H.R. Mallinson & Co. - American Silk from a Marketing Magician



Madelyn Shaw



At Hiram Royal Mallinson’s death in 1931, his obituary proclaimed him “The Silk King.”  President and genius behind the success of H.R. Mallinson & Co., his death, as the Great Depression tightened its grip on the American economy, foreshadowed the end of the firm he had helped shape even before its name became Mallinson’s own.


Mallinson was not a weaver, or dyer, or printer.  He was not a designer or a craftsman, and he had never raised silkworms or manufactured yarn.  He was the exceptionally ambitious son of mid 19th century immigrants from Poland, who entered the silk trade as a salesman.  In 1895, after a short apprenticeship with Pelgram & Meyer, Mallinson joined a new firm, Newitter & Migel, as head of sales. A few years later Migel bought out Newitter, and renamed the firm M.C. Migel & Co.  Migel and Mallinson nurtured the company into position as a respected provider of high quality silk and silk blend staple and novelty silks, both woven and printed, until in 1913 Mallinson bought the firm.  In 1915, he changed the company name to his own.  From then until the Depression intervened, the company was enormously successful, cleverly merchandising quality products to an elite clientele.


The silk industry was a volatile one, dependent on tariff protection, a docile labor force, foreign raw materials and the whims of fashion.  How and why did H.R. Mallinson & Co. reach the top of that industry?  This paper will examine the combination of merchandise and marketing that contributed to Mallinson’s success. 


Madelyn Shaw is Associate Curator of Costume & Textiles at the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design. She came to RISD from The Textile Museum, in Washington DC, where she had been Director of the Lloyd Cotsen Textile Documentation Project.  Prior to that she was Assistant Curator of Textiles at The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York.  She writes and lectures on American textiles and fashion, and has taught in the Cooper-Hewitt/Parsons Masters Program in American Decorative Art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.  Her current research interests--besides the American silk industry—include China trade textiles in Rhode Island and the role of European ÈmigrÈs textile designers in bringing modernism to New York in the 1910s



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