|"Majestic" class of Battleships.
This Stevens silk picture shows one of nine in this class that were built around 1894. They had twin funnels.
HMS Prince George
If you are searching for a particular item, try hitting the 'INDEX' button for an alphabetical list of all items. All information is both welcome and requested.
The purpose of this site is to provide a place where Stevengraph Collectors, or Antiques Collectors
in general, can view a wide variety of Thomas Stevens products and similar products by other manufacturers. There are about 1,600 items currently illustrated here so far with more to add.
Please consider selling your collections or single items to us so that we can offer the most complete history of Thomas Stevens. I was born in Coventry and was there when the Stevens factory was bombed during the Second World War. Consequently I have a great personal interest in this bit of history. Thanks.
The site is under construction as we go. Thanks for visiting.....Malcolm
The Financial Reformer - "Seven years ago, it would have been impossible for this country to have
produced such looms, or such work" - Aug 1st 1870
Journal of Society of Arts - South Kensington Exhibition..."Mr Stevens evidently possesses a
restless spirit not easily subdued and if the tide threatens to leave him for a time, he digs out a new
channel for himself and thus he has created a trade peculiarly his own. I have taken unusual interest
in his productions, not only in the goods but in the looms producing them and I find that to make a
'Forester's Scarf' as exhibited, 2 1/2 yards long and 6 1/4 inches wide, requires the use of 16,000
perforated cards to make the figure which is 15 inches long and for the plain part 14,000 cards, making
a total of 30,000 cards. The number of threads in the warp of each scarf is 1,800 and there are 15
different colours in the shutes: the numbers are multiplied by the number of pieces being made at
once; so that if 10 pieces were making, 18,000 threads of warp would be in the loom. Hence the
involved and to the untrained eye, the inextricable confusion of threads, as shown in the harness of the
loom". - Aug 8th 1873
from "British History Online" - RIBBON WEAVING. - With the decline of the woollen-cloth trade Coventry textile workers naturally turned to the nascent silk-ribbon industry. The city silkweavers of the 18th century were ready to receive new ideas from France and to provide the ribbons which fashion dictated, and for a century, between about 1765 and 1857, silk was the dominant industry in the city.
The Coventry ribbon industry suffered from continuous difficulties, especially from competition. The 'big purl time', which was looked back on as a golden age of prosperity, lasted only from 1813 to the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and was followed by increasing competition from other districts of England, such as Derby where steam looms were successfully introduced. The four steam factories opened in the Coventry area in the 1830s were failures for Coventry was a city of small industrial establishments and independent craftsmen, and at that time these people were battling against the advance of modern methods of industrial production.
Their complacent belief in the rightness of their methods had, moreover, been fostered for some 60 years by the protection of their main industry against the import of French ribbons. Whenever there was a possibility that the prohibition might be lifted or the tariff on imported ribbons reduced there was a protest from Coventry, but as long as the prohibition remained there was no incentive to developments in design or the improvement of machinery. By this time Coventry was the centre of a weaving area of 13,000 looms supporting 30,000 people. In 1826 the import prohibition had been lifted and a tariff substituted, and in 1830 the latter stood at 25 per cent.
The introduction of the Dutch engine loom, which was not power-driven but on which several plain ribbons could be woven at one time, and its supercession by the Jacquard loom, on which several fancy ribbons could be woven, had opened the way for the factory system in Coventry. Such a change would have increased efficiency and reduced costs, for supervision would have done much to prevent the embezzlement of silk and the leisurely attitude to work which was inherent in the cottage system. But the unwavering opposition of the weavers protracted the struggle between factory and home industry for 30 years and culminated in the near extinction of ribbon weaving in the city.
The crux of the matter was the determination of the small master or the journeyman weaver to work his own loom in his own top-shop, with the help of his family, receiving payment according to an agreed list of prices. It was unpractical for him to buy or lease an engine loom or a Jacquard loom, for by a weavers' agreement neither his wife nor his daughters could work anything but a single-hand loom, and in any case only single-hand looms could be used for certain types of work. The factory, on the other hand, could speed up production by using engine looms or Jacquard looms as required, by the division of labour, by the introduction of definite hours of work, and by the supervision of employees. Under such conditions a weekly wage could be paid to all weavers.
