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New Acquisition: Stevengraph silk pictures

Here at The Herbert we have a large collection of silk ribbons and pictures. We have been able to fill some gaps in our collection with the recent purchase of a collection of silk pictures and postcards including some rare examples. The collection was purchased with a contribution from the Friends of the Herbert.

Thomas Stevens was born in Foleshill in 1828. He set up his own silk weaving business in 1854. He began selling silk woven bookmarks, greetings cards and calendars in the 1860s, and later started to produce pictures in cardboard mounts. These silk items were reasonably priced and people bought them as gifts or to hang on their walls.

Stevens exhibited his portable looms at trade exhibitions. Visitors could watch the looms in action and also buy some of the silk woven bookmarks or pictures. The first trade exhibition that Stevens appeared at was the York Exhibition of 1879. The Herbert has been lucky enough to acquire a very rare example of a mounted silk picture called ‘The Struggle’ which was woven at this exhibition. The picture shows four racehorses against a plain background finishing a race. The more common versions of this picture show spectators watching the race in the background.

Stevens died in 1888, but his company continued to produce silk woven goods. In the early 1900s they started to make woven silk postcards. Our recent purchase included a number of silk postcards featuring passenger liners. It is thought that the postcards were sold aboard the ships as souvenirs. The silk pictures in the postcards are highly detailed and must have been quite a novelty item to send to loved ones back home. Some of our newly acquired postcards have been used and have messages on the back, including one which reads: ‘My Dear Josephine. This is some new kind of post card to your "Album".’

Many of these recently acquired silk postcards of passenger liners are currently on display in What’s in Store.

You can find out more about the silk ribbon weaving industry in Coventry in our History Gallery.

Charlene Price
Social History Curatorial Trainee