated in London in the late 1790’s. By the 1830’s, New York City adopted the English idea: a decade later other American cities followed suit, such as Philadelphia and Boston.”
CITATION: “Checklist of Boston Retailers in Artist’s Materials: 1823-1887,” Norman Muller, Academia,, reprinted from Journal of the American Institute for Conservation,Vol. 17, No. 1 (Autumn, 1977), pp. 53-69. Published by: The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works Stable URL:

NOTE: This is the first mention I can find of the use of steam power in relation to the grinding, polishing, and repair of cutlery and hardware.
DATE: April 18, 1834
SOURCE MATERIAL: “ P. ROSE Cutler and Surgical Instrument Manufacturer, No. 78 William, corner of Liberty street, New York begs leave to inform the public that he has hired the privilege of a steam power, where he will be able to grind, polish and repair all kinds of damaged Cutlery and Hardware. N.B.—All kinds of Surgical Instruments and other Cutlery ground, polished and repaired; razors, shears, scissors, knives, &c. book-binders, copper and tinsmiths’ shears, planishing stakes, hammers, &c. ground and polished. All the above on reasonable terms. Application as above, or at the Manufactory, corner of Rivington and Attorney streets.”
CITATION: The Evening Post. “P. Rose Cutler and Surgical Instrument Manufacturer,” April 18, 1834.

NOTE: The first instance found of copper stencils for marking cloth.
SOURCE MATERIAL: “INDELIBLE INK.— The following receipt, we should think, would be found both cheap and easy. We do not see, however, the necessity of the last direction. Why may not the writing be freely executed upon the linen. ‘Take one part, by weight, of iron filings, and three parts of vinegar, or acetic acid, of spec. grav. 1,056. Mix the filings with half the vinegar, and agitate it continually. As it thickens, add the rest of the vinegar, and also one part of water, Then apply heat to assist the action, and when all the iron is dissolved, add three parts of sulphate of iron, and one part of gum arabic, previously dissolved in four parts of water. These are to be mixed well at a gentle heat, and will yield twelve parts of the preparation. The linen is to be spread on a table, and the preparation applied by means of a hair brush, and stencil plates of copper.”
CITATION: Boston Mechanic, and Journal of the Useful Arts and Sciences, Vol. IV, October, “Indelible Ink,” p. 196, Boston: Light, Sterns & Cornhill, 1835.

NOTE: Here there is the mention of “stencil plates, and steel letter cutting,” suggesting, I believe that these are steel letters that cut stencils.
SOURCE MATERIAL: “169. J. Hall, Boston, Specimens of Stencil Plates, and Steel Letter Cutting. Very respectable.”
CITATION: First Exhibition and Fair of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, at Faneuil and Quincy Halls, in the City of Boston, September 18, 1837, p. 28, Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1837.

NOTE: Early mention of copper stencil plates.
SOURCE MATERIAL: “183. T. O. Brackett, Boston, Copper Stencil Plate and Brushes.”
CITATION: First Exhibition and Fair of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, at Faneuil and Quincy Halls, in the City of Boston, September 18, 1837, p. 69, Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, 1837.

NOTE: This is the first mention that I am aware of in which Nathaniel Dearborn has listed his son as part of his business.
DATE: May 27, 1837
SOURCE MATERIAL: “REMOVAL.— NATHANIEL DEARBORN & SON, have removed to No 53 Washington st. one door north of their former place of business. Where orders for Engraving on Copper, Wood, and Metals—Stencil Cutting, Drawings (perspective) of Machinery will be attended to with faithfulness and punctuality. Factories and Merchants supplied with Engraved Tickets, Labels, and Card Tags, in any quantities.—An extensive assortment of Glass Doorplates, and Number Frames, or various sizes, for sale, wholesale and retail. Orders for them lettered, either Transparent, (for day or evening.) or Opaque, (for day only) accomplished without delay. Copperplate Printing done in the neatest style—Visiting & Address Cards Engraved in the most improved fashion.”
CITATION: Boston Post. “Removal. — Nathaniel Dearborn & Son,” May 27, 1837.

