A Banner Sale: Silk Parade Trade Banners

Ship Builders silk trade banner "By Commerce we Live"

Ship Builders silk trade banner "By Commerce we Live"

Many records we enter are similar to other records and their value comes from enlarging part of the existing picture or offering more current market information, but occasionally auctions produce items that we haven’t even really encountered before.  That’s when we all get excited!  This happened just last month when an auction house in Maine offered a large collection of silk trade banners for sale, and these banners really are worthy of attention.

They come from an old Portland institution, the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association, which was founded in 1815 to help support and promote trades and to facilitate training and placement for apprentices.  The trade picture in the United States at the time was a complex one.  Just eight years before the formation of the MCMA, Jefferson had approved the Embargo Act of 1807 and just the year before the War of 1812, largely fought in response to a number of trade-related issues, ended, and all this prompted an increased focus on the old practices of trades and guilds.

To help promote and support tradesmen, one of the things the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association did was to commission the painting of a number of silk trade banners.  In 1841, they hired William Capen, a decorative painter, to render depictions of a variety of local trades including hatters, painters, printers, and shipbuilders (pictured above).  Capen painted most, but not all, of the group offered for sale.  The banners were likely carried on occasion in parades and were clearly carefully handled, perhaps hanging on the walls of the MCMA’s meeting hall.  Part of their value is due to a general excellent condition, as silk typically deteriorates significantly as it ages, separating into shreds and tatters without proper preservation.  The banners were sold to benefit the MCMA, which still operates a library for members and offers a variety of educational events including lectures and classes.

-Hollie Davis, Senior Editor, p4A.com

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