The Maine Charitable Mechanic Association in Portland, Maine, is selling its exquisite collection of early 19th century silk guild banners. Trade associations used to promote their wares by carrying painted silk banners describing their art with clever puns and beautiful images during town parades. Everyone from freemasons to blacksmiths to hatters made these kinds of banners.
The Maine Charitable Mechanic Association was created in 1815 to help train apprentices, and has kept 17 of these beautiful pieces of labour history from the 1830s. Sadly, they have an 1850s building in dire need of repair, plus a bunch of programs that need the funding. Since they don’t have the money to keep the banners in a secure, properly controlled environment for their conservation, they’ve decided to put them up for auction.
You can browse the catalogue to see all 17 of them; the banners start at lot 2114. (Not that the rest of the lots aren’t worth browsing. This little auction house in Maine has some awesome pieces for sale, ranging from lovely local folk art to Aubusson tapestries.)
There has been some controversy over the sale. Nobody wants to see these treasures of Maine labour history dispersed into private collections. The auction house is being surprisingly accommodating, thankfully, so there’s a chance the banners might remain in state in a museum that can properly house them.
Buyers interested in the whole collection, rather than single lots, can make presale offers, Mr. Julia said; he will allow the winning bidder to pay off the bill over time rather than upfront. Estimates range from $2,000 for the tailors’ banner with a wreath around the phrase “Think and Act” to $30,000 for the shipbuilders’ painting of a three-mast vessel captioned “By Commerce We Live.”
Steve Bromage, the assistant director of the Maine Historical Society in Portland, wrote in an e-mail that “a consortium of Maine museums is working together to raise funds to participate in the auction.”
Given the “significant historic value of these banners,” he wrote, there is “a strong desire to keep them in Maine and accessible to the public.”
Here are a few of my favorites, but I really could have posted them all because I am completely in love with them. All my latent syndicalism has come gushing forth in a great geyser of adoration for these gorgeous banners.