NOTE: Early mention of copper stencils; the first of letters cut in copper.
DATE: May 19, 1838
SOURCE MATERIAL: “PAINTING.— D.S. POPE & NEEDLES, House & Sign Painters & Glaziers, No. 47 SOUTH, near Pratt street, are prepared to execute orders in the above line—to furnish COPPER STENCILS, or letters cut in copper, for marking Barrels, Boxes, &c., and BENT GLASS, for Bulk Windows, Shew-cases, &c.— They have on hand an assortment of those SPLENDID FRENCH POLISHED PLATE GLASS, of large sizes, for store windows; GLASS DOOR PLATES. of various sizes, lettered to order, either transparent or opaque, with gold or silver ground and colored letters, or transparent, with black letters; the latter kind she the name very distinctly at night, from the light of an ordinary passage lamp. ENAMELLED GILDED LETTERING ON GLASS, for professional Cards, or Signs, unsurpassed for beauty and durability, by any other style. BLOCK LETTER & ALL OTHER KINDS OF SIGNS, furnished at the shortest notice, and in the best manner. Their former experience in STEAMBOAT PAINTING, enables them to assure the public of entire satisfaction in the execution of orders in that line. GLAZING, in all its variety, promptly attended to. In fine, by a strict attention to every department of their business, they will endeavor to merit public approbation.
CITATION: The Baltimore Sun, “Painting.—D. S. Pop & Needles, House & Sign Painters & Glaziers,” May 19, 1838.

NOTE: This is the first mention that I am aware of that indicates that a press and “steel alphabet and figures are used for cutting stencil letters in parchment or sheet lead.” Each part of this is a revelation: that a press is used, that a full alphabet of dies is available for cutting, that parchment is used for stencils, that decorations are made by the same person who makes alphabets, and that sheet lead is used for stencils.
DATE: January 4, 1840
SOURCE MATERIAL: “FOR SALE. A TRANSFERRING PRESS. suitable for a Bank Note or Engraver’s establishment — originally cost $350, but will be sold at a bargain. Also,00 a first rate Level Seal Press, cost $40; one or two Plate Printing Presses: one set Steel Alphabet and figures, for cutting Stencil letters in Parchment or Sheet Lead, and a Bagatalle Board, complete, by NATHANIEL DEARBORN, Engraver, 53 Washington street. “
CITATION: Boston Post. “For Sale. A Transferring Press,” January 4, 1840.

NOTE: This is the earliest date assigned that I am aware of regarding “manufacturers” or “manufacturing” in relation to stencils. As to exactly what the means, is not clear to me. Since they are not the first to make a stencil, perhaps this is to suggest that they are the first to make and sell stencils in large quantities and the first to have created a process involving a number of people in some organized way to mass produce the stencils. It would seem that given the date, that the first stencils may have been made from lead, “composite metal,” or “low brass,” though it is clear later in the history of the company that they are working with “low brass.”
DATE: 1841 / 1872
SOURCE MATERIAL: “Messrs. John and Frank G. Pope, doing business under the firm name of John Pope & Son, at No. 8 Dock Square, and No. 9 ‘Change Avenue, Boston, Mass., are the oldest manufacturers of stencils in the United States, having commenced the business in 1841.”
CITATION: Greeley, Horace, et al., The Great Industries of the United States, pp. 1282-1283, Hartford: J. B. Burr & Hyde, 1872.

NOTE: This is another early advertisement for a stencil cutter.
CITATION: Public Ledger (Philadelphia Pennsylvania), “J.J. Low, Brand, Stamp, Letter, and Stencil Cutter,” April 1, 1841.

NOTE: This is the first stenciling of words I have found in a ledger, book, office work, or legal document. Dearborn has an alphabet cutting parchment and sheet lead, and I assume that these letters are far different from his, if only because of the size. It is also noticeable that this example bears no resemblance to the 1847 stencil, also from the county of Albany.
CITATION: “Anonymous, Chamberlains Office Receipt Expenditures, Albany NY, closeup 1, June 26, 1843,” Albany County, Hall of Records Albany, New York, Kaminski Handwriting Collection, 1843.,_Chamberlains_Office_Receipt_Expenditures,_Albany_NY,_closeup_1,_June_26,_1843

NOTE: This newspaper article rails against the use of itinerant stencil makers and argues that they do not pay taxes, benefit others, influence society, or serve the financial needs of the paper. The relation between advertising and stenciling “shingles” is discussed.
DATE: August 20, 1845
Since a certain strolling vagrant passed through this place selling Stencil plates at from [sic] $1, to $1,25 per alphabet; we have observed a number of places of business ornamented with “shingles” announcing the wares within.

