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By Ceri Edwards on

Bright and beautiful: Displaying our shipper’s tickets

Archivist Ceri Forster has been selecting shipper's tickets from our huge collection to be displayed in the Textiles Gallery.
A woman with brown hair and a blue top leafs through a large album containing brightly coloured shipper's tickets
Archivist Ceri Forster looks through an album containing shipper’s tickets

I’ve been working with a large collection of shipper’s tickets, both loose and pasted into albums. The shipper’s tickets were attached to bolts of cloth or yarn to help the manufacturers make their products instantly recognisable to their customers. They were deliberately designed to be brightly coloured to stand out, and featured motifs that the textile merchants thought would appeal to the fabric’s destined marketplaces.

The collection contains hundreds of different examples. It was necessary to narrow down the selection to make sure that we were getting a good range for the exhibition, and because those that we selected needed to be photographed in order for us to make facsimiles for display.

It took about an hour to make a ‘longlist’, although I didn’t have to do it by myself! After that, they were photographed (which I think took about a day or so) and the team then selected the final list from the digitised images.

A close up of a large album showing brightly-coloured shipper's tickets

By selecting the tickets in this way it enabled us to put a lot more of them on display. If we hadn’t selected them and then made digital copies, we would have had to put the whole album on display. This would have meant that a) the album was put at risk because of the environment b) visitors would only have been able to see one page of the album and c) the book would no longer be accessible to researchers.

A woman wearing a blue top leafs through a very large album containing colourful shipper's tickets. A selection of tickets are displayed on the table next to her.
Ceri selects tickets to be digitised and displayed in the refreshed Textiles Gallery

We chose to create a display of the shipper’s tickets because they demonstrate the huge range of different places that Manchester cloth went to, the number of different companies that were involved and the work that went into ‘marketing’ their wares. They demonstrate a ‘sub-industry’ of researchers, artists and printers working on these tickets alone, and show that marketing and branding teams are not a new invention! They also make a very vibrant and colourful display which conveys the energy and vitality of the textiles industry at its peak.

You can see some of the tickets from the collection below. You can see some of these tickets in the Textiles Gallery. Click to see the full images:

All images © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

6 comments on “Bright and beautiful: Displaying our shipper’s tickets

  1. I have 12,000 original shipper’s tickets and donated many on this page to the Museum. Please visit my website for more background to these amazing works of art and to see how they are being used to create new pieces of art in New York.

  2. I had the good fortune to look through the archive in 2002 when I was completing my Diploma in Packaging where I wrote my dissertation on shippers tickets and there use as early form of branding.

    1. Super that that such an art form with so many facets to consider is, ‘seeing the light of day’. Some examples of the tickets are even displayed in the Abel Heywood Pub in the Northern Quarter. Really sorry that I missed the exhibition.

  3. Dear Madam,
    I worked through the mill in my youth and only left the industry when it collapsed. I have a collection of hand blocks of which most depict images rather than words indicating the various manufacturers. No point in using words when the customers don’t speak English. If you would like to see them I could send you a video.

  4. I also have a wooden block which states “Warranted Water Twist Warp and Weft”. It’s in perfect condition and beautifully made. I worked for the CPA,Horrockses,and James Findlay. I imagine that the Water Twist block must be remarkably rare. I remember mill workers actually being given blocks by the management to keep the home fires burning. I am 82 and suppose there are not many left that have experienced spinning, weaving dyeing, printing and marketing.

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