Upon close inspection and a little research, I'm 99.5% certain that these are the dish cloth and dish towel featured in the 1982 Wish Book. The colors, sizes, positions of the mushrooms, even the arrangement of the green leaves and the dots, all match the description and photo in the catalog.
Measuring 13" x 13", the dish cloth is off-white/cream colored velour. Velour is made by cutting the 100% cotton loops that form on one side during weaving, making a softer but less absorbent material. The edges with rounded corners are hemmed with a surge stitch. The mushroom design, angled in one corner and measuring about 4.75" square at the widest point, has appliqued caps with matching thread and embroidered dots, gills, stems, and greenery. It consists of two mushrooms: one medium dark brown capped with white dots and one small orange capped mushroom.
The dish towel measures 28" long x 16" wide and is the same off-white/cream color as the dish cloth. However, this towel is terrycloth, having uncut loops on both sides. The corners are square, the long edges are selvage, and the short ends are turned up in a 3/8" hem. The mushroom design, centered in the bottom half when folded widthwise and measuring roughly 5" wide and 6.5" tall, has appliqued caps with matching thread and embroidered dots, gills, stems, and greenery. It consists of three mushrooms: one large orange capped with brown dots, one medium dark brown capped with white dots, and one small orange capped mushroom.
A paper hanging tag attached with a plastic fastener proclaims that the embroidery is by "St. Gall." Presumably, this refers to "St. Gallen embroidery," machine embroidery that was developed in the 19th Century in the St. Gallen region of Switzerland, a region known for its embroidery, lace, and other textiles since the 15th Century. By the turn of the 20th Century, machine embroidery had become prized and has remained so to today, especially in haute couture.
In the early 1980s, embroidery and applique fit in perfectly with the emerging country, old-timey style that brings to mind Little House on the Prairie, general stores, wash tubs, and apothecaries. A piece of handiwork that Ma might create while rocking gently next to an oil lamp, a nostalgic and homey scene which in reality is a terrible strain on the eyes.
Stitched on the reverse of both towels is the white tag with dark red-brown print. Familiar to generations of people from 1887 to 1982, the Cannon label was the trademark of the North Carolina company Cannon Mills Corporation, the largest towel manufacturer in the world. Like most corporations, Cannon Mills has a storied and sometimes confusing history of name changes, consolidations, union busting, and ultimately buyouts. In the early 1980s, when Merry Mushrooms products were produced, Cannon Mills experienced a hostile takeover by David Murdock, who bought out shareholders and came to control 98% of the stock in 1982. Murdock later sold Cannon Mills Corporation to rival Fieldcrest. The deal was finalized in 1986.
Interestingly, the tags on the towels read, "Cannon, N.Y. 10020." Why New York when the company was based in North Carolina? Like many big businesses, the selling agency for Cannon Mills was in New York City. But why would the advertising office location be on the tag? This database of corporations lists several companies called Cannon Mills, Inc., one of which was incorporated in New York from 1920-1930 to 1986. This led down a rabbit hole about corporations (or Inc.) and how businesses incorporate but cannot incorporate in more than one state. Never mind. Consider this last answer pending.
Original boxes and packaging are desirable among many serious collectors of any item. Merry Mushrooms are no different. The sturdy boxes that Merry Mushrooms were packed in are just as interesting as the pieces themselves and went through design changes over the years.
Some boxes have a small leaflet catalog tucked inside (above). Others have receipts or order slips taped to the outside. Put together, these pieces of ephemeral history help tell the complete story of our favorite fungi. A slight disclaimer; my surveys of packaging are limited to online and in person discoveries since space is at a premium at home. No room for boxes, so I collect photos instead.
To get a rough idea of a box or package's date, look to the Sears logos used during the product line's run. The early logo, used from 1964 to 1984, read "Sears" in black and inside a rectangle, or sometimes white on green. From 1984 to 1994, the logo read "SEARS" in black with white lines running through the center of each letter. Earlier boxes also often have a repeating Merry Mushrooms pattern on the outside of the box.
Enjoy the show below!
Turning any item over is instinctual for collectors. Is there a maker’s mark? Import sticker? A date or artist initials? All these are clues to identifying, verifying authenticity, and dating the object.
Many Merry Mushrooms are backstamped, or marked, with some variation of “©Sears, Roebuck and Co.” and a variation of “Japan.” Some have printed or hand lettered text in black, others have a one of three stickers. Other variations are with or without a year, or a comma after "Co.". Maybe it has a makers mark. To keep things interesting, a few pieces seem to have no marks at all. This is a huge topic with many unknowns that will, hopefully, become known as this investigation deepens. You can help by sending photos of marks on your pieces.
In an effort to keep things organized, I'm planning a series of posts about marks, each one focusing on a single product that documents the different marks. And I picked a doozey to be first!
For more on this topic, see UPDATE: Merry Mushrooms Maker's Mark.
Embossed Ceramic Napkin Holder
The earliest known dated marks are from 1976, though there are plenty of undated holders. Because the holder had been around since 1972, it's reasonable to believe that undated pieces are from 1972 to 1975. Some holders today have only a whole or partial "JAPAN" import sticker since it comes off easily in a kitchen environment; few dated pieces have stickers because "MADE IN JAPAN" or "JAPAN" are printed on the bottom. These early undated napkin holders likely fall into one of the following catergories:
The addition of the year and either "JAPAN" or "MADE IN JAPAN," eliminating the need for import stickers, should have created standardized marks. Alas, there is still quite a bit of variation. Some marks look hand lettered, and two different types of stamps or image transfers that apply the text before firing were used. Not all have the "MA" makers mark, which sometimes looks like "MR." The 1976 marked items fall into one of four catergories:
A lone 1977 mark has been documented which is suprising considering how many exist for the other years. This one appears to be hand lettered and is upper and lower case with "JAPAN." An extremely faint "MA" makers mark is in the lower right.
Move over bi-centennial year! Here comes 1978, the year the collection exploded. The catalogs that year featured 83 items, the most Merry Mushrooms ever before or since. The variety of marks now might be due to Sears, anticipating a rise in demand, ordered an unprecedented number of napkin holders that required more than one factory to meet demand. The items that didn't get any form of "Japan" printed on them had to be stickered. And, curiously, some marked "MADE IN MEXICO" appear. To understand why, a quick, and painless (I promise!) look at U.S.-Japan trade relations.
Between the 1930s and 1980s, trade relations between the U.S. and Japan experienced periods of tension primarily over textiles, televisions, and auto parts. In response to conflicts, most Japanese companies voluntarily limited exports to the U.S., among them ceramics and cutlery, in the late 1970s. If you'd like to learn more, check out this article from Pacific Economic Papers. So, having limited access to Japanese imports coupled with an increased demand of their star kitchen coordinates line, Sears turned to Mexico, which at the time was in a proactive effort to improve its economy.
Because the Mexican imports have the same "MA" makers mark as the Japanese imports, it is likely the mark of the designer or artist who created the mold, which was then shipped to the factory.
The six known versions of 1978 marks include:
Finally, 1982 and 1983 have one known mark each. The black text is all caps with "MADE IN JAPAN" and "MA" makers mark in the lower right.
A final thought. A new copyright year usually denotes a change in design, though that doesn't appear to be the case here. The napkin holder remained the same size with the same detailing. Perhaps Sears learned early to keep its copyright claim fresh after many similar mushroom pieces directly, or indirectly, copied Merry Mushrooms.
There you have it! A survey of all the markings found on the Merry Mushrooms Embossed Ceramic Napkin Holder.
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