To this we have no sort of objection whatever; Stencil printing like all “small potatoes” has its uses. Where a man has fresh fish for sale to-day and does not wish to cry “stinking fish,” to-morrow, out with the ‘shingle.’ When the market becomes nearly destitute of any article, as butter, eggs, etc. and a single dealer has it on hand, if in all probability the destitution will last but a day or two, then the Stencil shingle has a decided advantage.

But where the article to be announced is one easily found in every shop, and of which the market is rarely destitute, we like to see a trader instead of insertin [sic] a square in the paper of his place, a paper which employs a number of hands, who perhaps are his customers, and who if they are not, are only prevented from being so by his neglect to patronize them, a paper which gives employment to paper mills and consumption to rags, which pays taxes to support the government and lends its influence to the support of society; instead we say of inserting a square for three weeks for $1, where it will be read the first day of publication by several hundred persons, and during that time perhaps by as many as thousands, for people do borrow papers prodigiously in this country, we like to see a regular trader, pay a vagabond, whose business is to get all he can and keep all he gets, who will go without his board or lodging unless he can exchange his ware for it, whose skill is confined to cutting out Stencil plates, whose Tax in support of Gov. is 0. whose benefit to others is 0, whose influence in society is 0, and whose everything is only 000, as far as you may please to extend the list. $1 for a set of Stencil plates, get his brush, blacking, and his “shingles,” spend half an hour in dabbing on his letters, and placing it out where perhaps a dozen stores are to be passed at each day of which a “customer” can be accomodated [sic] before he comes in sight of the mighty ’shingle.’

This we say we like to see, not that we object to to Stencils, not that we object to seeing every shop in the place ’shingled from gable to gutter; but we wish to say to the shinglers, if they would consult their interests, “This ought ye to have done and not to have left the other undone.” “
CITATION: Ypsilanti Sentinel. “Advertisements vs Shingles,” August 20, 1845.

NOTE: Stencil words on business or government document. This is the first instance I have been able to locate. It is also the first legal use of a stencil that I am aware of.
DATE: March 3, 1847
Clerks Office
[stenciled bracket on right side]

[written by hand]
I Lawrence Van Deusen Clerk of the
said City and County Do hereby certify that a Certain Mortgage
Executed by John L. Hogeboorn to Lewis Van Vechten Given to Secure
the payment of $511.00 and recorded in the office in Book No 52 of
Mortgages pages 49 & 50 April 11th 1843 at 42 past 3 oclock PM has
been this day discharged of Recorded and Satisfied
Albany March 3d 1847
L Van Deusen
CITATION: Van Deusen, Lawrence. “Lawrence Van Deusen, mortgage receipt, 1847,” Kaminski Handwriting Collection, 1847.

NOTE: This newspaper article mentions authorizing the use of stencil plates instead of branding. This acceptance of the stencil as a legal mark by the butter and lard inspector is the first indication outside of the postal use of stencils, and the county clerk in Albany, in which stencils carry legal authority and power.
DATE: March 27, 1848
SOURCE MATERIAL: "Proceedings of the City Council
The ordinance authorising the use of stencil plates by the inspector of butter and lard, in place of branding irons, was returned from the first branch, concurred in with an amendment which was adopted. “
CITATION: Baltimore Sun. “Proceedings of the City Council,” March 27, 1848.

NOTE: Mention of the use of composition metal for stencil cutters. It appears that the sheet brass and German silver were less likely to be used for stencils, as both were more valuable and also harder?
DATE: May 14, 1849
“JACOB SEEGER, SILVER-PLATE MANUFACTURER OF MILITARY, SADDLERY AND FANCY ORNAMENTS, No. 28 GERMAN STREET, between Hanover and Sharp, Has constantly on hand, Door Plates; Bell Pulls; Knockers, silver and brass; Numbers and Letters, for societies and foundry men; Piano Hardware; Ivory and Ebony; Coffin Ornaments; German Silver; Sheet Brass; Wire; Composition Metal for Stencil Cutters, Chemical Refined Copper, expressly made for jewellers, to allay gold; Plated Wire; copper Cake Moulds, a German article; Dog Collars, plated and brass. Also—Chains, Golding and Silvering done, and all kinds of Plated, Brass, and Britannia Ware, neatly repaired.
CITATION: The Baltimore Sun, May 14, 1849.

