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JOHNSON BROS. PTY. LTD., & ATWOOD MACHINE CO., CONN. USA

This advert cover has 2 interesting points, the clarity of the slogan roller cancel ‘MINIMUM LETTER RATE/ TO U.S.A. 3d  ADDRESSEE/ PAYS DOUBLE DEFICIENCY’, which cancels the pair of the red 1½d KGV Head stamps, and the boxed description of the senderJOHNSON BROS Pty. Ltd., Silk Throwsters, 281 Donald Street East, Brunswick, Melbourne’. The circular cancel of the roller cancel was MELBOURNE 18 SE -430A and the year date is obscured. It is addressed to The Atwood Machine Company, Stonington, CONN. U.S.A., and the reverse had no postal markings (Figure 1).

It was the occupational term of ‘Silk Throwsters’ for the company that stimulated me to research the company, a first for me. My dictionary defines ‘throwster’ as noun: Textiles, a person who throws silk or man-made filaments [Middle English c. 1150-c.1475 throwestre.] Later in this article there may be an explanation of this technique.

The best information for the firm of Johnson Bros was found at the family history internet site for Edward Thomas (Ted) Johnston. He was born at Eldorado, Victoria on 13 October 1883 and he was schooled at Eldorado State School #246. By the age of 15 he was a blacksmith, and was fired from the position for drinking alcohol, after a job. He then gained employment as a blacksmith in the gold mines, progressed as a handyman and eventually as an engineer. On 4 September 1915 he married Frances Josephine Vonarx in Rockdale, Sydney, and the next year their first child, Douglas Edward Johnson was born in Wangaratta, a bigger town near to Eldorado. Over the next 11 years they had a further 5 children (1 son Francis George (Frank) and 4 daughters), mostly born in Coburg. An Eldorado friend of his started a knitting mill in his Melbourne garage with one knitting machine and after WWI he invited Edward and his brother Norman to help with what was now a 2 knitting machine operation in Coburg, Melbourne. Brother Percy joined his brothers in an essentially clerical role, but brother Bob remained a policeman.

In 1926 the 3 Johnson brothers were at a spinning mill in Donald Street Coburg, which burned down due to a suspected arson, but was subsequently rebuilt with the insurance money that was paid. At an unspecified time, after May 1928 (when the last daughter Valerie Roma was born in Coburg), the Johnson brothers started up their own mill, and became known as Johnson Bros. Silk Throwsters at 11 Donald Street, Brunswick, Melbourne. The Johnson Brothers imported raw silk from Japan and spun it into cones of 8 inches high and sold it to the Prestige company for silk stockings, as well as to Beau-Monde and Kyser. Again with uncertainty about the dates, the brothers sold their company to the Prestige company ca. 1929, and Ted, Bob an Percy bought farming properties. Ted died at Albury, N.S.W. on 5 July 1962, but was buried at Eldorado, Victoria. A picture of Edward (Ted) Johnson and his wife, Frances, in Coburg 1920 is seen in Figure 2.

I have been unable to establish the date of inception of the Johnson Bros. Company, the exact date of its sale to the Prestige Company, and when the Johnson Bros. named company was closed. It would appear that the sons of the brothers did not go into the business. The original company name was found at 3 National Library of Australia Newspapers websites from 1939 until 1949. The first was in The Argus (Melbourne) 1 April 1939, p. 16 under the heading BEHIND THE SCENES IN INDUSTRY– No. 32. This was very comprehensive with multiple photographs taken at the company showing the various steps of processing the silk, and I quote: "During recent years the growth and the demand for silk stockings have brought about great development in the silk industry in Australia, where up-to-date factories have been erected for "silk-throwing," which is the technical name for the process of converting raw silk to the fine thread used in further manufacturing processes.... (it) is illustrated in the accompanying pictures (alas, multiple and poor quality for reproduction) , which were taken at the Brunswick factory of Johnson Brothers. This throwing of silk is often confused with the spinning of silk . Thrown silk is the superior article and is produced by twisting together of almost endless lengths of the highest grade silk, whereas spinning silk is produced by a process from the short waste fibres of the cocoon.

The second site was found in The Mercury (Hobart) on 1 February 1944 p. 10 under the heading New Company To Be Formed By Prestige Ltd. The directoRs of Prestige Ltd. hosiery manufacturers of Victoria, report that the company is forming a subsidiary to be known as Prestige Fabrics Ltd. There is a short statement about other subsidiaries of Prestige Ltd. and they include Johnson Bros. Pty Ltd., silk throwers and yarn specialists, as well as the fact that the parent company was formed in 1922.

The third site was found in The Argus (Melbourne) 7 November 1949, p. 15 headed PrestigeAssociates, and the name of Mr. K.J. Brown, as manager of Johnson Bros.Pty. Ltd is given.

The addressee on the cover was The Atwood Machine company, Stonington, Conn. U.S.A. and the founder and guiding genius of the world-renowned operation was John E. Atwood, a prolific inventor from Atwoodville, Connecticut, the center of the State's burgeoning silk industry. There, the centuries-old methods were employed to remove the raw silk fibers from the cocoons, twist the fibers into threads and wind them onto spools, all entirely by hand. Convinced that a better method than this must be possible, Atwood opened a shop there in 1852 for the purpose of developing and building some means of making thread mechanically. He made numerous improvements to the hand methods, and he proved more adept at inventing than at business management, for the shop closed several times during the decade. In 1863, John was joined by his son Eugene, a young man with keen business sense and great inventive ability, and from that time on the Atwood Machine Company prospered.

The firm consolidated with the Morrison Company of Willimantic in 1896 and changed its name to the Atwood-Morrison Company. John died in 1903 at the age of 81, and the company resumed its old name of Atwood Machine Company six years later. The Atwood 5B Double Twister was made for throwing (twisting) silk, rayon and other artificial fibers and combinations thereof, with fine counts of worsted or cotton. This machine doubled and twisted from 2 to 16 ends at a time on perfect, tightly-woven bobbins. Atwood machines featured "Oilless" bearings and self-lubricating spindles which reduced maintenance work and spoilage of material to a minimum. A picture of this machine is seen in Figure 3.

The family tree of the Johnson family is http://www.genefrog.com/grant-tree/indiI00022.html, and that for John E. Atwood is http://www.stoningtonhistory.org/archiv12.htm.

 

 

 

 
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