Our curators and archivists work as a team to research and collect new items to help us tell the Museum’s key stories. Each potential acquisition is carefully considered by the team, and those that are selected for the permanent collection often go into storage ready to be used for research, display in our exhibitions, or for loan to other institutions.
Luxury on a budget
We have recently added four stamped pieces of cotton fabric to our collection. They are important because they represent the rise of Manchester as the first industrial city at the heart of the global cotton trade, a key story here at the Museum of Science and Industry. Manchester was known as Cottonopolis because of the cotton industry that boomed here at the height of the Industrial Revolution.
This is a great new addition to our Manchester textile industry collection. While we have many examples of trademark printing blocks, we have far fewer examples stamped on fabric like this. This stamped fabric is an example of a cotton product made here in Manchester for export across the world.
These four stamped pieces are bolt ends, also referred to as ‘faceplates’. They are the stamped and labelled ends of each length of fabric sold in markets. They are made of a type of cotton fabric called Brilliante, which means ‘bright’ or ‘diamond’ in Spanish, which was made in Manchester between 1840 and 1920. The fabric has a repeated geometric pattern on a plain field, and each of the four samples collected has a different pattern, as shown in the photographs below.
The advantage of this type of fabric is that it feels like silk, but it would have been much cheaper to buy. The silky feel meant the fabric lent itself well for use as lining and for making hats. The woven cloth was also suitable for further dyeing and finishing, making it a very flexible product. These copy-stamped bolt end samples would have been sent for approval to the merchant (Rylands & Sons Ltd) by the company that stamped, baled and shipped the fabric pieces to the customer abroad.
Each of the four pieces is stamped in indigo blue ink with a trademark of a man riding a horse. Striking images were used for trademarks so that they were easily recognisable to non-English speakers. The script is Arabic and the image is North African, meaning that this cotton cloth was intended for the North African market.
Rylands & Sons Ltd were the largest and most powerful cotton manufacturers operating at the peak of the Manchester cotton industry. The success of his company made John Rylands Manchester’s first multi-millionaire. You probably recognise the name – that’s because the John Rylands Library on Deansgate in Manchester was erected by his widow in 1899 in his memory.