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Unique part of Coventry’s History Added to Herbert

​The Herbert Art Gallery & Museum has purchased a Prize Medal from the Great Exhibition awarded to the Coventry Ribbon Committee for the Coventry Town Ribbon.

Ali Wells, Curator at the Herbert said: “Visitors can now enjoy the bronze medal in the Herbert’s History Gallery, near to a piece of the intricate ribbon it was awarded for.

The Coventry Town Ribbon was woven specially for the 1851 Great Exhibition and its story is perhaps the pinnacle of Coventry's ribbon weaving history.”

Curatror Ali Wells & Jason Clarke from Jason Clarke Antiques.

In 1849, Prince Albert visited Coventry inviting the town to prove that it was the leading centre for ribbon manufacture. The project was driven forward by ribbon manufacturer Charles Bray, freethinker, radical and a close friend of author George Eliot.

A committee was formed and the brief to design a ribbon for the Great Exhibition was given to the Coventry School of Design. The ribbon was designed by 20-year-old pupil Thomas Clack and woven by Thomas Robinson on a Jacquard mechanism mounted on a single hand loom. This was an unusual mechanical combination created to accommodate the complexity of design and width of the ribbon. The pattern required more than 10,000 Jacquard cards and nine shuttles with various coloured silks being used.

Around 60 to 70 yards of the Coventry Town Ribbon were produced in the six months leading up to the Great Exhibition, where it was awarded a prize medal 'for a ribbon exhibiting much taste and skill in its production'. Queen Victoria was very impressed by the ribbon and ordered a large quantity of it. The Herbert holds several lengths of the ribbon, one of which is on display in the History Gallery.

The Great Exhibition Juries awarded prize medals 'Wherever a certain standard in excellence production or workmanship had been attained - utility, beauty, cheapness, adaptation to particular markets, and other areas of merit'.

The prize medals were struck in bronze, the metal considered most appropriate for the development of superior skill and ingenuity in medallic art. This reflected the Great Exhibition’s mission of promoting British manufacturing through encouraging excellence in industrial design and developing public taste.

The purchase has been made possible due to the kind support from the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund.

  • The Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund is a government fund that helps regional museums, record offices and specialist libraries in England and Wales to acquire objects relating to the arts, literature and history.
  • It was established at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in 1881 and continues to be part of its nationwide work.
  • The annual grants budget, currently £724,000, is provided by Arts Council England National Lottery Funding.
  • Each year, the Purchase Grant Fund considers some 150 applications and awards grants to around 100 organisations, enabling acquisitions of over £3 million to go ahead.
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