A vital development was that of the power-run loom, which was to add greater strength to the factory and was to turn the cottage industry in a new direction. By 1836 there were 53 power looms at work in the city, all run by two of the largest manufacturers. It was only in the city that such innovations could be made, and country weavers, like the city top-shop weavers, stuck to the single-hand loom. Smaller manufacturers had, however, been increasing in number for the previous 20 years. In 1838, although there were still twelve manufacturers running over 100 looms each, one with as many as 400, there were 70 manufacturers running fewer than 10 looms each and 35 with between 10 and 100 each.
The new small masters were 'undertakers', or 'go-betweens', who had seized an opportunity to set up as manufacturers, but were not prepared to keep to the same standards as the old masters. They employed women at engine looms in defiance of the weavers' agreement, instituted half-pay apprenticeships, and undercut the list of prices, buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest. They provoked serious opposition among their employees, for they were open to the criticism that they were able to pay higher wages to their factory hands but could not pay the list prices when they put out work to out-door weavers. Infringement of the list of prices resulted in strikes and in the formation of unions and associations of both masters and men. When it was a question of the fair price there was much sympathy in the city for the weavers, and strikes were accompanied by contributions from manufacturers to funds for the distressed; there would finally be a return to work on the basis of a settlement of a kind.
If there had been a steady development of factories there is every reason to suppose that the ribbon trade in Coventry would have progressed in spite of, or perhaps because of, foreign competition, but the tradition of home working died hard and new enterprises were begun to support the cottage industry. In the new weaving area of Hillfields, built up from 1828 onwards, most of the houses had top-shops or workrooms on their upper floors, some with space enough for three looms.
The new suburbs were thus calculated to uphold opposition to the factory system, whose workers were the slum dwellers of the courts recently abandoned by families moving out to the new estates. This attitude was further encouraged by the individuality of the watchmakers, who of necessity had their own workshops, were more highly skilled, and commanded larger incomes. Indeed, there is evidence of migration by young weavers and by weavers' sons to the trade with the better prospects.
While the growth of steam power was speeding up the development of factories, a way was being found to perpetuate the small workshop by means of power-run looms. At first it was a make-do arrangement by which a shafting system was run through a row of existing top-shops, with one engine supplying power to them all. After 1847 this system was extensively used, and by 1859 there were 300 cottage factories running from two to six power looms each, compared with fifteen large factories with 1,250 power looms.
Workers in cottage factories, however, even with power laid on, could not compete with the larger factories, and they consequently resorted to demands for the reimposition of the list of prices instead of the payment of weekly wages; so heavy was the pressure brought to bear that five of the six outstanding factory owners gave in after extensive strikes had nearly crippled them, and the building of large factories ceased. Instead an attempt was made to give the Coventry weaver what he wanted - a properly-developed cottage factory system. Two schemes were initiated: Cash's model cottage factory, built at Kingfield in 1857; and Eli Green's 67 houses with top-shops, served by power shafting, built to form a triangle in Brook Street, Vernon Street, and Berry Street in 1858-9.
This was an artificial development and as such was doomed to failure. By the Cobden Treaty of 1860 the 15 per cent. tariff on imported ribbons was taken off and the Coventry industry, woefully behind the French in design and method, began to decline in the face of growing imports. In 1860 there were already thousands of weavers unemployed. Their previous efforts to restore the list of prices had antagonized local opinion, and the largest manufacturers, 44 in number, now agreed to abandon the list as obsolete. They refused to consider the weavers' plea for the maintenance of a lowered list of prices, and in Coventry and within fifteen miles of the city every weaver struck work.
