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Box of Victorian Linen Thread


A glorious box of late Victorian Barbour branded cotton reels, each holding Irish black sewing machine thread.  The box still holds the reels of thread it was sold with and also its branded Barbour inner paper lining, and some of the spools are still wrapped in their original papers. Each spool's end paper reads "3 cord 2 ounce". A charming slice of Ireland's linen and flax history and a fine example of Victorian typography and marketing.


Established by John Barbour at the Plantation, Lisburn, Co. Down, Ireland in 1784, Barbour’s linen-thread making mills grew to impressive proportions after their transfer to the water-powered Hilden site in 1823 (see image). By theend of the nineteenth century it held 30,000 spindles, 8000 twisting machines, and used up to 200 tons of coal per week to power all these tools – and was now considered the largest linen-thread manufacturer in the world.  In 1898 the Irish, Scottish and American Barbour companies were merged into the Linen Thread Co Ltd. By the time war broke out in 1914, around 2000 people were employed at the Hilden Mill - and with their help the mill produced linen thread that was used to stitch war-time parachutes, uniforms, boots and knapsacks.  Their thread helped stitch the UK together, and our wonderful original box of linen cottons stands testament to that.

Year of manufacture: c.1890

Origin: Ireland

Material: thread, wood, paper and card

Box Length 20cm Height 5.5 cm  Width 10cm

Diameter of single spool 4.75cm

Condition: good with some wear to the corner edges of the box (see image). Five of the spools are still wrapped in their papers, 2 have been used, and 1 is odd (see image).