Friday Gem from the Stoddard – Templeton Design Archive: Cyanotypes

This week’s Stoddard Templeton Friday Gem comes from the Archive’s Associated Design Records, and features a small number of cyanotypes, or blueprints, of early Templeton carpet designs (STOD/201/1/7/23).

Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that gives a cyan-blue print.  It was popular in engineering circles well into the 20th century as the simple and low-cost process enabled engineers to produce large-scale copies of their work, referred to as blueprints.

The process was discovered in 1842 by the English scientist and astronomer, Sir John Herschel.  Although Herschel developed the process over time, he considered it primarily as a means of reproducing notes and diagrams, in the form of blueprints. However, it was Anna Atkins who brought this process to photography.   Atkins created a limited series of cyanotype books that documented ferns and other plant life from her extensive seaweed collection.  She placed specimens directly onto coated paper, allowing the action of light to create a silhouette effect.

An unusual characteristic of the cyanotype is its regenerative behaviour: prints that have faded due to prolonged exposure to light can often be significantly restored to their original tone by simply temporarily storing them in a dark environment.

The photographic records of early Templeton carpet designs make up the largest part of the Stoddard Templeton Associated Design Records.  In addition to photographing carpets bought by and loaned to the company, it would appear that the Templeton in-house photographer also recorded all their design sketches and patterns, which were then pasted into volumes.  The vast majority of the photographs are either black and white or sepia images, with the latter having degraded somewhat overtime.  In comparison however, the few cyanotypes within the collection remain very crisp and clear.

A number of these volumes of photographs have loose pages, despite all having been rebound at some point.  All are also quite severely warped, presumably after suffering some king of heat damage  (a number have soot-like marks that seems to reinforce this assumption).  While the volumes carry no contextual information beyond a specific reference number for each design that was most likely given by the photographer, a study of the designs themselves would date them to between the 1890s and 1920s.  As such, these records present a very rich source of information for carpet design at the turn of the 20th century.

As previously mentioned, there are only a very small number of cyanotypes in one of over 60 volumes, which begs the question as to why?  One can only speculate that perhaps the photographer was experimenting with new processes or had difficulties accessing his usual materials.  What is clear however, is that this process was short lived and quickly discontinued.  Regardless, we have been left with a small selection of particularly interesting and crystal clear reproductions of early Templeton carpet designs.

For more information on the Stoddard-Templeton Collection click here, or visit the project blog.



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  1. Blueprint Heritage Trail « University of Glasgow Library
  2. Season of Photography in Scotland 2017 – University of Glasgow Library

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