JAIC 1987, Volume 26, Number 2, Article 5 (pp. 121 to 129)
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Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 1987, Volume 26, Number 2, Article 5 (pp. 121 to 129)


Ann Cordy Deegan


A variety of completed garments (greatcoats, sack and frock coats and trousers), tents (wall, shelter, and common tents), and bolt fabric (for coats and trousers) were subjected to Cowles's treatment from 1869 to 1876.18 The total amount of fabric, garments, and tents known to have been treated was compiled from Quartermaster's Department annual reports and two Congressional reports.19 Over 1.5 million yards of bolt fabric, 150,000 garments, and 20,000 tents were treated with Cowles's process, giving an idea of the significance and widespread usage of Cowles's process from 1869 until 1876.

The first year of use, 1869, saw experimental treatment of tents and a few of greatcoats to test the efficacy of the treatment. Testing continued during 1870–1871 on garments, tents, and fabric.20 Most Cowles's-treated garments were Civil War surplus until issue of the new 1872 uniforms in 1872–1873.21 Thereafter fabric, to be made into the new uniform pattern, became the main treated item plus a number of tents. The only exception was infantry greatcoats that were altered slightly from the Civil War pattern, treated, and issued until about 1875.22

Garments treated after construction can be identified since they were to be marked on the sleeve lining near the armhole with the initials and date of the Cowles patent using a stencil and indelible ink. This mark was used to insure that the work had been completed and to identify treated items.23 A Civil War-style greatcoat from the Smithsonian Institution Division of Armed Forces History was marked with “Cowles and Co.” and “Pat. Sept. 20.64” (for the 20 September, 1864 patent date). A date below of “Apr.73” probably indicates that the application was done in April 1873; another coat similarly marked had “June.73” as the application date.

Cowles was associated with a variety of individuals during the company's contact with the Army making it possible that more than one form of Cowles's company name may be in the markings even though it was to be the patent holder's initials. A list of Cowles's company names and dates appear in footnote twenty-four.

Garments that were made from prepared bolt fabric (trousers from sky blue kersey, frock coats of blue cloth, and sack coats of blue flannel) probably did not have a mark in each garment. Instead the entire bale of treated fabric had a red letter attached to it on the outside which very likely would have become disassociated from the bolt when the fabric was removed for cutting.25 There are probably many enlisted men's uniforms made from fabric treated by the Cowles process that do not have markings. If they date from within the 1869–1876 period they should be treated as having been potentially exposed to the solution.

Copyright 1987 American Institute of Historic and Artistic Works