Cache of Vintage Fabric Sample Books Heads to Auction

Courtesy of Tennants

French fabric sample book, ca. 1930s. Estimate £400-600 ($525-800)

More than 170 fabric and textile sample books, mostly French, spanning the early nineteenth century through the 1940s, head to auction at Tennants in North Yorkshire, England, next week. The current owner amassed them over three decades, using them for reference and inspiration. According to the auctioneer, “The collection charts the history of design, fashion and the European textile industry through a period of extraordinary growth and change.”

Courtesy of Tennants

The collection of vintage fabric books in situ.

While most of the books are anonymously created bound volumes showcasing silk, velvet, and cotton swatches, two notable manufacturers are represented, including Bianchini Férier, who supplied fabric and created designs for haute couture houses Givenchy, Chanel, Dior, and Balenciaga. The majority of the books hail from Lyon, considered the epicenter of the French textile industry for centuries. “The textile industry in France from 1850-1950 was known as the Second Industrial Revolution; Paris became the hub of textile design, colour forecasting and trend setting. By the 1920s and 30s, sample books were employed to communicate new designs, trends and the latest textiles around the world,” said Tennants.

The sample books will be offered solo or in small groupings, at estimates ranging from £150 to £5,000.

Courtesy of Tennants

A design from the John Barker textile archive.

To be sold en bloc during the same November 20 sale is the John Barker Archive, the institutional collection of the Manchester, England, textile designer John Barker (1825-1879). “Barker’s designs followed the trends of the era, incorporating popular motifs such as boteh and paisley … The designs were executed during an important era in the history of British industry and design,” said Tennants.  

Consigned by Barker’s great-great-grandson, the archive, which includes 800+ sketches and designs for mid-nineteenth-century fabric and wallpaper, holds an estimate of £3,000-5,000 ($4,000- 6,500) plus buyer’s premium.