Silver Studio design practice collection

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Papers and designs of the Silver Studio design practice, comprising: Personal correspondence and papers of the Silver family, photographs and family albums, personal cards (Christmas, visiting etc).

Business correspondence, business diaries and time books, staff records, studio trade cards, letter heads, order forms, notes and studio inventories, day books and financial records.

Books, magazines and other printed ephemera collected as visual reference material by Silver Studio employees.

Photographic records (glass plate negatives, reference photographs of designs etc); sketch books; printed ephemera, comprising cards (postcards, cigarette cards, greetings, advertising cards), booklets (programmes, guidebooks, exhibition catalogues, leaflets, maps), loose papers (handbills, cuttings, calendars, bookplates, posters).

Silver Studio designs on paper (c40,000 designs for wallpapers, textiles carpets and other domestic furnishings); 5,000 textile samples (both of the Silver Studio and other designers/manufacturers); 5,000 wallpaper samples (loose sheets and albums, both of the Silver Studio and other designers/manufacturers).

Studio objects (door plaque, lamp, paint boxes etc).

Administrative / Biographical History

The Silver Studio of design was opened in 1880 by Arthur Silver, with the aim of ' bringing together a body of men to establish a studio which would be capable of supplying designs for the whole field of fabrics and other materials used in the decoration of the home' . He had trained at Reading School of Art and as an apprentice to the freelance designer H W Batley. The Silver Studio became successful: in the early 1890s it was regularly producing more than 500 designs a year and was selling between 170-300 designs yearly, mainly to buyers of the major textile, wallpaper and carpet producer. Silver showed at the Arts and Crafts Society Exhibitions between 1889-1896 and was elected a member of the Royal Society of Arts in 1893. By the time of his early death at 43 in 1896, he had created Britain's most important independent studio, selling to leading manufacturers and stores at home, in America and in Europe. Clients included Liberty's, Turnbull and Stockdale, Sanderson and Warner and Sons Ltd, all of which used the Silver Studio's designs for their own ranges of wallpapers and textiles.

In 1901, Silver's son Reginald (known as Rex) took over direction of the Studio. He ran it until 1963, two years before his death. He kept excellent records, many of which have survived, providing good evidence of the activities of the Studio during these 62 years. The Studio's fortunes fluctuated, partly due to external conditions. In 1914, many of the staff were serving in the forces and the remaining designers were put on half salaries until trading conditions improved. When Rex was called up, the Studio closed for a year. Working hours were cut in 1921 due to the high cost of raw materials, which had a disastrous effect on the textile industry. The size of the Studio varied over the years: there were around 5 staff in 1908, 11 in 1922, and 14 in 1938. During the Second World War, production of domestic textiles and wallpapers virtually ceased and there was only one designer (Frank Price) in the studio. He was joined by another former employee, Lewis Jones, after the war. When Jones died in 1952, Price continued as the Studio's sole designer until the closure of the Studio in 1963. The Studio's most productive periods were 1891-1896 and 1924-1938. During the latter period, the studio produced over 800 designs annually. Between 1940-1962, output averaged only 175 per year.

The Studio was always able to produce work in a variety of styles at any one time. Even though it participated in the latest fashions, such as the Japanesque of the 1880s or the Moderne sunbursts and geometrics of the 1930s, it also continued to offer more traditional, often floral patterns. As a commercial studio it had to satisfy its customers, relatively few of whom were prepared to take a risk with cutting-edge designs. The Studio's output therefore tended to reflect existing trends rather than break new ground. Because the Silver Studio sold its designs to other manufacturers, its name is not well known in its own right. However, its ability to respond to changing fashions in domestic interiors contributed to its commercial success for over eighty years, and the Studio's output provides a vivid insight into changing tastes in the English home throughout this period.

Conditions Governing Access

Archival material is open for consultation in the Study Room Monday to Friday 9am-5pm, by appointment with the staff of the museum, subject to conservation status of the material concerned.

Acquisition Information

Following the death of Rex Silver in 1965, his stepdaughter Mary Peerless gave the contents of the Studio to Hornsey College of Art in 1967 (subsequently part of Middlesex University).

Other Finding Aids

Part of the collection is catalogued in detail on-line, consisting of around 1000 textile samples, 1300 wallpaper samples and 500 designs on paper. For further details see MoDA website www.moda.mdx.ac.uk/exploring/collections/silver.htm. Other parts of the collection are not yet catalogued and may only be seen in consultation with the curator.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction of material is at the discretion of the curator.

Custodial History

Records for the early part (1880-1901) of the Studio's history are incomplete.