According to dress historian and curator Ingrid Mida, when an item is donated to a collection, the donor can sometimes provide information that helps to date a particular garment. In this case, the donor thought that the cape might have belonged to her grandmother but it might also have belonged to another member of the family. Like many garments that are treasured for many years in the family home, memories fade and that information has been lost.
Dating a cape is more challenging than dating a dress since the general shape of a cape is largely the same whatever period it originated in. In the comparative analysis presented in part II of the series, I observed that the materials used and the type of embellishment on this cape confirmed the date of origin as the late nineteenth century or early twentieth century. In this final blog post in the series, I will compare the label in this cape to that of other T. Eaton Co. garments in the Ryerson Fashion Research Collection to match fonts and attempt to more precisely date this garment.
Using the label to help date a garment is one method to narrow the range of manufacture according to dress historian and curator Ingrid Mida. With an interest in graphic design, I decided to use my knowledge of typography to do exactly that. Fonts go in and out of fashion like anything else. For example, the popularity of blackletter in the fifteen century or the sans serif styles of the 1930s (note 1). With the knowledge of these patterns and when fonts were created, we can determine a more precise date for when this garment was manufactured.
Even so, determining the font used on a label can be tricky. Labels, unlike books for example, are not printed, they are woven. This can make it difficult to make a font appear exactly like it would be printed on a piece of paper using a press. The corners would not be as sharp nor the curves as smooth. Taking this into consideration, I combed through many fonts that were popular at the time to determine which was used on each label. While it is definitely possible that these fonts were used on the labels after the date of creation, it still provides a starting point and suggests the garments were made sometime after that year.
The T. Eaton Company was founded in Toronto in 1869 by Timothy Eaton and in 1905 expanded operations to Winnipeg. Over time, its retail operations spread across Canada (note 2). Over the course of the history of the company, different labels appeared in garments and are associated with various fashions in fonts. In the four comparable garments that I examined, the general logo of the T. Eaton Company label remained the same. However, a different font was used for each one. As well, other information on the label also changed. For example, one label says “Made in France for T. Eaton Co” while another whereas another reads “T. Eaton Co. 190 Yonge St. Toronto”.
A black wool cape (FRC2014.07.457) dated to the 1890s (shown below) uses the font Akzidenz-Grotesk Condensed. This font was released in 1898 and designed by Ferdinand Theinhardt for Berlin’s Berthold Type Foundry (note 3). It is sometimes referred to as Basic Commercial or Standard in English-speaking countries. Therefore, the garment was made after 1898.
The label in a white sheer cotton blouse (FRC2014.99.001) is shown below. This blouse was dated to 1900-1910. The font used for this label is also Akzidenz-Grotesk, however it is not the condensed version rather the regular version which was also released in 1898. Therefore, this garment was also manufactured sometime after 1898.
A black silk shirtwaist (FRC2008.03.007) was also dated to 1900-1910 based on the silhouette. However, the font used on this label is Franklin Gothic Condensed. Franklin Gothic was named after Benjamin Franklin. It was drawn in 1902 by Morris Fuller Benton but released in 1905 by the International Typeface Corporation (note 4). The condensed version was not released until approximately a year later when the family was expanded to include italic and extra condensed (note 5). In addition, the first T. Eaton Co. store in Winnipeg opened in 1905 therefore this garment could not predate that (note 6). Taking this information into consideration, this garment was not manufactured until at least 1905.
The font used on the label of the cape being studied is the original Franklin Gothic which was released in 1905 therefore the garment must have been manufactured sometime after that (note 7). However, the exact date of manufacture cannot be determined from an analysis of the fonts alone since font usage is not limited to the year they were created. However, at a minimum it tells me that the cape was made sometime after 1905.
Sans serif fonts like Akzidenz-Grotesk and Franklin Gothic were considered grotesque fonts because they were viewed as ugly compared to the serif and Roman styles before them (note 8). However, in present day they are considered clean and minimalist being widely used everywhere. These sans serif fonts were used for labels because they contain less decorative elements such as serifs, making them easier to weave.
Capes are a type of garment that is difficult to date based on the silhouette. The inclusion of the address on the label indicates that the cape must have been made between 1882 and 1930, when the store moved to a location at Yonge & College (Note 2.) The analysis of typography indicates that this garment was made sometime after 1905. Putting that information together with the knowledge gained from my comparative analysis of capes in Part II, I suggest that the cape can be dated to 1905-1910.
Note 1: Haley, A., Poulin, R., Tselentis, J., Seddon, T., Leonidas, G., Saltz, I., … Alterman, T. (2012). Typography referenced: A comprehensive visual guide to the language, history and practice of typography. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers.
Note 2: McQuarrie, J. (2017, August 14). Eaton’s. Retrieved from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/t-eaton-company-limited/
Note 3: see note 1.
Note 4: Jacobs, M. (2017, October 20). Franklin gothic font family. Retrieved from https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/typography/font-list/franklin-gothic
Note 5: see note 4.
Note 6: see note 2.
Note 7: see note 1.
Note 8: Harding, M. (2017, August 21). What are grotesque fonts? history, inspiration and examples. Retrieved from https://creativemarket.com/blog/grotesque-fontsv
This post was edited by Ingrid Mida.