Paper Is Part of the Picture no. 3—Strathmore Quality and the Origins of the Thistle
This is one in a series of blog posts accompanying Paper Is Part of the Picture: Strathmore Paper and the Evolution of American Graphic Design 1892–2017, an exhibition that I have curated at The Opalka Gallery of The Sage Colleges in Albany, New York. The exhibition runs from October 3 to December 15, 2017.
The Strathmore name and its thistle mark predate the company name. Company accounts imply that they go back to 1894. The standard story is that Horace A. Moses, overwhelmed by the beauty of the Valley of Strathmore following a visit to Scotland that year, adopted both the name and the thistle. But there is no documentary evidence for this. Strathmore as a brand name first occurs sometime in 1896 for the line of deckle-edge papers that Bradley designed.  By 1901 it was applied to nine paper lines, including three artists’ papers.
The earliest evidence of “Strathmore Quality” as a slogan does not appear until mid-1905, although a February 1898 advertisement by a Chicago paper dealer includes the phrase “‘Strathmore’: The synonym for sumptuousness, novelty, quality” and “It’s the Mittineague Quality” briefly appeared in 1904.  The new company trademark—a thistle with the monogram MPCo. on top and a ribbon on the bottom bearing the phrase “Strathmore Quality” was registered in July 1905.  But the watershed moment occurred when the trademark was prominently displayed on the covers of the three comprehensive sample books published a year later. Thereafter the phrase “Strathmore Quality” became an inescapable part of Mittineague advertising. It was more than promotional puffery. The company had earned the right to brag since its papers had won a gold medal at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901 in Buffalo and the grand prize at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition.
The same year that the thistle became the Mittineague Paper Co.’s trademark, it began appearing as a decorative element in the company’s sample books. It was most often employed as a frame or border but also showed up as part of a heraldic design. The high point of the use of the thistle as a decorative border occurs on the cover of The Strathmore Quality Commercial Writing Papers book  reproduced in Paper Is Part of the Picture no. 2—A Tale of Two Mills 1892–1911 (Part II). The thistle as an illustrative element on Mittineague Paper Co. sample books seems to have first occurred in 1910 with the Alexandra Japan sample book shown at the top of this blog.
A new combination of the thistle and the phrase “Strathmore Quality” appeared in a May 1909 advertisement for Strathmore Deckle Edge and Alexandra Deckle Edge papers. It replaced the company trademark that had been previously used at the top of advertisements. The new thistle was stylized and placed within a circle with “Strathmore Quality” surrounding it. Within a year it began appearing as a seal on sample books. In the Tapestry Cover example below note the four additional “toned” thistles employed as a background pattern. Mittineague (and later Strathmore) was not averse to thistle overkill in some of its sample books and promotional pieces.
When Will Bradley reorganized and redesigned the sample books of the new Strathmore Paper Co. in 1912, he also revamped the seal, creating a series of variations with different color combinations and ornamental frames. His simple versions remained in use throughout the 1920s. Examples of these will appear in a future post.
1. Although the image shown here is from the January 1897 issue of The Inland Printer, it was originally part of a Will Bradley portfolio which means it was created in 1896.
2. See the advertisement by The Paper Mills’ Company in The Inland Printer reproduced in Paper Is Part of the Picture no. 2.
3. A thistle was used on the Mittineague Paper Co. letterhead as early as 1904 (see below).