While researching one of our printer-dyer record books for the Cooper-Hewitt exhibition Multiple Choice: From Sample to Product, I discovered a curious fabric swatch on page 105. The fragment shows two incomplete figures in Japanese-style dress and includes the text “Dude Never Would Be Missed” and “Got Him On My List.” Both phrases are lyrics from Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operetta, The Mikado, which opened in London in 1885. (By setting the operetta in Japan, Gilbert was able to satirize British politics and institutions from a safe distance.) The fabric for this particular swatch was produced as a “cheater” cloth, meaning that the printed design created the illusion of “crazy patchwork.” Produced in Dover, New Hampshire by Cocheco Mills in the same year as The Mikado’s premiere, this little swatch demonstrates the wild commercial success of the operetta while also telling us how quickly 19th-century American textile mills were able to respond to a cultural phenomenon like The Mikado.
This little notebook was one of 48 printer-dyer record books acquired by the Museum in 1945 from Pacific Print Works of Lowell, Massachusetts. During my research, I learned that Cocheco Mills was purchased by Pacific Print Works in the early 20th century. Although the printer-dyer record books of both companies must have been mixed together, research has revealed at least 10 notebooks that can be attributed to Cocheco Mills. Cocheco was an enormously successful textile mill in the 19th century, and produced many charming prints for fashion and interiors that remain popular with American quilters today.