NOTE: Horace Greeley, et al., describe what a stencil plate is, discuss its manufacture, the increase of business, the uses of the stencil, the business before 1841, and what they say are the oldest manufacturers of stencils in the United States, John Pope and Son, of Boston, Massachusetts.
DATE: 1872


The stencil plate belongs to that class of mechanical contrivances which, like the screw, the jack-knife, or the common pin, while they are very simple in themselves, are so important that we could hardly exist without them. The stencil plate is a thin plate of wood, metal, leather, or other substance, used in ornamental painting, the marking of names, &c. The pattern of the ornament or name is cut out of the plate, which is then laid on the flat surface to be marked, and the paint or ink brushed over it. How old is this process of stenciling, we have no means of knowing; but probably something like the modern stencil plate was discovered early in the art of ornamental coloring; and we know that stencils were cut as far back as the fifteenth century.

The business of manufacturing stencil plates is quite extensive in this country at the present time, and is constantly increasing with the advance of various commercial enterprises, in the conducting of which the stencil is found a great convenience. Probably ten times more stencils are now in use than were employed ten years ago. Everybody has learned the importance of the stencil for marking clothing, books, umbrellas, and various other light personal property, while business men in all departments of trade find the stencil the only satisfactory and economic means of marking boxes, bales, and barrels of goods for transportation. In immense enterprises like those of our express companies, the stencil is invaluable The countless packages of goods, and barrels of flour, sent hither and thither over the land every day, bear, for the most part, the marks of the stencil; and it would be an ingenious problem for some curious mathematician to solve to, decide of what value the stencil is to the flour trade alone of the country, in the amount of valuable time it saves for a given time, in contrast with that which would be required by the old forms of marking. Doubtless in the course of ten years, the saving would amount to an enormous sum in dollars and cents.

Up to 1841, no great business was done in stencils in this country. Previous to that time, the stencil was made mostly of pasteboard, and, at that date, the term “stencil” was but little understood. Now, the business is a regular and established one, and the catalogue of “a name stencil outfit” for making stencils for marking clothing, is quite an imposing array of items, consisting of an alphabet of dies for cutting capital and small letters; dies for cutting ornamental designs; cases for the dies; steel hammer; steel shears; framing knife; steel compasses; smoothing stone; bed plate and block scraper; rule and measure; steel scribe; polishing brush; rubber for countersinking; lignum vitae block; polishing powder; combination square and scroll pattern; brass and German silver to make the stencils of; zinc frames; numerous vials of indelible ink, etc. And there are other outfits, such as a “business stencil outfit,” “key check outfit,” etc.

Stencil plates are mostly made, nowadays, from sheets of brass, of the kind called “low brass,” very malleable and soft, and much care must be taken in laying out the work. Messrs. John and Frank G. Pope, doing business under the firm name of John Pope & Son, at No. 8 Dock Square, and No. 9 ‘Change Avenue, Boston, Mass., are the oldest manufacturers of stencils in the United States, having commenced the business in 1841. Mr. John Pope is one of the substantial citizens of Boston, a class of men who, for sterling worth, native intelligence, and solid information, have no superiors, if equals, anywhere, as valuable members of society. A life of industry and moral integrity has won for Mr. John Pope, and the firm, the full confidence of all who know him; and to this reason, probably, as well as to the perfect work done by them, is due, in good part, the fact that this old firm stands to-day at the head of the stencil-making business in this country. This firm has contributed largely to the adjuncts of the business, and manufactures, among other things, the best kinds of “stencil paste,” and of various colors, principally the blue, green, red, and black Their paste is of peculiar composition, and stands at the head in the market. “

CITATION: Greeley, Horace, et al., The Great Industries of the United States, pp. 1282-1283, Hartford: J. B. Burr & Hyde, 1872.

Material on stenciling office machines

At a later date, I hope to build out an outline and material for stenciling devices such as the Trypograph, the Edison Electric Pen, the Cyclostyle, the Neocyclostyle, the Edison Mimeograph--manual version with steel plate, etc. For now, I continue to do research in this area, but it is too time consuming to place material in any order and to write about it. If you have material to share or questions, please contact me.

Here is a very small cross-listing of material already on this site: