MR. STEVENS AND HIS WONDERFUL
WORLD OF STEVENGRAPHS
by Bill Jackmann
antiquexplorer | The magazine for the antique world | October 2005 |
Stevens established his weaving business in Coventry in 1869 amidst mass
unemployment in the silk mills. This was because economist and statesman
Cobdem had opened the flood gates to cheap foreign imports nine
years earlier. 45 per
cent of the population of Coventry earned their
living from manufacturing silk products
at this time and had done so for
the previous 150 years. The situation was so bad that
over 9,000 skilled
people emigrated to find work elsewhere. Thomas Stevens was an
and for reasons unknown, decided to stay.
had been apprenticed into the weaving trade as a boy where the French
Jacquard loom, invented in about 1790, particularly intrigued him. He
loom down and adapted it to manufacture a new silk with
deeper images that stood
out in a fascinating and new way, rather like a
Stevens was not the first person to produce pictures from the Jacquard
loom. Earlier black and white pictures had been produced. For example,
produced pictures of Queen Victoria and Napoleon but the
modifications that Stevens
made enabled him to produce superior pictures
in glowing colours. He christened his
handiwork 'Stevengraphs' and his
name is now used for all silk weaved pictures and
manufactured in the UK at that time.
new technique required the manufacture of cards with thousands of
which were fed in sequence into the loom. A bookmarker only
13 inches long might
require as many as 5,500 perforations.
designs were by Welch and Delton, not Stevens himself. First a drawing
design was made and coloured - this could take one man 14 days of
constant work. When it had been approved it was manually enlarged onto
card and sketched in pencil.
Then every strand of silk to be used in the
picture had to be carefully drawn in and
coloured. This operation took a
further 14 days. The enlarged card was then checked
for accuracy and new
cards were cut for every colour used. This was difficult work
placed great strain on the artist. Next the cards were laced together
and laid out
on the loom in the order of printing of each colour.
was the bookmarkers that made Stevens his fortune as they were
inexpensive to buy
and covered a wide variety of popular subjects. By
1862 he had nine different book-
markers and each one represented weeks of
was an astute businessman and used the press to his advantage. He sent
free samples and very quickly became a household name. The
popularity of his work
was such that soon others were copying them;
Messrs , Mulloney & Johnson of
Coventry were successfully prosecuted
by him and fined £5 with costs. Stevens did
permit other manufacturers
to copy him under license and after 1862 his name woven
into the back
edge of all his bookmarkers, usually at the bottom.
also promoted himself on cards attached to the bookmarkers. Firstly in
1860s with the company name and logo then, after 1870, he embossed
them and added
the many awards he had won and the word 'inventor'. These
now scarce and fetch up
to £150 each.
he boasted of over 900 different designs of pictures, calendars,
ladies neckties, fraternal orders and bookmarkers, but
there is some doubt as to the
accuracy of this figure. He certainly did
produce a huge range of bookmarkers depicting
famous people of the day
such as John Knox, Bunyan, Shakespeare, Robbert Burns
and Wesley. There
was also a series of 12 with music on them which proved very
presents for christenings, birthdays and weddings. At the time a great
bibles and prayer books had his bookmarkers in them.
for the collector, because his designs were so ruthlessly copied, he had
patented so the authentic Stevens designs are catalogued.
Registered designs have a
diamond shaped stamp containing a series of
letters and numbers on a discreet corner.
These disclose when the
pattern was registered, but not when it was made.
carefully peeling back the pointed end of a bookmark you should see
name. If it's not there then the chances are that either the
bookmark was made before
1862 or more likely it isn't genuine. They
should also come complete with tassels.
simple strips of woven silk gradually lost their appeal over the years
and in the
1930s there were huge stocks of them lying unsold in the
factory warehouse; they lay
there until a decade later Hitler's bombs
destroyed them. Despite this, it's not too late to
even if the ones you find are not actually by Thomas Stevens they are
all wonderful intricate objects, rich in history and of great beauty.