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Textile time capsules, and little swatches of history

October 3, 2009


Aren’t these gorgeous buttons? They were designed in the 1940s by Marion Weeber Welsh, who specialised in novelty buttons resembling birds, fruit, vegetables, flowers, and plates of food. (She also designed silverware and costume jewellery.) The buttons are individually molded in celluloid plastic, but what really gives them that wow factor for me is the clever display boards Marion Weeber Welsh designed to showcase them.

Display Cards with Buttons: Old Fashioned Garden, April Showers, Crated Fruit 
Designed by Marion Weeber Welsh (1905-2000)

Manufactured by B. Blumenthal and Co. for La Mode
United States, 1941-47,
Celluloid, cardboard

Bequest of Marion Weeber Welsh. 2006-2-18/46, 72/88

I stumbled across these buttons the other day on a beautiful website which is well worth a visit. It’s a microsite for a past (I think past, although it’s not too clear) exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, part of the Smithsonian Institution, in New York. The exhibition is called “Multiple Choice: from sample to product” and looks at the role of the humble sample book and other formats that contain examples of a product or technique- tools which link together design, technology, and marketing. Apparently, sample books have been used for more than 300 years for the merchandising and recording of design alternatives in many areas of the decorative arts, including wallcoverings, ceramics, and textiles.

If, like me, you get all over-excited by snippets of fabrics past, these textile time capsules, these little swatches of history, head over to the site for a browse. (Particularly, of course, the textiles and fashion section, although the other sections are fascinating too!)

Dyer’s record book produced by Thomas Ratcliffe
Manchester, England, 1812–1823

Block- and roller-printed plain-weave cotton; leather, paper

Museum purchase from Au Panier Fleuri Fund. 1987-46-1

Salesman’s sample book,
Manchester, England, 1784

Printed supplementary weft cotton pile (velveteen); marbleized paper, cardboard

Museum purchase through gift of Mrs. Samuel W. Bridgham. 1950-91-1

All images and italic text courtesy of Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution: http://www.cooperhewitt.org

One Comment leave one →
  1. Seana permalink
    October 4, 2009 5:51 pm

    My favorite posts on your blog are when you write up your delvings into fabric and fashion history. Thanks for cluing me in about the Cooper-Hewitt exhibit.

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