The out-door worker had some justification for supporting the list, but the factory employee, by joining in the strike, was sacrificing his own wage-earning organization for an out-moded system which was impeding efficient development. It was of course the home workers who were worst hit when work was short, because the large manufacturers handed out work to them only when their own employees could not handle it; moreover, the shafting system for topshops had proved uneconomic when only some of the looms were working. But it was a case of the weavers standing together, however unjustified their cause, against the employers. And because their cause was wrong-headed, because they were striking for the list of prices which some of them had previously struck to destroy, they forfeited local sympathy and little help was forthcoming even from outside the city; the position became desperate and early in 1861 the strikers had to give in. The list of prices was abandoned, but the damage was done and there was no work to return to.
A disease widespread among silkworms and a change in fashion from ribbons to feathers were only minor contributory causes of the failure in Coventry, for while the Coventry output decreased by more than half the import of French ribbons trebled. By 1865 fifty manufacturers were bankrupt and during the early 1860s weavers were leaving Coventry to seek work, perhaps in Leicester or Birmingham where trade was booming and the population increasing, perhaps in Lancashire where the crisis in weaving had not yet arisen, and perhaps in the United States or Canada. Coventry's population consequently dropped considerably between the censuses of 1861 and 1871.
During the Franco-Prussian War there was some revival, and it was later alleged that 'every loom in Coventry and district was well employed. More business was done then than at any time before or since'. Nevertheless ribbon weaving in Coventry had suffered a heavy blow from the attempts of its workers to maintain an outdated system, and the revival did not last.
The industry did not, however, die out. Cash's survived at the price of converting the model cottage factory into a conventional factory. Moreover a bid to bring about a revival in the industry was made by Thomas Stevens who invented the 'Stevengraph', the pictorial bookmark, and the illuminated ribbon. He worked quickly, for in January 1862 he patented his invention for 'manufacturing book markers by machinery for weaving ribbons, and . . . producing figures, designs, and mottoes thereon of various descriptions and colours, according to the nature of books for which the markers are intended'.
The pictures became very popular and they, as well as the looms on which they were made, were exhibited at the Crystal Palace in 1868, at the London International Exhibition in 1870, at York in 1879, and on the continent and in the United States. From 1862 to 1867 Stevens's catalogues contained from 500 to 900 varieties of bookmarks, pictures, fans, badges, embroidered neckties, and sashes.
Partly as a result of the general development in the city of high-class fancy and figured ribbons and scarves, and partly following the introduction of new methods of manufacturing chenille the trade survived. Indeed in 1884 London was said to be largely supplied with chenille and other trimmings by Coventry which was successfully rivalling continental producers. The number of power looms in 1884 was, however, only about a third of that in 1860, while the number of operatives employed was even smaller in proportion, though somewhat larger than in 1883.
In 1890 it was reported that the silk ribbon trade in the town 'fluctuates as fashion dictates, and has been in a depressed condition all the year'. In the mid 20th century, however, there still existed in the city a flourishing trade in the more specialized aspects of ribbon production. In 1927 there were still some 30 manufacturers with about 7,000 employees engaged in the textile industry in Coventry, not including the production of artificial fabrics. By 1935 the number of firms had fallen to thirteen and of employees to 5,000.
In 1950 the number of firms had risen slightly. Five firms were making woven labels, the best known of these being J. and J. Cash, and seven were making regalia and medal ribbons, hat bands, embroidered badges, trimmings, braids and elastic braids, pompoms, tassels, and fringes. They were without exception long-established firms, dating from as far back as 1835, when William Franklin started business in the ribbon trade, or as late as 1919 when Oakey and Cox began weaving ribbons and hatbands of a specialized kind. In 1964 Cash's was employing 900 people.
From: 'The City of Coventry: Crafts and industries: Modern industry and trade', A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 8: The City of Coventry and Borough of Warwick (1969), pp. 162-89. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.asp?compid=16026. Date accessed: 04 February 2007.
You can click on most images to see larger images or more information.
We wish to buy Stevengraphs. One at a time or collections. We also seek photos, brochures or any
item of related history.
- Malcolm J Roebuck,
- Copyright © 1999-2021 Stevengraphs Bookmarks & Postcards Etc.