ASC Rewind: The Journal of Design & Manufactures

This series revisits our Book of the Month archive to highlight some of our favourite articles and explore the ASC collections they describe with new eyes. This article was originally published in August 2001 by Julie Coleman and the full article can still be found on our website in the Book of the Month archive.

This post revisits The Journal of Design and Manufactures a set of six volumes published between 1849 and 1852 by Chapman & Hall. The original book of the month article featured the first volume from a set of four that are part of the Euing Collection.

The journal was edited by Henry Cole and his friend Richard Redgrave. Having an aim to improve the standards of British industry, the journal concentrated exclusively on the decorative and applied arts, targeting a middle class audience that the editors felt needed instruction in taste. The inclusion of actual samples of fabrics and wallpapers heightened the journal’s appeal and effectiveness. This first volume contains 44 fabric patterns and upwards of 200 engravings, now making it a wonderful primary resource for students of design and Victorian social history.

Shown below to the left is a rose and forget-me-not chintz pattern printed by Swainson and Dennys for Clarkson. The commentary states: ‘Here we have the essential feature of the chintz preserved – a light ground with an ornamentation of natural flowers at once lively and tasteful.’ On the right is a sample of calico from the Strines Printing Company. Here, the ‘simple berry is repeated with the mere variation of size and colour, to the production of a very pleasing effect.’

The main aim of the journal was to foster ornamental design, and the preface states that it will represent most of the principal producers of decorative design. Written at a time when standards in Victorian design were disappointing, especially in mass manufactured machine products, the journal is a manifestation of the period’s increasing concern about the relationship between decoration and function. Certainly, the reformatory zeal of the editors shines through as they call for a greater co-operation between art and industry, encouraging designers to reach a balance between utility and ornament. It was hoped that the journal would become the pattern book of all decorative manufacturers – the medium by which manufacturers could inform customers and the public what patterns they were executing.

According to Cole and Richardson, ‘the first step to improve design is to place within reach a systematic intelligence of what is actually produced’ and they thus hoped ‘to present to the designer treatises developing sound principles of ornamental art, and to keep him thoroughly informed of all that is likely to be useful and instructive to him in his profession.’ In the pages of the journal, manufacturers and students of design would find ‘something like a systematic attempt to establish recognised principles.’

Sir Henry Cole’s (1808-1882) career began at the age of 15 in the public records office. [See here for the famous Sir Henry Cole’s Rat held by The National Archives.] Always interested in art and its application to practical purposes, he became a member of the Society of Arts in 1846 . He was soon elected to its council, and made its chairman in 1850.

The Society held several small exhibitions of art manufactures during this period, and their success led to the Great Exhibition of 1851. It is said that Cole’s greatest achievement was in conceiving and organising this Exhibition, which was visited by over six million people during its five and a half months. As well as generating a considerable interest in industrial design and offering manufacturers a new impetus, the profits from the exhibition were used to purchase a site to found the South Kensington Museum, now the Victoria and Albert Museum. The museum was built up from a small collection of objects bought by the government from the Great Exhibition, and Cole was its first director.


The policy to incorporate actual samples into the journal aimed to stimulate further advances in decorative design. Before suggesting improvements, it was necessary to state thoroughly all the conditions of the thing to be improved: the swatches were therefore included as a practical measure since ‘even the smallest piece of any fabric itself is nearer the reality than any verbal description or colourless diagram.’ Diagrams, however, were utilized if a sample was not possible. In this way, ‘the value of opinions may be tested in the very presence of the objects criticised. It is like a judgment pronounced upon evidence in open court.’ As implied, the journal was not just a showcase for the products, but was often critical of the examples included.


Shown above is a pattern by Thomson & Co of Clitheroe and a sample printed for Crocker & Co. Mousselines de laine was a cheap fabric to produce and within the reach ‘of all classes.’ Of the numerous specimens produced by Thomsons, the editors single out the accompanying pattern printed in single colours as ‘commendable … it is of the cheapest kind, and its use would become almost every wearer, rich or poor.’

The colour of the wallpaper shown on the left, for example, is criticised for being too crude, although the editors concede that should the tone of the green be made warmer, the pattern would be ‘calculated for extensive popular use’.

The muslin pattern paper shown to the right, meanwhile, receives only praise: ‘For rooms of south and south-west aspects, in country residences, a more cleanly, quiet, yet lively-looking paper could not be desired. It is particularly well suited for a lady’s boudoir, and would also have the advantage of enlarging the appearance of any room where it was used.’




As well as describing goods manufactured by British companies, imports were also highlighted by the journal. The swiss cambrics printed by Frères and Koechlin at Malhausen are singled out as being ‘meritorious for good blending of colour and very neat patterns’. The brilliantine (or muslinette) pattern designed by Gros Odier, Roman & Co is also lauded: ‘this tiny chaplet of roses seen at a distance has somewhat the effect of a flat and well distributed diaper; not patchy, and therefore well calculated to shew the form to advantage; whilst its perfect execution gives pleasure upon a near inspection’

Pages 44 & 45: Swiss cambrics, Flax-damask & Brilliantines.

Page 16: pottery: jugs

While reviewing current fabrics and paper hangings takes up a large part of the journal, there are also sections dedicated to pottery, glass, and metals. Books reviews, news from institutions and original papers are also interspersed throughout the volume.

These papers, on topics as diverse as copyright, ornament and drawing for children, were another outlet for the editors’ vision of reform in design. Through educating the manufacturers and general public in this way, it was their belief that ‘in a few years, good art will be recognized to be as characteristic a feature of British manufactures as the excellence of their make already is.’

Categories: Archives and Special Collections


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