Sample book of mid-19th-c madder prints
All swatch book photos from a Christie's auction
In the mid 1950s the curators at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London borrowed a terrific resource on textile history, the records and sample books owned by G.P. & J. Baker, particularly those from 1790-1810.
The Baker brothers founded their textile firm in the 1880s and specialized in new Arts & Crafts designs but they obtained the records of the mills at Crayford, the Swaisland Mills going back to the 1790s. The Crayford Mills owned by Charles Swaisland who began as a woodblock cutter, started production in 1814, taking over another mill, so these records have been transferred from mill to mill and archive to archive over the centuries.
Nothing is more valuable to a fabric designer than a library of what has already been done. (That and a good sense of color.) These swatch books and textile records are still bought and sold, stored and consulted. But rarely digitized for the public---the companies know swatches are a great asset and they are not giving that information out for free.
The Victoria & Albert advertises itself as The World's Leading Museum of Art & Design.
Who is to argue?
Such records also offer a valuable resource to a textile historian and in the 1950s the V&A had at least two experts on staff: Peter Floud & Barbara Morris. Both worked in the Circulation Department (I was hoping they loaned out artifacts to patrons --- but no, the Circulation Department was what we'd call Traveling Exhibits.)
The Circulation Department from the Victoria & Albert Museum
Barbara Morris on left in the front row, Peter Floud at right,
Floud and Morris had what every curator needs---great visual memories and articulate ways of categorizing what they saw. They wrote some catalogs and essays---certainly not enough--- but their published writing about textiles is hard to find. I've been lucky enough (thanks to a diligent friend) to read their 1957 articles in the magazine Connoisseur.
Many later textile historians have relied on Morris & Floud's observations. We find a sentence here and there beginning with "Peter Floud observed...". He and Florence Montgomery of the Winterthur kept up a correspondence in the 1950s (he died in 1960) and he seems to be responsible for many textile acquisition in that collection. (I guess he did circulate artifacts.)
Dark grounds from the 1840s, perhaps wool combination fabrics
After looking through the 1790-1810 records they wrote six magazine articles on taste and production in those 20 years. I thought over the next few months I'd go through the Connoisseur articles on early woodblock prints and see if we can relate them to quilt history beginning this week with a few posts on Dark Ground Chintzes.