Everyone who stops by my booth at craft shows always has something to say about my display. I thought I might begin sharing weekly posts on my flea market finds. On my latest flea market excursion I found a fascinating piece of print culture--a box of "Stafford's Stencil Combination." It is a complete set, with brass alphabet letters, figures, a can of stencil ink, a sponge, and a stencil brush. The worn green box details the stencils' function "For marking boxes, barrels, bags and packages for shipment. Printing all manner of show cards, notices, signs, number, prices, &c., and many other purposes. Instructive and amusing for Boys."
The Directions read: "After wetting the brush with water from the sponge, rub it over the ink until a sufficient quantity adheres. The Ink works freely, does not gum the plate or brush, and will keep in any climate without evaporation or waste." The brass plates themselves slide together to form words, phrases, and numerical figures.
In an attempt to date the stencils I did a google search for "Stafford Stencils Combination" and one of the first entries that I came across was an advertisement for Stafford Stencils in the January 7th, 1886 issue of The American Stationer. The size stencil set that I have, 1 1/2 inches, was $1.50 in 1886. Now a set in mint condition with all of the pieces runs between $300-$500. My set is complete but the box is in very poor shape and missing its cloth lining and stand which is why it was such a bargain. An interesting piece of American print history!
Happy thrifting and flea marketing!